Gender as we see it today can be a touchy subject to most people because it has evolved into ideas that were, back then, inconceivable. The roles of women have been evolving since the early twentieth century, when women didn’t hold many important roles, to present times when women can have the opportunity to become CEOs of major companies. The first indication of a new strong and independent American woman, by the name of Brett, surfaced in the Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises.
In Hemingway’s novel, Brett had less regard to her consent of the social expectations of her time period, than any other female character that follows her in American literature. Hemingway interestingly uses the character of Brett to reevaluate the gender roles of men and women in the early twentieth century that manly, alcoholic, and emotionally unstable women can still be loved, but by doing this Hemingway reinforces the gender stereotype that Brett is trying to escape.
In the the nineteenth century the way a women should look was pretty much set in stone, as it is today, women should’ve looked a certain way to be found attractive and sought after by men. Brett had many characteristics that would’ve made her unattractive to most men in that century. However in the twentieth century all those characteristics only added to her attractiveness, these attributes included, short hair and the men’s clothing that she always wore.
The men in the story don’t mind her male looking appearance becuase hemingway writes “Brett was damned good-looking, her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She was built with curves like a racing yacht and you missed none of it with that wool jersey” (Hemingway 27). Brett’s appearance draws Jake’s attention to be drawn to her body so that he wasn’t deterred from her hair. Instead, it gives Jake an awareness of the womanhood Brett is trying to rebel against. In contrast to Brett being boyish and masculine, Jake Barnes is a living example of the de-masculated victims of WW1.
Jake’s lack of ability to leave Brett after many occurences of being emotionally unstable and Brett’s unwillingness to even be with Jake, Hemingway paints a picture of Jake being a non traditional masculine male. Jake Barnes isn’t the only untraditional male in the book, Jake’s friend, Robert Cohn is an even more evident example in the femininity in males in the book. Even though Cohn doesn’t really care that much about boxing he still dedicated himself to the sport to protect himself from the emotional injury he is facing because of his jewish heritage.
Hemingway continues to question the very essence of gender and gender roles in the twentieth century. The reader it may seem like Hemingway has completely switched the gender roles in his novel The Sun Also Rises but if the reader examines the text carefully, there are still traces of gender stereotypes. For example, Brett is still self conscious and needy, using Jake for emotional release and to have a shoulder to cry on. As for Jake Barnes he still gets jealous and he feels he needs to assert his dominance, this can be seen when Jake gets into a physical fight with Robert to infact assert himself.
Jakes need to feel superior and to look and act superior comes to light when he talks about his mates during the war. Jake and Cohn are ironically the same, they both share a stubborn nature which is an example of both femininity and masculinity. Although Robert gets made fun of because of his longing for romantic attention, by the other men in the novel, He is still a romantic character and represents a new found kind of romanticism where love isn’t only found in the physical sense but it can also be found in intimacy. What made Hemingway portray his characters in such a way?
The use of gender and the reality of the real world in that period is what made The Sun Also Rises very popular among readers. Women had to learn to be strong and independent in the wake of WW1 and the absence of men, and in turn the men came back emotionally unstable and noticeably weak from war. It isn’t so much as Hemingway creating this reality it was an accurate representation of what people were going through at that time. Brett, Jake and Robert arent the only characters Hemingway uses to redefine the gender roles in his novel.
For example Francis Clyne is an aggressive women who doesn’t desire to have children with her boyfriend and Georgette is a prostitute who orders her own drinks and makes a living by herself. The minor characters for example, Michael and Count, almost perform their masculinity by parading around like post war heros. They do this to hide their weaknesses and insecurity ultimately giving off a feminine vibe. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is a novel about the nature of human beings in their society.
They must adapt to the situation and overcome or fall behind, much like the women did in the WW1 era. The characters adapting to change can be seen through their gender role switches and do what must be done without hesitation to find some source of happiness. Hemingway boldens Jakes good characteristics such as sensitivity, and who is cautious and passionate. The novel suggests that adapting to both gender traits, a person can become a well rounded individual and a high working member of society no matter what gender and or race they belong too.