Ernest Hemingway is the author of The Sun Also Rises and wrote the novel as a Roman à clef in 1926. The novel is written through the eyes of one of the characters, Jake Barnes, who is based on Ernest Hemingway himself. Hemingway was not the type of man who treated women in chivalrous manner. In his literature, he belittles and degrades women, but in this novel, the female character, Brett, can be seen as a feminist figure. Hemingway did not portray Brett as an object, instead he showed her off, he showed how great of a woman she is without being held down by a man. Lady Brett Ashley is delineated as a “flapper”, she is a woman who flaunts herself around men, does what she wants, and does not act like a traditional classy woman of the 1920s. The powerful female character, Lady Brett Ashley, makes the novel The Sun Also Rises empowering for women.
Feminist Criticism is “ concerned with ‘…the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women”(Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)). Feminist Criticism exposes the misogyny in literature and diversifies everyday jobs, for example, medicine, most experiments are tested on men and most physicians are, “82.4 percent of physicians over the age of 65 being male.”(The healthcare Future is Female). Some experts say that Feminist Criticism followed the three waves of feminism. The first wave of feminism was in 1700-1900, famous female writes to highlight the inequalities between the sexes. The early 1900s the women’s suffrage movement began and ended around the ’20s with the win of the Nineteenth Amendment. The second wave happened 1960-1970, this wave worked on more equal working conditions. The third wave 1990- present, is the resistance simple beliefs and a white, heterosexual, middle-class focus of second wave feminism, and the third wave feminism that focuses on gender and race theories.
Lady Brett Ashley is a new woman who creates her own traits that are different from normal feminine traits. She refuses to adapt to the norm of social gender roles during the 1920s, “She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 30). This was the first real description Jake Barnes said about Brett. During the 1920s women did not normally have short hair or dress out of traditional gender roles, but the ones who did were normally referred to as a flapper. A flapper were women who cut their hair short, wore short dresses, drank, smoked, and cursed, basically a woman who acted out of the ordinary. Brett can definitely be referred to as a flapper because she does all of those things. Brett was very out of the ordinary, her appearance and behavior was very different compared to other women. Women care about other people’s feelings, Brett does not, she asks Jake “Do you still love me?”, “Yes” responds Jake “… I’m a goner. I’m mad about the Romero boy. I’m in love with him, I think” (Hemingway 186-187). Brett does not care that Jake is in love with her, she likes the idea and uses it to her advantage. This reveals that Brett is very insensitive and manipulative. She does not care about hurting others and uses their emotional attachment to her will, she confides in Jake when she had problems with other men. Brett is very different from other women and uses this trait to challenge men in this novel.
Her behavior is a challenge against men, it overall ends up dominating all of the male characters in the novel. She is the only female character that is shown to be above a male character. This ability makes her extremely empowering to women. Brett’s behavior is extremely challenging to Pedro Romero. Pedro Romero is a young man with the most aficionado in Pamplona, who uses his ability to be the best in bullfighting. Romero is the most masculine character out of all the male characters, but his masculine identity does not mix well is Brett’s feminism. Brett tells Jake, “He wanted me to grow my hair out. Me, with long hair. I’d look so like hell” (Hemingway 245). Brett was strong enough to leave a man she thought was to be the love of her life because he didn’t approve the way she looked. Romero wanted to “domesticate” Brett, but she is free minded and knew that she could not be with a man who wanted dominance over her. Brett also tells Jake, “No. It wasn’t that. He really wanted to marry me. So I couldn’t go away from him” (Hemingway 246). Brett challenged Romero, she refused to marry the most masculine man in this novel. This shows that Brett is her own woman, she does not need to be controlled by someone. She is in a way more dominant and brave to refuse to marry him, as most women would never refuse a hand in marriage.
Brett is a brave woman who witnessed a lot of loss and tragedy in life, she does everything to make herself happy. Brett was a nurse in World War I, she lost her one true love due to violence and witnesses a lot of gruesome injuries and fatalities. After the loss of her love, she was married to a man who abused her mentally. Mike told Jake,
“That was rather good. Ashley, chap she got the title from, was a sailor, you know. Ninth baronet. When he came home he wouldn’t sleep in a bed. Always made Brett sleep on the floor. Finally, when he got really bad, he used to tell her he’d kill her. Always slept with a loaded service revolver. Brett used to take the shells out when he’d gone to sleep. She hasn’t had an absolutely happy life, Brett. Damned shame, too. She enjoys things so” (Hemingway 206).
Brett’s ex-husband was a mentally abusive man, from what she suffered her reactions to other men can be labeled as post-traumatic stress disorder. She was afraid of being with another man like that again. Brett took action and divorced him, then she became engaged with Mike, a person who understood why she did what she did. The only way she could cope with the trauma is acting a certain way that makes her happy. She does what she thinks it’s right, she is a woman trying to heal what a man has broken. Brett develops characteristics that help her salvage her own identity, ignoring all traditional female boundaries.