The Dawn of the Modernist Antihero:
An Existential Analysis of Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises
By Sarah Dunlap
Out of the darkness of post-WWI American society’s disillusionment, the Modernist antihero arose to challenge the idealistic values embodied in the traditional hero archetype. Although Romantic heroes like Heathcliff and Victor Frankenstein laid the groundwork for society’s acceptance of the Modernist antihero, the antihero motif only gained success after World War I, which rendered American society skeptical of human morality. Consequently, society turned to the antihero to fulfill their craving for a realistic human hero, one capable of achieving goodness but flawed, such as any human being. To fulfill this desire, the writers of the mid-twentieth century replaced the hero archetype with the Modernist antihero, as exemplified by Hemingway’s characters Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley, 1 who symbolize American society’s questioning of traditional heroic qualities and their own existential individuality. In Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes subverts society’s constructs and standards through his despair, solipsism, multifaceted sickness, and emasculation and, thereby, enters the realm of the antiheroic.
THE SOCIOPOLITICAL CLIMATE OF THE MODERNIST ANTIHERO
Following World War I, the “sense of psychic bafement and of esthetic barrenness” that each war-torn country experienced varied in severity; however, renowned poet and critic Louise Bogan argues in her essay “Modernism in American Literature” that American society felt the post-war disillusionment greatest of all (99). Society’s bleak outlook led many American writers, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and Dos Passos, to adopt in their writing the existential attitude frst proposed by Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Although they were not philosophical thinkers of the same vein as Kierkegaard or Nietzsche, American authors created the existential novel by the late 1940s, which motivated the French existential thinkers Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir to embrace the novel as a valid vehicle for conveying their ideas (Bruneau 66, 67). Satre and de Beauvoir adopted this American convention, as evident in Satre’s Nausea and de Beauvoir’s She Came to Stay, because such novels, according to de Beauvoir, reconcile the “objective and the subjective, the absolute and the relative, the timeless and the historical” with “the primordial gushing-forth of life in all its concrete, particular and temporal verity” (qtd. in Bruneau 66). As a direct result of this blending of novel and philosophy, the existential novelists, both American and French, created protagonists whose “existence is no longer a life, but a fate” (Bruneau 67). Te attitude toward human existence became, as Faulkner articulates in Te Sound and the Fury, that of anguish due to indeterminate, uncontrollable fate—“humankind is a problem of impure properties carried tediously to an unvarying nil: the stalemate of dust and desire” (119). Tus, as American authors grew increasingly discontent with the outward illusion of optimism and the inward feelings of disenchantment, these writers developed the existential “hero”—aimless, morally bankrupt characters—to complete their existential novels. 2
CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EXISTENTIAL BEING
Facticity. Te concept of facticity, or one’s external view of his or her factual self, forms the core of existential philosophy. Since both past and present selves guide this third-party view of self, the choices that one made in the past dictate one’s present state of being, and they formulate one’s identity (Crowell). In any present moment, one is—that is, exists—but that existence is always understood in light of one’s past. Consequently, in that present moment, individuals are not truly being because that present existence depends upon the past. In a reversal of sorts, if an individual’s present circumstances are unstable, his or her past can shif, and as selfood is tied to past existence, then one’s present existence is also unstable (Crowell). 3
Authenticity. While facticity seeks to illuminate one’s sense of identity as connected to the past and present, authenticity explores what one is “supposed to be”—the awareness that one must create his or her “manner of being a self ” (Crowell). In creating self, the individual has the choice to strive for a unique, truly authentic self or a self that is a replica of society’s standards. 4 However, if one chooses to allow society to shape one’s being, then the individual denies authenticity and its subsequent freedoms (Crowell). Instead, one merely performs an inauthentic lifestyle.
Angst. Amid one’s choice of self, angst and dread arise. According to the thinking of Heidegger and Satre, angst, or anxiety, is a mood into which one falls in accompaniment with self-understanding and an awareness of individual freedom (Crowell). While one may fall into such a mood, his or her anxiety signifies the individual’s freedom, albeit rooted in an “existential solipsism,” as Heidegger poses (Crowell). While choices of freed authenticity may lead to angst, when in a state of anxiety, one loses one’s sense of self as tied to the world and that which is practical and moral. Separated from his or her factic self, the individual is released from any roles and practices that are societal constructs, and rather than possessing an external facticity, the individual sees himself or herself in the first-person. Thus, the individual achieves transcendence, or “goes beyond what simply is toward what can be,” and obtains freedom (Crowell). 5
Dread. However, due to an individual’s deep connection to human society, particularly established as a child through parental rearing, a newly freed being experiences dread for his or her existence, which exists within the fallout between the socially conditioned self and the freed self. Due to this crisis and resulting dread, the freed individual views existence in terms of nothingness, and society’s roles and practices become absurd (Crowell). Such a recognition of self and society leads to existential despair, which, unlike psychology’s denotation, is a constant feeling, much like an itch. Even when the freed individual feels happy, despair looms in the background, posing the question “So what?” constantly.
Self-definition. If one chooses to transcend what is, his or her project becomes self- definition, which may take on different forms including the withdrawal into self or the desire to aid society, as seen in many antiheroes. Trough the project, the person alone, apart from any other entity, must make choices concerning his or her morality and mode of existence. Te individual can behave however he or she chooses, and thus, no universal moral code exists; rather, a personal moral code exists within each being (de Beauvoir). 49 Thus, existence becomes subjective, and ethics become ambiguous. However, understanding one’s fundamental project, or basic existential choices, “gives shape to an individual life” (Crowell). 6 Yet, the self-reflective process necessary for understanding one’s project becomes uncertain when angst and dread arise in the individual.
Solipsism. A direct side-effect of anxiety and despair is solipsism. While solipsism can vary in form, ranging from arrogant self-absorption to alienation, the form that is relevant to the study of existential antiheroes is that which results in the freed, self-recognizing individual retreating into himself or herself due to the anxiety surrounding their present freedom. According to Heidegger’s thinking, this retreat “yields the existential figure of the outsider, the isolated one who ‘sees through’ the phoniness of those who […] live their lives complacently identifying with their roles as though these roles thoroughly defined them” (Crowell). Consequently, the realized individual becomes “the socially marginal other in relation to their own society” (McCallum 100). However, the social marginality is self-imposed due to their existential, self-identifying choice.
STAGES OF EXISTENTIAL DEVELOPMENT
Although scholars typically view the ideas of existentialism discussed above as interconnected concepts, in the modernist antihero they function as quasi-stages in the develop of the character’s self-identity. Because an antihero’s life, spanning from birth to death, is rarely covered in entirety in a work of literature, most often it begins at the inception of the antihero’s project—he or she realizes that their factic self is wanting and, in response, the antihero chooses to live authentically, pushing against the grain of society and producing dread within his or her self, which affects the morals of the project. Although threads of this existential progression can be observed in Romantic antiheroes like Heathcliff, 7 the stages are most visible in the Modernist antiheroes, particularly in the character of Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s famous Lost Generation expatriate whose emasculated facticity leads to his existential attitude. When read through the lens of existentialism, the war represents Jake’s unrealized self. Te end of the war implies that he has realized his freedom; but his castration, a direct effect and constant reminder of the war, signifies that, while he is free, he has entered a state of despair with its subsequent feeling of nothingness.
He realizes that despite his newly found freedom, he can never contribute anything of value to society because he does not align with its construct of masculinity. In this, his factic confusion and despair, Jake becomes the ideal existential antihero, one filled with the uncertainty and moral questioning of his generation, within and without the text.
JAKE’S FACTICITY & INAUTHENTICITY
Just as facticity forms the core of existential thought, so too it comprises the bulk of Jake’s existential struggle. While Jake recognizes his inner freedom as the events of the novel unravel, his traumatic past, the inextricable dictator of his self, leaves him with an unstable facticity and renders him unable to exist and function in society. Jake’s understanding of masculinity, a strong factor in his facticity, is linked to his past—in the way his parents raised him, for example—and thus, when his impotence prevents him from fulfilling the traditional masculine role, Jake’s facticity is shaken. While he cannot create a self that replicates society’s ideal man, he desires to, and therefore, he performs an inauthentic lifestyle. When readers meet Jake, he is in a state of factic confusion: he lives an inauthentic life but desires freedom—the freedom he already realized. 8
Jake’s despair, incited by his unstable facticity and inauthentic existence, renders him aimless in both life and social purpose. While he holds a job as a newspaper writer, and even finds the work enjoyable, Jake feels the absurdity of his existence and the phoniness of society thoroughly when apart from his work. Readers first come to understand Jake’s despair in the third chapter when he and the prostitute Georgette discuss the war. After drinking Pernod and two bottles of wine, Georgette asks Jake how he acquired his sickness, to which he only ofters, “I got hurt in the war” (Hemingway 24). Jake drops the topic of the war, when Georgette refers to it as the “dirty war,” yet he notes to himself that, had their conversation continued, they would have “agreed that it was in reality a calamity for civilization” (Hemingway 24). To Georgette, who felt the effects of the war but lacks firsthand experience with the devastation, the war is an annoyance, an unfair aspect of life. However, to Jake, who lived amid the devastation and was castrated by it, the war is an end-all—the destroyer of “normal” human life and society. If a single war can destroy everything Jake assumed to be constant, then in his eyes, society’s constructs are absurd and life is nothingness.
Jake’s despair is further evidenced in his apathetic behavior. When Jake socializes with his friends, such as at lunch with Robert Cohn or at a Pamplona bar with Bill Gorton, he yields to the wills of his partners with little resistance. While drinking together one afternoon, Cohn begs Jake to go to South America with him, saying that “All my life I’ve wanted to go on a trip like that” (Hemingway 17). Jake states that he has no desire to go to South America because such a trip is “too expensive” and that he like Paris better (Hemingway 17–18). And after a little more begging from Cohn, the trip proposal ends inconclusively. However, six chapters later, without any further discussion about the trip, Cohn writes to Jake, holding him “to the fishing-trip in Spain we had talked about last winter” (Hemingway 75). While Cohn’s persistence on a trip overall remains, the destination and Jake’s will to refuse do not. Just after Cohn’s letter, again without further discussion, readers see Jake arranging for his secretary to be in charge of his work when he “shoves of to Spain the end of June” with Bill Gorton and a plan to meet up with Cohn (Hemingway 75). Similarly, while Cohn is begging Jake to travel to South America with him, Jake devises a plan to get rid of Cohn so that he can return to work. Jake notes to readers that taking friends who visit his office down to the café for a drink is “the best way to get rid of [them] […] Once you had a drink all you had to say was: ‘Well, I’ve got to get back and get some cables of,’ and it was done” (Hemingway 19). But as Jake pulls his trick on Cohn, Cohn asks if he can “come up and sit around the office,” and to readers’ surprise, Jake welcomes him up without hesitation (Hemingway 20). But the prime example of Jake’s apathy arises in his alcoholism. 9 Near the end of the novel, when Jake is overwhelmed with his present company of friends, he tells Bill that he feels “low as hell” (Hemingway 225). To solve Jake’s “damn depression,” Bill suggests he drink more absinthe. Although Jake tells Bill that he feels “like hell” after every drink he consumes and that absinthe “won’t do any good,” Bill offers Jake round after round of absinthe, and Jake accepts each one until he becomes “drunker than I ever remembered having been” (Hemingway 225–26). While Jake’s indifferent behavior, seen in his social interactions and alcoholism, is inconceivable for some, it is fitting for his view of existence.
Due to his despair and weak will, Jake errs toward a solipsistic view of society. 10 As a traumatized intellectual alive and struggling for existence in the expat society of post-WWI, Jake is a member of the “Lost Generation,” although he prefers to float on the outer. 11 Because the Lost Generation and its café society lifestyle cannot reasonably support the inconsistencies of the dominant culture, its members create their own society, as evident in the relationship between characters like Jake, Brett, Mike, and Cohn, among others. As scholar Sara Lennox explains, the post-WWI artist-intellectuals find acceptance and affirmation “only in the small group of the similarly disaffected, those whom Brett might describe as ‘one of them’” (83). 12 However, despite the acceptance that the society of the Lost Generation provides for some, for others like Jake, they still “feel their isolation and alienation keenly” (Lennox 83). Consequently, Jake thrives, or feels most existentially present, when in solitude and suffers, or feels society’s phoniness most acutely, when in social settings.
In Chapter Tree, after Cohn leaves, Jake ventures into a dancing club “in the Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève” (Hemingway 27). There, he encounters Robert Cohn once again, and Cohn noticing that Jake is out of sorts, asks him what the matter is. Jake replies, “This whole show makes me sick is all” (Hemingway 29). This nausea is induced by his generation’s behavior, which includes his friends’, and even his own, actions. As Jake discovers in Pamplona, his friends’ obsession with alcohol, money, antagonism, and sex disgusts him. Just as the horde of the Lost Generation expats in the Parisian bar sickens him, spending extended periods of time in the company of his friends sickens him as well. In a few of his reactions to his friends’ reckless behavior, Jake states that he hates Robert Cohn and initiates a fist-fight with him; he becomes frustrated with Brett’s sexual promiscuity, 13 although he internalizes this feeling; and he grows annoyed with Mike’s constant requests for loans, quipping, “the hell you did” when Mike announces his newest debt (Hemingway 186, 193; 187; 192, 195). Although his sickness results from the behavior of many people in his circle, he takes pleasure in seeing others verbally hurt Cohn specifically, presumably as a sort of emotional release. Jake admits that when socializing with his friends, he “[likes] to see [Mike] hurt Cohn,” but he wishes Mike wouldn’t because “afterward it made me disgusted at myself ” (Hemingway 153). And when their behavior seems too much “like some bad play,” he damns his friends and his generation—Cohn, Mike, Brett, and even the whole population of women (Hemingway 153, 193, 195).
While Jake experiences this sickened response to his friends’ behavior, the end result is internal withdrawal. When the group’s Pamplona vacation climaxes with Jake and Cohn’s fight, a feeling of heaviness—as if he is carrying a “phantom suitcase” filled with his “football things”—overwhelms Jake (Hemingway 195–96). This sensation continues until he is truly isolated: alone and asleep in his room (Hemingway 198). As Lennox notes, “In the world of Te Sun Also Rises a certain human satisfaction may be gained in retreat from human society” (Lennox 84). Thus, the only solution to Jake’s sickness becomes withdrawal into himself, into that “existential solipsism” about which Heidegger writes.
While a select group of like-minded individuals only deepens Jake’s solipsism, Lennox points out that many isolated individuals, like Jake, find salvation in romantic love—“the union of two autonomous individuals for the purpose of exploring together their possibilities for subjective growth” (Lennox 83). Yet, such love, with its sexual component, is an impossible solution for the physically sick, the impotent, Jake, and therefore, the idea of a relationship with Lady Ashley, the woman he loves, also sickens him. To save himself from the pain that is his love for Brett and the isolation that is Brett’s rejection of his love, Jake further withdraws inside himself, as evidenced when he damns Brett and women as a whole (Hemingway 153). Thus, because the society of his generation, the society of his personal friends, and the love of one woman sickens him, Jake willing enters into solipsistic isolation, which deepens with each additional level of human connection that he rejects.
Beyond inciting Jake’s solipsism, this motif of sickness is essential in understanding Jake’s self-defining project and overarching antiheroism. Tree levels of the motif exist: The first is Jake’s impotence. On the large scale, the war castrated Jake—it claimed his manhood and rendered him useless in the eyes of society and, as he is conditioned by society’s traditional gender constructs, his own facticity. On the second level, which deals with the whole of society and the select society of his peers, Jake finds the collision of disillusioned minds and false façades nauseating, as discussed previously. The third level is Jake’s disgust with his own self. Upon realizing the pleasure he derives from his friends’ pain, particularly Mike’s abuse of Cohn, Jake explains that “it made me disgusted at myself ” (Hemingway 153).
As his logical next step in his self-directed disgust, Jake becomes aware of his moral code, saying, “that was morality; things that made you disgusted afterwards. No, that must be immorality” (Hemingway 153). Through his sickness, both physical and emotional, Jake realizes his conflicted selfhood and morality, which positions him closer to defining his life project but also closer to antiheroism.
Despite Jake’s flaws, he possesses a certain vision that distinguishes him from his peers but enables him to function amid the phoniness of society and the recklessness of his Lost Generation. While Bill, Brett, Cohn, Mike, and his other peers are disillusioned and obsessed with sex, alcohol, and money, Jake “is more stable emotionally and more pragmatic than his coterie of reckless people” due to his work, his passion for sports, and his concern for his close friends (Neimneh 83). When he psychologically deteriorates in social settings, Jake understands that he can regain balance by engaging in one or all of these areas. 14
First, Hemingway contrasts Jake’s apathy when in society with his sense of use when working. Te morning following the chaotic night at the dancing club, Jake wakes up and walks to the Boulevard des Capucines where his office is located. On his walk, Jake confesses his pleasure for such a simple yet meaningful task, as well as his connection to the professional members of society. His consistent use of descriptive adjectives like “fine” and “pleasant” convey his unusually optimist attitude: “It was a fine morning…All along [the sidewalk] people were going to work. It felt pleasant to be going to work” (Hemingway 44). While the Lost Generation, which Jake’s age, trauma, and existential questioning assigns him to, sickens him, Jake is motivated and spirited when linked to traditional society by a shared purposed.
Moreover, Jake finds a model for his personal purpose in sports, particularly bull-fighting. Jake’s fascination with bull-fighting stems from the intense focus of the bulls, which inspires a drive within himself. While watching a bull-fight, Jake observes the bull’s sense of purpose despite distraction: “[Te bull] charged straight for the steers and two men ran out from behind the planks and shouted, to turn him. He did not change his direction and the men shouted… and waved their arms…and the bull drove into one of the steers” (Hemingway 144). Te bulls also attract Jake’s fascination because the fights symbolize Jake’s masculine predicament. In a bull-fight, the steers, castrated bulls, represent Jake, a castrated male, and thus he is the object of the virile male’s destruction, as pictured by the bull.
By observing the bull-fights and analyzing the bulls’ methods for achieving their purpose, Jake believes that despite his injury, he can mimic their tactics and, therefore, gain the appearance of a healthy, physically whole male.
Beyond the bulls’ drive, Jake also observes the devotion of the fighters, such as Pedro Romero. Jake admires the bull-fighters’ aficion, or passion, and he himself becomes an aficionado, much to the fighters’ surprise and Montoya’s delight (Hemingway 136). As Shadi Niemneh suggests, Jake regards the bull-fighter’s mission—“honestly risking one’s life as the bullfighter does in the ring without trying to evade what might become”—as “an avenue for heroism” (84). Within this mission, Jake observes purpose, order, bravery, earnestness, self-control, and integrity, all the qualities which he believes to be traditionally male and “untouched by the destruction…left after the war” (Neimneh 84). Thus, to Jake, the solution to his self-defining project is heroism and determinism through the model of the bull-fighters and the bulls.
Despite possessing this respectable vision, Jake Barnes still remains antiheroic, albeit largely due to the war. As Neimneh rightly asserts, Jake is an unfortunate “product of the wasteland of modernity [….] Such a sick world robs men of their masculinity and, by contrast, demoralizes women” (Neimneh 85). In terms of his existential project, Jake’s castration, which includes the psychological and physical deprivation, arouses dread within him. According to Freud’s theory of trauma and the uncanny, even the threat of being castrated “excites a peculiarly violent and obscure emotion” (Freud 7). If this is true, then the actual act of castration is devastating to Jake’s existential project, preventing him from arriving at self-identity. Furthermore, the three levels of Jake’s sickness deny him the chance to be a true hero: he is physically fawed; he breaks society’s social codes regarding human connection; and he lacks identity. He is physically, humanly, mentally, and spiritually antiheroic. While some of the aspects that comprise Jake’s antiheroism are beyond his control, his despair, his solipsism, his multifaceted sickness, and his emasculation position Jake well into the realm of antiheroic. As long as he is sick, disillusioned, questioning, and emasculated, Jake cannot attain traditional heroism. Yet, should Jake take hold of his long searched for path to self-realization and existential freedom, transcending his circumstances and his society, the possibility of redemption is very much alive in Jake.
But, as Jake and Brett drive away, thinking of what their future together could have been, the question that lingers is will Jake become the uncommon hero or remain the antihero?
1 Just as Jake Barnes is the paradigm of the Modernist antihero, Lady Brett Ashley is the paradigm of the Modernist antiheroine. Likewise, as Jake embodies the ideology of masculine existential philosophy, such as put forth by Jean-Paul Satre, Brett embodies that of feminine existential philosophy, as defined by Simone de Beauvoir. Throughout this article, endnotes concerning Lady Ashley and the thoughts of de Beauvoir, will accompany the discussion of Jake Barnes and the masculine approach to existentialism.
2 Many women who were discontent with their limited state during this period believed that they must conform to the behavior of their male counterparts in order to exist fully. Due to this, such females who adopted male behavior were recognized by society as transgressive or deviant, meaning that they violated the traditional female role. As Herman Rapaport explains, “how women are expected to dress, in what they are expected to be educated, how they are expected to function as wives, mothers, workers are all predicated on assumptions about what a woman is supposed to be in terms of social roles” (47). When these transgressive females appear in literature, they become antiheroines because, while readers may empathize with them, they do not fulfill the mold of an orthodox heroine.
3 Because the traditional female role came into question during WWI, destabilizing society’s definition of femininity and women’s facticity, much of the literature from this era presents a complicated view of women. Although the female role was beginning to change, critic David Simmons states that “the novel remained predominantly masculine . . . [because] the counterculture was predominantly white and male” (Simmons 17). The women that are portrayed are overwhelmingly hysterical and insane or overtly masculine. These overtly masculine females enter the realm of antiheroic because they contradict the traditional view of women as hysterical, controlling, and un-intellectual representatives of confining domesticity. Through these extreme portrayals of women, an interesting discourse on patriarchy’s fears regarding women during this modern era, arises and is usefully analyzed through de Beauvoir’s feminist existentialism, which like the masculine existentialism was gaining a presence during the post-WWI era.
4 In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway is meticulous about clearly conveying society’s confusion and concerns toward gender roles. Upon the first reading of Lady Brett Ashley, readers will notice immediately, though superficially, that she rejects the social norms for women because of her physical appearance and the manner in which she constructs her persona. When Lady Ashley enters the plot structure for the first time, Jake refers to her only as Brett—“With them was Brett” (Hemingway 28). If Hemingway had ended the thought with those words, readers would assume Brett to be male However, to clarify, he adds a sentence of social and symbolic significance: “She looked very lovely” (Hemingway 28). From those words, readers understand that Brett is female, and moreover, one to whom Jake is attracted. Thus, the immediate impression of Lady Brett Ashley is one of gender ambiguity—she is female but her name, and the circumstances of her entrance, implies her tendency to adopt masculine behavior for the purpose of equality.
5 Like her existential male counterparts, de Beauvoir’s feminist existentialism holds the view that human individuals, both male and female, are free. They have the choice to recognize their self-identity on their own terms, leading to their freedom of self, or to understand their identity through societal terms, leading to an inauthentic life. However, in their freedom, individuals are divided into two parts: facticity and freedom. Te factic division of a person, which recognizes one’s ties to society—their learned morality, their gender, their race, etc.— constrains freedom by influencing, or even dictating, the manner in which the individual must behave. However, the freed division of an individual is subjective and deep within the being.
6 For women, trapped in patriarchal society, the concrete ends become their own bodies. According to de Beauvoir’s theory, women are Others in the patriarchal world, and thus can never attain true freedom. In order to be recognized as equal, which is different than same, she must adopt the ways of men (Bergofen). However, this choice, which is a concrete project, limits her freedom, because she must define her existence in accordance with other human beings, particularly men; whereas, men are free to define themselves in a solipsistic way (Bergofen). Nevertheless, de Beauvoir asserts that women are complicitous in this situation. Women feel a bond to human beings innately, while men feel no such allegiance (Bergofen). When women respond to this sense of unity, they limit their freedom as well. Either choice—conformity or suppression—results in the female’s loss of absolute freedom, according to de Beauvoir. However, by appealing to others to join in the female project for justice, women “validate [themselves] and [their] values” (Bergofen). De Beauvoir explains, “When this happens, I must recognize the other’s freedom and affirm the bond of humanity that ties us to each other (qtd. in Bergofen). In this understanding, women are able to reject the need to conform to patriarchy in order to exist and accept their proclivity for the human bond, thus becoming truly free as their male counterparts. In existential philosophy, revenge becomes a historical moment because although it occurs in the present, it is tied to a past experience. As long as the individual seeks revenge, the stage before the action of revenge is completed, he or she is chained to a past moment, and thus, the individual is not free; they exist in the absurd. However, while a revenge-seeking individual may believe that he or she will be free once the project of revenge is complete, one is haunted by the consequences of their project and, therefore, are not free, just as when they sought revenge. Because Heathcliff’s existence is chained to revenge, he exists inauthentically. While he seeks revenge, he denies freedom, and when he completes his revenge, he is haunted by its consequences, and thus, drifts in the chasm between past and present. In this, and in his solipsism and despair, Heathcliff exhibits the quasi-stages of existentialism.
8 Like Jake, Lady Ashley is also factically confused. However, her confusion manifests in her gender performativity. Lady Ashley adopts certain behavior that is traditionally masculine, such as alcoholism and dress, and rejects the conventional feminine regard for marriage and love. She adopts these behaviors to promote her equal status with her male peers, but she maintains a childlike Other view of herself, which self-negates any equality.
9 The first form of masculine behavior that Lady Ashley models, in order to participate as an equal within male society, is that of alcoholism. As Robert Penn Warren once noted, through the characters’ actions and dialogue, Hemingway creates a “secret community” of individuals “‘who have resigned from the general community, and who are strong enough to live without any of the illusions, lies, and big words of the herd’” (qtd. in Crowley 45). Te most notable aspect, and the initiation rite, of his “secret community” is alcohol, or one’s ability to consume incredible amounts of alcohol and remain only “a little drunk…just enough to be careless” (Hemingway 29). Because the secret community, which is composed entirely of males, forms around alcohol, Lady Ashley must likewise become an alcoholic in order to be accepted into the group. Consequently, she is known by all to be an alcoholic so much so that when she appears sober, Jake inquires, “Why aren’t you tight?” (Hemingway 29). In reply, she announces her resolution to change her alcoholic ways, but in the same breath, she orders herself another drink: “Never going to get tight any more. I say, give a chap a brandy and soda” (Hemingway 29). As the tale progresses, readers come to understand that Lady Ashley not only uses alcohol to establish her equality with men, but also to numb the dissonance that she feels over her conflicted gender performativity.
10 While Jake’s alienated sense of solipsism drives him to reject the people who comprise society, Lady Ashley rejects society’s traditional institutions, namely love and marriage. In the fourth chapter of The Sun Also Rises, while the two circle around their love for one another, Jake states that he finds love to be an enjoyable feeling, yet Lady Ashley declares it to be “hell on earth” (Hemingway 35). Lady Ashley experiences love as a burden because she recognizes that it limits her freedom. In feminist existential terms, Lady Ashley desires her project, the concrete ends that measure her existence, to be a relationship with Jake Barnes. However, as a realized being, she sees the futility in a relationship with Jake. Besides the limitations resulting from Jake’s impotence, Lady Ashley recognizes that the patriarchy tied to a traditional relationship will limit her inner freedom—her ability to construct her own moral code and to find her existence apart from any other human being. Thus, she avoids such a relationship with Jake, although she loves him and desires to be near him.
11 One of the epigrams that accompany the novel is Gertrude Stein’s quote, “You are all a lost generation,” which is followed by a verse from Ecclesiastes. As scholar Shadi Neimneh suggests, these epigrams reveals the novel’s commentary “on an entire generation destroyed by war” (Neimneh 83). This term, like T.S. Eliot’s hollow men, reveal the condition of modernity’s culture and society. Those like Jake and his peers were lost to “the futility of sex, alcohol, and violence” (Neimneh 83).
12 Beyond her alcoholism, Brett uses her physical appearance to gain equality with her male counterparts. When Jake notices Lady Ashley enter the bar, he notes that “Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 30). Although she dons a skirt, which is traditionally feminine, she chooses one in a more masculine fabric. Furthermore, although Hemingway notes the care that Lady Ashley takes with her hair—“her hair was brushed back”—he also notes that it is cut “like a boy’s” (Hemingway 30). A few chapters later, Brett wears a men’s felt hat, which she pulls down over her eyes (Hemingway 35). Moreover, to emphasize her masculine appearance, Lady Ashley refers to herself as “chap” when in the company of Jake and his friends (Hemingway 29). Tis comparison of Lady Ashley to a boy suggests de Beauvoir’s theory that women, when understood as the Other, revert to the “metaphysically privileged world of the child,” meaning that as children are dependent on their parents to make choices for them, women rely on men to make moral decisions for them. For children, the “world is neither alienating nor stifling for they are too young to assume the responsibilities of freedom” (Bergofen). Likewise, the unrealized woman returns to this mystified state, where she is free from the anxieties of the world. Thus, when Jake describes Lady Ashley’s appearance in terms of a child, his view of Brett as a woman dependent upon men becomes evident. Furthermore, Lady Ashley’s complicity in this view of herself as childlike Other is evident in her choice to wear clothing that showcase her figure. As Jake describes Lady Ashley’s appearance when she enters the bar, he comments that “she was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey” (Hemingway 30). While choice of attire is a woman’s own, Lady Ashley allows her choice to be influenced by patriarchy, or rather her desire to be accepted as an equal with the men who perpetuate patriarchy. Lady Ashley uses her Otherness to convince Jake and the other men to accept her into their group. However, their acceptance does not signify her equality. When she taps into her sexuality, she confirms her role as Other, and blinded by her sexuality, the men never accept her as equal.
13 Throughout the novel, Lady Ashley explores her unrealized project. Rather than committing to one relationship, Brett jumps from one romantic partner to the next in order to preserve her individuality. Breaking society’s proprietary rules means nothing to her because she believes that these actions will lead to her inner freedom. However, her continual search for relationships with men to fulfill her sexual desires only perpetuates her state of unrealized freedom. Yet, through Lady Ashley’s anxiety-filled state of project exploration, Hemingway seeks to prove that a free, or almost free, as in Lady Ashley’s case, project-exploring woman is a danger to men. Her masculinity and self-constructed moral code, which does not align with society’s, emasculates the men with whom she is involved, as seen in Jake and Pedro Romero. Her exploration, which renders her continually unsatisfied, destroys their potential to function within society.
14 Sadly, however, Lady Ashley does not experience this vision that Jake possesses. Rather than fnding purpose or assurance in certain activities or friendships, she attempts to gain fulfllment through romantic relationships, yet those inevitably fail each time. Consequently, Brett becomes a dangerous woman, meaning that her confused facticity hurts those around her, which is most evident in her relationships with Jake Barnes and Pedro Romero. First, because Lady Ashley refuses to commit to Jake due to his impotence and her desire for freedom, she reduces him to a state of gender ambiguity. He becomes masculine only through his outward performativity, like Brett herself. Moreover, although Pedro Romero loves her, her masculinity and unorthodox moral code threatens his traditional nature and potential to be a great bull fighter. In the beginning of Brett’s relationship with Pedro, she is radiant and happy with a sense of fulfillment now that she has someone to take care of (Hemingway 210). However, when Jake meets her in Barcelona following the fight, she admits that she made Pedro leave her. As she tells Jake about the disintegration of her relationship with Pedro, she reveals that he was ashamed of her. Because she did not adhere to the female mold, Pedro’s friends “ragged him about me at the café,” Brett notes (Hemingway 245). As a result, Pedro attempts to make Lady Ashley more “womanly,” asking her to grow her hair out and to marry him so that she could “never go away from him” (Hemingway 246).
However, rather than conforming to society’s standards, even when the man with whom she finds happiness asks her to, she sides with her desire for inner freedom, becoming a dangerous woman. In an exploration of readers’ responses to Lady Brett Ashley, most readers felt that Brett is a dangerous woman “because [Lady Ashley] does not conform to traditional feminine behavior, she is a danger to him [meaning Pedro Romero, who is traditionally male]” (SparkNotes contributors). For these reasons, society, both in the novel and in reality, deems Lady Ashley a transgressive female, and thus, she becomes antiheroic.
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