In the last pages of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, lead characters Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashely come to a verbal understanding that they can never be together. As Jake is impotent and Brett a nymphomaniac, a long-term physical relationship between the two will never realistically work. However, it is striking that, despite the lines being spoken in this ending moment, Jake and Brett are, in fact, together. The many suitors that Brett had fallen in and out of love with throughout the story are nowhere to be found, and it is Jake who is by her side. While physical limitations may not allow for a traditional relationship between the two, it becomes clear here that Jake and Brett have developed a bond much greater than that. What is it that enables Jake – and no one else – to be by Brett’s side by the end of the novel? I believe that it is Jake’s possession of afición, or an enhanced masculinity, that grants him this intimacy with Brett. Where Jake begins the novel as an insecure man terrified to face his reality, he ends it self-assured enough to comfortably be with Brett without relentlessly chasing after her in a romantic sense. In this essay, I will further discuss the significance of afición and how Jake comes to realize it; he is the man with Brett by the end because of the reclamation process he undergoes throughout the novel to regain his masculinity.
Before the events of the novel take place, Jake Barnes had been rendered impotent due to an unfortunate accident that occurred during World War I. Though he remains socially accepted as a male by his friends and by those around him, he exists in this hyper-state of insecurity regarding a diminished view of his own masculinity. He attempts to behave in ways that a traditional male would – entertaining a prostitute, for example – in an attempt to prove to himself that, despite his condition, he is still a man. However, the traditional male persona that he tries to outwardly project is ineffectual in securing the love of Brett; as the novel progresses, though, Jake redefines what it means to be a man. The centered and self-assured person that Jake becomes is the only male that Brett feels comfortable resting her shoulder on by the end of the novel. I would like to detail some of the ways in which Jake is able to make this transformation and how his interactions with Brett develop as a result of it.
Jake’s fishing trip with his friend Bill – an event described in extraordinary detail – is the first step in his transformation from a self-doubting man to one fully confident and aware of his afición. This scene is significant for a number of reasons – the first being a turning point in the novel in which Jake is revealed to be highly skilled at a traditionally masculine activity. Hemingway tends to describe sporting events with an intensity and passion that is not as noticeably found in other aspects of his stories, and he makes no exceptions with the way he describes Jake’s performance as a fisherman. Jake’s successful capture of the trout is depicted through careful and comprehensive detail, thereby portraying him as someone who understands the complexities of something that a man should understand. This serves to foreshadow his status as an afición during the fiesta later in the novel. The larger impact of this scene, though, is how Jake is compared to Bill.
As I have mentioned earlier, it is Jake and no one else who ends up by Brett’s side at the end of the novel. The fishing scene is one of the major indications throughout the text of why Jake is granted this status above anyone else. Bill calls Jake a “lazy bum” (Hemingway 125) after learning that he used spin fishing – a far easier way to fish than fly fishing (Gardner). However, while Bill chose to go downriver into a calmer area, Jake chose to test his skills at the strongest part of the river by the waterfall. Despite this challenge, Jake actually catches more fish than Bill. This is significant because it establishes Jake as a man who can remain composed and find success through riotous events. Earlier, in Paris, Jake would often complain of having to work in the morning to avoid getting involved with a chaotic evening; as a skilled fisherman, though, we get our first glimpse of his poise in the face of difficulty. This ability to maintain his focus amidst the harsh rapids plays directly into the fiesta in which Jake is the only male character able to stay calm and centered while the world around them devolves into turmoil.
Upon arriving to Pamplona, Jake’s masculinity becomes something recognizable to others. Although Bill may be more equipped to fly fish than Jake, it is quickly revealed that Bill is not nearly as knowledgeable as Jake is in regards to bullfighting. Montoya, the head of the hotel they stay at, puts his hand on Jake’s shoulder and tells him, “But he’s not aficionado like you are” (Hemingway 136). To Montoya, it seems that the capability to understand and enjoy bullfighting means far more than one’s status as a traditional male figure. Jake’s injuries do not matter; the only thing that matters is that he possesses afición, and it is the possession of afición that matters above all else in the context of this novel. Hemingway describes the way in which afición raises one’s status at the fiesta:
Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights. All the good bull-fighters stayed at Montoya’s hotel; that is, those with aficion stayed there…Photographs of bull-fighters who had been without aficion Montoya kept in a drawer of his desk. They often had the most flattering inscriptions. But they did not mean anything. One day Montoya took them all out and dropped them in the waste-basket (Hemingway 136).
This club of afición is portrayed as a place for men to be amongst men who share this passion for bullfighting. Jake shares moments with Montoya, and also with the bullfighter Romero, someone who Montoya also describes as being an aficionado. Therefore, afición becomes the novel’s definition of this elevated masculinity. Just as Romero can keep his focus in the center of the arena, Jake is able to stay composed in the middle of the fiesta; this is the defining characteristic that eventually allows him to be with Brett in a public setting.
Jake’s friends learn about the intricacies of bullfighting through Jake because he is the only one equipped to explain it all to them. His status as an afición lends to him becoming the unquestioned leader of the group, as he has an ability to gain access to parts of the fiesta that most never see. He only has access to activities such as staying at the Hotel Montoya and onversing with Romero himself because of his heightened masculinity of afición. His conversation with Romero is another key moment in the text. In it, Romero, an esteemed and popular bullfighter, actually defers to Jake’s impression of the bulls before discussing his own opinion. It is almost as if Romero is afraid that his opinion might differ from the American aficionado.