The idea of masculinity seems to be questioned and take many forms in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. To begin, Hemingway’s prose is short, quick, terse and too the point; it is considered to be written in a very masculine style. Additionally, the story mainly centers on a few central male characters. Throughout the latter half of the novel, upon reaching Spain, they seem to find themselves in demasculinizing situations; the reader is able to see the men’s weaker sides. These situations seem to be born out of the wrath of the central female character, Brett. Brett is also considered to be a masculine character as well and the bullfighters in the arena seem to be heroes to these men.
Brett seems to be a central cause for many of the demasculinizing moments one sees in this book. It is quite clear the moment Brett arrives in Pamplona that she has a huge amount of control over these men. When Jake and Bill take a fishing trip, Cohn decides not to come and hangs around in town waiting for the arrival of Brett like a sad dog. When the group is reunited, it is clear that Brett is in control over him. Cohn explains to Jake and Bill that Brett and Mike never would have made it Pamplona without him. Brett simply retorts, “’We’d have gotten here earlier if you hadn’t come’” (139). Continuing to dominate the conversation, Brett instructs Mike what story she wants him to tell and how to tell it: “’Tell them about your medals’…’Tell the rest’…’Tell them about the court’…’Tell them about your learned counsel’” (139-141). Additionally, Brett seems to call a lot of the shots during the trip. They go and do as Brett pleases. When she declares, “’let’s go and eat’” and “’I must get a bath’” the men are quick to go and “’translate Brett to the Hotel’” (163). Brett leads this band of men around.
This control that the central female character has seems to cause the men to be driven to extreme lows. Jake and Cohn get into a fight regarding Brett. Completely beat up, Jake blacks out and wakes up pretty injured. When he goes to speak to Cohn afterward, Hemingway has him “face down on the bed, crying” (197). He apologizes and explains to Jake that “‘I just couldn’t stand it about Brett. I’ve been through hell, Jake. It’s been simply hell” (198). A similar scene happens later between Mike and Jake. Mike can barely form sentences because he is so drunk and looks “like a death mask of himself” (214). It is clear that he is completely thrown by Brett running off with the young bullfighter. Hemingway even has Romero, the seemingly invincible bullfighter in a weakened position. He, like Jake, gets pummeled by Cohn over Brett. It seems the moment Romero meets Brett, he is portrayed as a little less invincible than when in the arena.
The question that arises from this idea of control is whether or not is all has to do with Brett. Is it Brett that causes these men to flounder, or is it a general need for the female? These post World War I veterans have a need for some sort of comfort or solace. It seems that they may find this in watching the bullfighters as well. There seems to be something so masculine about the bullfighters. They almost represent this sense of masculinity that these men have lost. They still have a fight within them that Jake, Mike and Bill can only watch at this point, not take part in. And they do enjoy watching so much. Jake describes bull fighting to Brett in an interesting way. He tells her to watch the bulls and not the horses so that the act of watching becomes “more something that was going on with a definite end, and less of a spectacle with unexplained horrors” (171). This “spectacle” that he describes seems to be a way one could describe the war. Perhaps they find some comfort in watching this fight that has an end and which they are not a part of.
They seem to revere Romero quite a bit. Jake spends a lot of time explaining to Brett how Romero works; he explains all of his tactics. The bullfighters in this “simulated this [the] appearance of danger in order to give fake emotional feeling, while the bull-fighter was really safe” (172). He explains, “Romero had the old thing, the holding of his purity of line through the maximum exposure” (172). It seems that the men appreciate the way Romero puts himself on the line in that way; he doesn’t take the easy way out. It’s no surprise that Brett seems to fall for this man so immediately. He represents what these men she is leading around now, once were.
Romero does seem to be different from Jake, Cohn and Mike. While he does fall deeply in love with Brett, he attempts to tame her. She sends for Jake to come help her; and, of course, unthinkingly, he comes to her aid. She says that Romero “wanted me to grow my hair out. Me, with long hair. I’d look so like hell” (246). He wants Brett, one of the most powerful characters in the book, to become more feminine and give up this masculine quality that she so identifies with.
It is clear the idea of masculinity changes in this novel and floats from character to character. There is the ‘masculine’ prose that Jake narrates in which describes the events of his friends being stripped of their masculinity. There are the bullfighters, like Romero, that seem to be on top, idolized by the other male characters. And then there is Brett who runs circles around them all. Why did Hemingway structure the novel in this way? A novel that is considered so ‘masculine’ where the most masculine character might actual be a female. It is hard to say whom Hemingway intended to put in a good light and whom he didn’t. Sometimes it seems as if Brett is a reckless character, flinging these men around like nothing. While the men seem to be hopeless cases too. What he really does, in the end, is show a world and a generation changed quite completely by a war. The idea of masculinity, whatever it is, has changed and really belongs to no one.