Sigmund Freud theorized that the primary motivating force for all human behavior is sexuality. Freudian theory greatly influenced the “lost generation” affected by World War I. Those who were coping with the effects of the war on society had begun a search for meaning in new places. They found what they were looking for in Freud’s theories. Great American modernist Ernest Hemingway reflected this Freudian theory throughout his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises. The sexually driven motivation of Hemingway’s characters shapes their actions, and ultimately the novel, into a tangled web of sexual desires and frustrations. This is specifically true for Lady Brett Ashley, who hurts everyone around her with her sexual pursuits. Hemingway uses the character Lady Brett Ashley to reflect Freudian theory throughout the novel.
Lady Brett Ashley’s affair with Jewish writer Robert Cohn indicates that she is Hemingway’s personification of Freudian theory. Her life is lived from one sexual experience to the next. She enjoys having many admirers. Because Robert Cohn takes notice of Brett, Jake Barnes says to her, “You’ve made a new one there. I suppose you like to add them up” (30). Other than acknowledging “So what if I do,” Brett takes no notice of Cohn (30). The very next time that Jake sees Brett, she is telling him of a weekend affair that she had with Robert Cohn in San Sebastian. Brett’s willingness to carry on with a man she has met just one time suggests she is just looking for sexual gratification and nothing else. After using him for sexual satisfaction, she is upset that he “follows her around like a bloody steer” (146). Brett considers nothing besides her own sexual desires; she does not consider Cohn’s feelings at all. Her perspective is so clouded by her sexual pursuits that all Brett sees is that she slept with him and no longer wants anything to do with him.
Brett Ashley’s affair with young bullfighter Pedro Romero is another indicator that she is a reflection of Freudian theory. When Lady Ashley first sees Pedro Romero fight, she instantly is attracted to him. She says, “Isn’t he lovely, and those green trousers!” (169). Mike says that she “couldn’t take her eyes off them, she’s an extraordinary wench” (169). Just from catching a glimpse of him, Brett is “falling in love with this bull-fighter chap” (172). Of course, Lady Brett Ashley uses love as a euphemism for sexual desire. What she really means by “love” is that she wants to have sex with him (187). Not being able to have sex with a man she wants makes her “so miserable [that she] can’t stand it” (33). Because Brett wants to meet Pedro Romero so badly, she asks Jake Barnes to “go and find him” (188). Jake takes Brett to a cafe, where she ends up having drinks with Pedro. Jake excuses himself to find his friends. When he returns shortly “Brett and Pedro Romero [are] gone” (191). After her sexual conquest, Brett is “radiant” and “happy” (211). However, Brett’s love lasts as long as her trousers stay buttoned. She is only “in love” with Pedro until she has sex with him, then she sends him away, telling Jake, “I made him go” (245). Her dismissal of her bullfighter lover so quickly after having sex with him shows that she really never had any interest in him other than that of a sexual nature.
Brett Ashley’s treatment of Jake Barnes further proves she is Hemingway’s demonstration of Freudian theory in the novel. Jake Barnes does love Brett, but she refuses to be with him because he is physically unable to have sex with her due to an old war injury. She claims to love Jake, yet she cannot live with him because she admits she would just sleep around (62). Jake asks her, “Couldn’t we just live together?” (62) Her response is, “I’d just tromper you with everybody” (62). She allows Jake to kiss her, but then says, “Please don’t touch me” (33). When he responds, “Don’t you love me,” she answers, “I simply turn to jelly when you touch me” (34). This shows that she lusts after Jake, but because he cannot be one of her sexual conquests due to his injury, she does not want him at all. Despite knowing of Jake’s feelings for her, Brett feels compelled to tell him about all of her sexual adventures. When she sees bullfighter Pedro Romero, Brett takes Jake for a walk and tells him, “I’m mad about the Romero boy. I’m in love with him” (187). She also tells Jake about her weekend in San Sebastian with Robert Cohn, and says she thought that having sex with her “would be good for him” (89). Brett tells Jake about all of her affairs but begs him,” Please don’t let’s ever talk about it” (247). She wants to throw all of these sexual exploits in his face, but expects him not to react harshly. Brett’s harsh treatment of Jake because she cannot have sex with him is more evidence that she allows sex to control her life.
Brett’s pursuits of marriage also lend credibility to the theory that she is sex “obsessed” (120). While Brett is running around with Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero, she also has a fiance, Mike Campbell. It is obvious that Brett does not love him, either. The saying goes that actions speak louder than words, and the fact that she is having affairs with other men while engaged to Mike Campbell speaks volumes. Brett does not even attempt to hide the other relationships from Mike; she even tells him she is “going off with the bull-fighter chap” (227). Mike says “Brett’s had affairs with men before. She tells me all about everything” (147). It should also be noted that not one time within the text does Brett say that she loves Mike. The highest compliment she is able to pay him is, “He’s so damned nice […] He’s my sort of thing” (247). The first time that Jake Barnes talks about Brett, he points out that she is notorious for being in loveless relationships, and even once married on the rebound from someone she did have feelings for. Jake says that Brett has “twice” married someone that “she didn’t love” (47). He also says that she became Lady Brett Ashley by marrying Lord Ashley during the war, after “her own true love had just kicked off” (46). To Brett, getting married for love is a foreign concept. She is so obsessed with sexuality that she does not think of marriage for true love. Her perception is that someone would marry her just because “He wanted to make sure I could never go away from him” (246).This is indicative that Brett is so “obsessed by sex” that she attributes everyone’s motives to sex and not just her own (120).
Lady Brett Ashley’s numerous sexual affairs and her exploitation of men who care for her makes it quite clear that her character is Hemingway’s reflection of Freudian theory in The Sun Also Rises. Brett sees it as perfectly acceptable to sleep with other men and rub it in her fiance’s face. She sees nothing wrong with the callous way she acts towards men who actually care about her. Brett is so consumed and “obsessed” by her sexual desires that she is blind to other people’s feelings (120). Brett’s pursuits of sex make the lives of all the men she is involved with difficult and in turn complicate her own life: her fiance Mike Campbell gets upset over her affairs and looks like a drunken fool, Robert Cohn lusts after Brett and angers everyone with his behavior and Jake is repeatedly hurt by Brett’s exploits. Her behavior hurts everyone around her. All of Brett’s hurtful behaviors are sexually motivated, and therefore a reflection of Sigmund Freud’s theory integrated into The Sun Also Rises.