Brett the Bitch

July 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

The destruction of WWI disillusioned an entire generation and accelerated the evolution of modernism — a culture that was ostensibly enlightened, irredeemable and confused. The emergence of 1920’s modernism allowed for a resurgence of feminist thinking, which moved away from the patriarchal Victorian standards of womanhood to the bawdy, irreverently empowered “new woman.” The “new woman’s” aversion to prudish inhibition abetted in the growing sense of uncertainty, conflict, and the erosion of society. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises typifies this insecurity procured from the ideological divergence between patriarchy and feminism — a symptomatic component of the cultural confusion of modernism. Hemingway’s ideologically conflicted portrayal of Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises both reinforces and subverts the traditional conceptions of patriarchy.Lady Brett Ashley highlights patriarchal ideology by perpetuating certain fundamental characteristics of traditional gender roles. She is irrational, nurturing, and weak from her dependence upon men, which allows them to distinguish her as property. She exemplifies her imprudence by impulsive emotion — she marries two different men whom she doesn’t love and is about to marry a third for no other reason but that “[h]e’s so damned nice.” Like her male counterparts she drinks often but only Brett remains so consistently drunk that it hinders her speech and daily physical activities. Her addiction to liquor leaves her especially weak and always requiring the assistance of men, specifically Jake whom she constantly calls on for emotional and financial support. Her susceptibility permits men to perceive her as their property, as Robert Cohn does when he follows her around insisting on her undivided attention or as Romero does when he asks to marry her so that he can guarantee she’ll “never go away from him.” When Cohn pummels Romero, Brett remains true to the Victorian ideal of a nurturing female, and nurses the bullfighter back to health — just as she did when she worked as a V.D.A. in a war hospital. Despite her fulfillment of traditional gender roles, Brett clearly embodies the role of the “new woman,” yet, evidently this progressive position does not appeal to Hemingway.Hemingway’s portrayal of her as a “new woman” is so repugnant and churlish that a case could easily be made concerning the inferiority of woman based on her depiction as the representative female. Brett personifies the “bad girl,” a sexually forward femme fatale who can be easily possessed or easily discarded. She uses men for impetuous sexual satisfaction then leaves them for her next smutty capture — conquests that render her anxious to bathe in an attempt to cleanse herself physically and psychologically. Her portrayal as the “bad girl” validates Hemingway’s chauvinistic attitude towards her and reinforces his preservation of patriarchal ideals. He evidently has no purpose for her other than to consistently disrupt the more legitimate and important male relationships with her sexual liaisons. He allocates more value and priority to scenes that demonstrate male bonding by elevating his style; for example, the most poetically written passages of the book like the fishing scenes between Jake and Bill occur without the presence of Brett. Regardless of the traditional roles Brett fulfills or the extremely negative representation of “new woman” feminism she signifies, Brett does demonstrate typically masculine qualities that undermine the patriarchal ideology at work.Lady Brett actively subverts the standards of cultural gendering and personifies a woman who, in many ways, perpetuates more masculine qualities than her male cohorts. She is assertive, empowered, and protective — all traditional patriarchal characteristics of masculinity. Brett easily asserts control over men, particularly the impotent and emasculated Jake, who cries for her at night when she leaves him and willingly disrupts his own activities to be at her beckoning call. While Hemingway depicts her and her promiscuity as a boorish component of feminist ideology, he fails to recognize and acknowledge that Brett’s use of sexuality is her only avenue to empowerment in an era where women are perceived as unequal and inferior. She owns her sexuality, which allows for her assertiveness and her strong sense of self and independence (qualities that she unfortunately hampers with alcohol). Romero thinks he can possess her and vows to marry her after she becomes “more womanly” by growing her hair out. She refuses the longer hair stipulation and the prospect of becoming “one of these bitches that ruins children.” Additionally, while she doesn’t particularly care for Cohn, only Brett stands up for him and attempts to silence Mike when he commences his cruel, verbally abusive rant against Cohn, suggesting her independent thinking and forcefulness.Contrary to the conventional Victorian expectations of dainty femininity, Brett is just “one of the boys” who demands equal treatment and unhindered participation in traditionally masculine activities. She drinks, smokes, and swears in public — activities that had been previously regarded as taboo for women before the 1920’s. Her name, Brett, is typically considered masculine. In addition she refers to people, including herself, as “chaps” — an indication that she regards everyone of the group, male and female, on equal terms. She also defies moral and social codes by accepting and maintaining friendly relationships with homosexuals whom she first appears with. Brett completely disregards the ideas of gendering and traditional femininity and redefines her role and essence as a woman.Brett’s brazen assertiveness and defiance of certain Victorian conceptions stipulated for women plainly challenges patriarchal ideology. Yet, her hesitance to abandon each and every Victorian conception as well as Hemingway’s negative portrayal of her also plainly reinforces the traditional ideology. Brett is nurturing and protective, weak yet strong, dependent yet independent, assertive yet emotionally irrational, slutty yet sexually empowered, masculine yet feminine. She exemplifies a plethora of contradictions and ideological conflicts. Lady Brett Ashley’s incongruous portrayal reflects the overall conflicts and confusion that originated from the cultural changes of modernism and the attempts of the “Lost Generation” of writers to resonate those changes and make sense of them.

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