Characters: Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley in “The Sun Also Rises”
On the last page of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, lead characters Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley come to a verbal understanding that they can never be together. As Jake is impotent and Brett someone who heavily values sex, a long-term physical relationship between the two will never realistically work. However, I find it striking that, despite the outward sentiment, 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 afici??n, or an enhanced masculinity, that grants him this togetherness 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 afici??n 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 had been rendered impotent due to an unfortunate accident that occurred during World War I. Though his friends don’t necessarily seem to view him a negative light, 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 – spending an evening with 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 does not help strengthen his relationship with 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 character that Brett feels comfortable resting arm in arm with 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 afici??n. 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. As we have seen throughout the semester, Hemingway tends to describe sporting events – things that men should enjoy – 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. Even though he may have viewed himself as lesser, it becomes clear here that his physical deficiencies do not supersede his status as a man. This serves to foreshadow his position as an afici??n and someone capable of having bullfighting knowledge 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. While fishing, Jake and Bill split up; as Bill goes to a calmer area downriver, Jake decides to test his skills at the strongest part of the waterfall. Despite this challenge, Jake actually catches double the amount of fish that Bill does. This is significant because it establishes Jake as a man who can remain composed and find success in uncontrollable environments. Once the story shifts to the fiesta, and things begin to devolve into madness, Jake’s friends all lose themselves; as evidenced here through his skills as a fisherman, though, Jake is able to remain poised 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 despite the chaos.
Upon arriving to Pamplona, Jake’s masculinity becomes something recognizable to others. Montoya, the head of the hotel they stay at, singles out Jake from his friends, telling him that they’re .not aficionado like you are (Hemingway 136). To Montoya, Jake’s injuries do not matter; the only thing that is important is that he possesses afici??n. Hemingway describes the ways in which afici??n raises one’s status at the fiesta:
Afici??n 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 afici??n stayed there.Photographs of bull-fighters who had been without afici??n 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)
At the fiesta, all of the aficionados stick together; their coalition is portrayed as a place for men to be amongst other men who share a similar passion for bullfighting. All other men present at the fiesta – that is, those who do not possess afici??n – are not as important; so, despite Jake’s limitations as a man, he becomes the unquestioned leader of his group. Jake shares moments with Montoya, as well as with the bullfighter Romero, someone who Montoya also describes as being an aficionado. This links two men who, on the surface, could not be more different; just as Romero can keep his focus in the center of the arena, Jake is able to stay composed in the middle of the frenzied fiesta.
Jake’s 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 revealing his own opinions. It is almost as if Romero is afraid that his thoughts might differ from an aficionado like Jake. Through this conversation, it becomes clear that Jake is on the same level as someone who is considered the ultimate afici??n. This is a striking transformation for Jake to go from someone who turned away the advances of a prostitute due to his uncertainty about his own status as a man to someone embraced by a bullfighter who is portrayed as the most in touch with his masculinity. Jake’s knowledge of bullfighting, then, enables him to reaffirm his own masculinity, regardless of traditional standards of what it means to be a man. The conversation with Romero allows Jake to reclaim the masculinity that he felt he had lost, and this subsequently gives him the ability to remain calm amidst the chaos of the fiesta. If tumultuous events such as getting knocked out by Cohn and watching Brett enter into a relationship with Romero had occurred earlier in the text, Jake may have been left feeling vulnerable and turbulent; now, however, he has found a way to navigate his way through these events with an ease that he did not previously have. This level-headedness is the reason why Jake and Brett can be together at the end of the novel. While their friends and the world around them crumbles, Jake is the only one able to maintain his poise amid the chaos of Pamplona.
In the early parts of the novel, on the surface, it appears that the reasons Jake and Brett cannot be together is solely due to the physical nature of Jake’s wounds. Far more significant than that, though, it is Jake’s diminished mindset of who he is as a man that keeps him apart from Brett. When they ride in the taxi together in Paris, they are like two strangers (Hemingway 35). It is as if Jake feels like a relationship between the two of them is impossible because of their inability to express love for one another physically. However, while fishing with Bill, and through conversations with Montoya and Romero, Jake comes to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a man. His possession of afici??n, a trait described as a higher form of masculinity, allows him to regain and heighten a sense of self that he had lost during the war. His connection with Brett does not require the traditional masculinity that his friends can provide, but something greater – this connection is most obviously established while sitting with Brett in the bullfighting arena. Here, they can be publicly intimate together in a way that none of his friends have any chance of achieving.
Early in the novel, Jake and Brett display an intense amount of affection for one another. Brett shares things with him that she does not share with anyone else, and Jake is always thrilled to listen; however, they are stuck at a crossroads where, despite this love, they cannot be intimate with one another. Unlike other male characters, though, Jake eventually finds a way to translate the private moments of togetherness he shares with Brett to a more public setting. Robert Cohn, for example, once the fiesta begins, serves the novel solely to follow Brett around like a love-sick puppy; he is unable to separate their intimacy in San Sebastian from the public and overwhelming fiesta, and ultimately becomes a distant memory rather than a friend. Jake, on the other hand, finds a way to bridge this gap. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he helps Brett understand the bullfights.
When the bulls are brought into the arena, Jake gives Brett some insight into one of the bull’s movements: Look how he knows how to use his horns.He’s got a left and right just like a boxer (Hemingway 144). Brett, as a result, expresses extreme excitement in the ensuing moments when she sees the bull demonstrate the movements that Jake said it would. As I have discussed earlier, Jake’s passion for bullfighting is no small subject in the text; instead, it acts as his defining characteristic and a way for him to reclaim his masculinity. Therefore, it is significant that he is able to share his passion with Brett, and this ultimately allows them to communicate on a level that none of the others can. Though they cannot be physically intimate, this shared bond over something described with intense beauty and passion brings them together more than Brett’s interactions with other men do. This emotional intimacy supersedes the physicality that they lack – and that originally acted as a barrier between them – enabling them to share something much more significant. Where Cohn is unable to become someone who Brett enjoys the company of, Jake is effectively able to find a way for he and Brett to be linked through a common understanding of the passion of bullfighting. Because of this, Jake is the only character that Brett can truly be with.
Toward the end of the novel, Jake vacations in San Sebastian while Brett and Romero are in a relationship together. Earlier, Jake was constantly keeping tabs on Brett and had an inherent desire to know everything about his personal life; here, though, after reclaiming his masculinity, he has gained a calmness that allows him to live a more confident and self-assured life. Romero, the ultimate afici??n, is sent away by Brett because even he does not have this type of masculinity that Jake possesses. Romero urges Brett to change everything about herself because she does not meet his standards of traditional feminine beauty; because Jake is not a traditional man, Brett’s more subversive appearance and behavior – shorter hair, for example – does not matter to him in the slightest. Where Romero does not accept Brett for who she is, Jake, through his own transformative identity change, is able to understand Brett on a deeper level than any other male character can.
At the end of the novel, Brett tells Jake, We could have had such a damned good time together (Hemingway 250). If Brett’s musings about what could have occurred between herself and Jake had happened earlier in the novel, it is likely that Jake would have projected his insecurity upon her and subsequently pushed her away. Instead, though, the balance in his life he discovered in Pamplona allows him to remain poised in the face of Brett’s monumental declaration. The possession of afici??n that he had gained both through experiences fishing with Bill and discussions with Montoya and Romero in Pamplona gives him the ability to rise above others who do not hold this enhanced masculinity and self-assured calmness. Transitioning from two strangers in the Paris taxi to Brett resting her head upon Jake’s shoulder in Madrid, the two are publicly intimate in a way that Jake was uncomfortable with before the events of his fiesta and his regained sense of self. Jake’s last line, Isn’t it pretty to think so? (Hemingway 250), does not serve to limit the idea of what might have been, but rather brings up the possibility of a potential future between the two of them outside of what constitutes a traditional relationship.
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