Brett Ashley as the New Vision of Women

The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926, was written about a post world war shell-shocked era that drank too much, and had widely socially accepted feelings of expatriation and social easiness. Ernest Hemingway shows us a scene of exciting sexual excursions, bullfights, and late night dance clubs (ex: Club Select) and bars in France. He romanticizes a pitiful time for several characters and paints a picture of almost perfect serenity, while underneath, many characters are struggling to stay emotionally alive. The traditional value system that binds day to day moral behavior has been struck down by the war to the point that Jake Barnes feels that money is the only stable value left, and that honor, glory, and heroism were lost words with little or no meaning. Another effect of this world war was in the revolution of women. They too, were forced to redefine their code of ethics. Gone were the days of cooking and cleaning in the defined space of the home, and in were the days of Flappers, and women venturing out into the sun of the man’s world. How and why did women evolve into their new role? We get the unique opportunity to investigate this when we analyze one of Hemingway’s fictitious characters whom represents far more than meets the eye. Brett Ashley is the extreme tour guide on this trip through social structure, and the woman’s place in it. And we see, through her, a little titillating glimpse into the future. Robert Cohn brings us the traditional pre-war point of view towards women. He is the man who protects the poor innocent sweet young lady from all rough things in life. He is big and strong, and should up hold the maidens honor. This is why he is so disturbed when Jake says she is, “a thirty-four year old drunk whose ‘true love’ died from dysentery during the war and who has since twice married and divorced” (Reynolds 64). Cohn would like to punch Jake for this remark, but his judgement prevails and stops him from this grievous action. Unfortunately later, his judgement isn’t on guard, and when Pedro Romero has relations with Bette, he decides it’s time to take action. He beats Romero, and when he realizes that it would be unchivalrous to continue his pummeling, he recoils and in traditional fashion attempts to shake Pedro’s hand. Brett doesn’t outwardly show her approval, but by her juggling of men, she shows that she is a new woman, and men are of no matter to her. Only these avant-guard, almost feminist women could accomplish this, and the reason they could is because of the post war attitude that women should be avid individualists seeking new experiences. Two major events helped give women this new freedom. First were the war, and then the lack of concern for rules and structure. The second thing was the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. This gives women not only a level of equality to men, but also a way to demand that level. This meant that although she didn’t have the best name in town, Brett was able to publicly drink, and make public rounds with several men without being condemned as a whore. Gone are the long skirts, bustles, and constricted waists: New designs, and short skirts were the craze. She shows her independence from the traditional norm in a conversation with Romero. He attempted to domesticate her by telling her to give up her mannish felt hat, let her hair grow out, and wear more modest clothing. She obviously had a problem with that, and she even had this to say to Jake later, “He wanted me to grow my hair out. Me, with long hair. I’d look so like hell”(Hemingway 242). Then it was short hair and skirts above the knees, and now it’s dye jobs, and Marilyn Manson clothing and make-up. Brett did not follow the new code completely. An example of this comes when she slips back into her compassionate female side when she attempts to save Cohn with her body. She feels sorry for him, and attempts to make him feel better by having sex with him. He unfortunately never understands her position, and decides that it is his personal duty to see to her safety. After realizing that he would not be satisfied with casual sex, she gets sore at him, and is scorns him. Brett is shown to us as Hemingway’s ideal female character free of sexual repression. She flaunts herself and is completely safe in the public’s eye for doing so. In many ways, Brett is a predecessor of today’s modern woman. Brett’s character in this book transcends the decades, and we see her oftentimes today. Women are constantly attempting to gain equality with men, and especially in the ‘90’s, they assume excess sexual risks, previously thought unheard of by their mothers. They stay out until late at night and they party as much as the boys do. Where will it stop? It is anyone’s guess. But before the next century, we will have female presidents and female generals in the military. And to think, it may all be because of Brett’s ground breaking actions. With some help from the imagination of a previously unknown author, Ernest Hemingway. Works Cited Reynolds, Michael S. The Sun Also Rises: Twayne’s Masterwork Studies: A Student’s Companion to the Novel. Boston Massachusetts, G.K. Hall & Co., 1988 Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises: New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1926