In Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, women are a ubiquitous part of the story, and even central to the plot. They vary greatly in their character and role in life. They range from the prostitute Georgette to the anxious Frances to the cool and androgynous Brett. In all cases, they are depicted via their behavior, actions, and the opinions of others. The reader sees these women largely through the eyes of the narrator, a wounded WWI veteran.
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Hemingway makes very little effort to surmise or hypothesize about their actual internal thoughts, feelings or motivations. These women represent three very divergent ways of being a woman, and presumably, their interior lives must reflect these differences. Despite the limited interior perspective that Hemingway provides, and his relentless focus, instead, on action, his women are nonetheless vivid and memorable characters
The four women who appear in greatest detail in The Sun Also Rises are Georgette Hobin, Frances Clyne, Mrs. Braddock (who is not introduced using her Christian, or given, name), and Lady Brett Ashley. Each one fits well into a different demographic category and niche in society. Although Hemingway is clearly trying to describe what he sees, he nonetheless seems to assume that his readers share a knowledge of what these women would look like or how they would behave, just based on their roles in society.
Georgette Hobin is a sex worker who catches the eye of a potential customer; in this case, Jake Barnes, the narrator, while walking the streets. Jake describes her as being ‘good-looking” and “rather pretty”. These value-laden words seemto breach of Hemingway’s own journalistic rules;he is renowned for showing rather than telling and avoiding words without specific meaning(Hemingway Chapter 3).
The modern assessment of Georgette’s looks might be different. This suggests that he had some very definite ideas of what constituted good looks, which the narrator notes she preserves by not smiling and thereby revealing horrible teeth(Hemingway Chapter 3). This is perhaps a marker of social class. Georgette is also apparently prejudiced against Belgian Flemish-speakers, and makes a joke about their dinner being better than what is available in Brussels (Hemingway Chapter 3).
As a real prostitute, an “actual harlot”, she constitutes a novelty Brett’s young male companions. However, Georgette’s big moment is recounted much laterabout the fight she gets into with the nightspot owner’s daughter, wherein she accuses her of being a prostitute as well (Hemingway Chapter 4). Although she has spirit and character, she seems to be woman as object, to be used as needed, whether for sex or companionship, and passed from hand to hand.
Frances Clyne is Robert Cohn’s ‘almost’ fiancée. She is described as good-looking and tall; more value-laden terms, as well having been possessive and exploitative of Robert Cohn, at least earlier of their relationship. At this point, she is desperate to get Robert to formalize their relationship.
She has burned her bridges with her first husband, and now worries about lonelinessand impoverishment. In her view, Robert aims for celebrity authorship for the accompanying sex with literary groupies. To a modern reader, her assessment of Bob’s situation, and aims, seems quite accurate.
However, Hemingway depicts Frances’ listing unpleasant truths about Bob, for example, his self-interestedness, his weepiness over his own cavalier treatment of his wife/girlfriends, his exploitation of his personal affairs as material for his next novel, his cheapness, and so forth, as highly negative(Hemingway Chapter 5). In that era, a modern reader might infer, a woman was culpable for publicly giving her fiancé blunt feedback about himself.
’ implacable critique makes the narratorflee in order to avoid hearing more(Hemingway Chapter 5).She reminds the reader of the Furies, pursuing Cohn relentlessly until and unless paid off to go away. Hemingway does not mention her again for most of the novel. She seems to be woman as irritant.
Mrs. Braddocks, whose husband is also introduced without a given name, is described as Canadian, and possessing the “easy social graces” that Hemingway associates with that nationality. She misses Jake’s joke of introducing Georgette under a more elegant, French-sounding name than Hobin, to Anglophone ears, suggesting that she is either dim or poorly informed(Hemingway Chapter 3)Mrs. Braddocks seems to be Hemingway’s image of the little woman; happy wife to a relatively happy husband.
Lady Brett Ashley is the most crucial female figure in the novel. She is an odd mixture of sexiness and androgyny, affection and withholding, sexual promiscuity and integrity, class and degradation.This “remarkably attractive woman “ (in spite of an awkward nose) (Hemingway Chapter 13)has some attributes that suggest gender ambiguity to a modern reader.She wears revealing clothes that are not necessarily girly, like a man’s felt hat (Hemingway Chapter 13), and often calls herself “chap” (Hemingway Chapter 3).
Although engaged to the absent Mike Campbell, she is generous with her sexual favors (Hemingway Chapter 5). She has been involved (at a minimum) with her deceased true love, Lord Ashley,Campbell, Cohn, and Romero,and lusted after by Gorton, Barnes, and much of the Basque region. Jake is “sick” from the war, and cannot engage in intercourse, so he is ruled out as a potential husband (Hemingway Chapter 3).
Each man treats her very differently. Lord Ashley threatened her physically. Robert Cohn worships her. Pedro Romero wants to tame her into a more traditional woman. Jake pines for her helplessly and gets her out of trouble. Her fiancée calls her “a piece” but accepts her infidelities as long as he approves of the men(Hemingway).
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This seems more complimentary than Robert Cohn calling her Circe (Hemingway Chapter 13),which suggests that she appeals to the worst in men and makes the worst of men. It is also more complimentary than the villagers hanging garlic around her neck (Hemingway Chapter 15) suggesting vampire-like sucking of life from men, or a “sadist”.
However, her behavior suggests that these are accurate characterizations. Her self-centered approach to life can be summarized by her assertion that her fling with Romero made her feel “quite set up”, which sounds exploitative in any era(Hemingway Chapter 19).
By novel’s end, she has left Romero with a shattered face and lost credibility amongst his serious supporters and colleagues(Hemingway Chapter 19), Cohn with a shattered spirit(Hemingway), Campbell with embarrassment, and Barnes with despair and his continuing alcohol abuse problem, with a bottle of wine for, “good company” (Hemingway Chapter 17)She seems to be Hemingway’s idea of woman as a deity with the power to attract as well as to destroy.
Hemingway employs the impact and perception of his characters on and by those around them to paint their images in the reader’s mind. This allows the reader to infer their internal motivations and thoughts. This technique works well, despite almost a century of distance from the very specific social environment in which the action of The Sun Also Rises takes place.
His female characters are no exception. They represent a range of options for female identity, fromtraditional wife/would-be wife, to the most marginalized street-walker, to a woman who seems liberated (although liberated for what, one might ask). Hemingway represents his women with implicit assumptions about their roles and appearance, but manages to make them living people nonetheless.
Athabasca University. “Ernest Hemingway.” 2013. Athabasca University. Web.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Akso Rises. New York: Cherles Scribner’s Songs, 2006. Print.
- “Say what you see not what you’d like to see. Be brief, be vigorous, be smooth, be positive. Avoid the use of adjectives like “splendid,” “gorgeous,” “grand.” Write short sentences, and use short first paragraphs.” (Athabasca University)
- Many Europeans at that time might have displayed the results of worse dental health than Americans, due to war and all the disruption of nutrition and health care
- Circe was the frightening sorceress in The Odyssey who transformed visiting sailors into pigs.