Depiction of the Consequences of Gender Roles in Ernest Hemingway’s Literary Works

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Even before the 21st century, gender roles were clearly present and heavily influenced people’s lives, whether they were aware of it or not. This is clearly displayed in Hemingway’s writing. Throughout his various works, Ernest Hemingway shows how gender roles control and force identities upon people, which leads to dire consequences and even broken relationships within society. His novel The Sun Also Rises examines the limitations that men have over their emotions due to pressure from their peers and society. In A Farewell to Arms, it is shown how the mental restrictions and influences men have over their own actions destroys the romantic relationships between men and women. Within For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway inspects how society’s vision of masculinity and strength contributes to the loss of ultimately what it means to be human. The Sun Also Rises addresses the various aspects of the male characters and the obstacles they face in expressing their feelings.

However, Hemingway takes an interesting approach in that he creates a central male character, Jake Barnes, with seemingly “feminine” attributes, in order to emphasize the detrimental effects of gender roles. As he converses with his love interest, Barnes outlines his troubles stating, “‘No, I said.’ ‘Nobody ever knows anything.’ At one time or another I had probably considered it from most of its various angles, including the one that certain injuries or imperfections are a subject of merriment while remaining quite serious for the person possessing them” (31). Although he interacts easily with Lady Brett Ashley with “[his] arm around her… leaning [up] against [her]” (31), Barnes’ calm is interrupted due to Lady Brett’s indirect reminder of his sterility. Their familiar conversation ceases and turns into brief statements, their discomfort apparent as they “[sit] now like two strangers” (32).

Despite his intent to build an intimate with Lady Brett, Barnes is hindered by his lack of “manhood”, and Ashley’s notion of an ideal relationship. His insecurity defines Lady Brett’s perception of him, almost making him a toy or brief distraction for her as she proceeds to have sexual relations with other men later in the story. This realization rattles Jake, effectively trapping him in the thought that his life will be void of love. Without the supposedly essential aspect of what it means to be a man, Barnes is limited to the extent of where he can communicate his true feelings. Additionally, The Sun Also Rises creates accurate reflections on gender in society relative to the time period, which further portrays the reality of the consequences that gender roles created. During World War I, Women had to adapt, gaining independence and strength due to the absence of men, who soon returned from the battlefield emotionally and physically vulnerable. Along with Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes, other characters demonstrate the gender roles and expectations of the time period.

The gender role switch is evident as Lady Brett and Count Mippipopolous speak saying, “‘I say. We have had a day.’ ‘You don’t remember anything about a date with me at the Crillon?’ “No. Did we have one? I must have been blind’ ‘You were quite drunk, my dear,’ said the count” (55).With the implication that Lady Brett and Mippipopolous have an affair, Mippipopolous brags about his relations with Lady Brett as if it were a show or a proud accomplishment. Because of his inability to find love, the count finds solace in such brief moments of passion, hiding his insecurities. Despite their different situations, the count and Jake Barnes are similarly hindered by society. The count is only appreciated by Lady Brett due to his wealth and his ability to please her sexual desires, in a sense, the defining characteristics of masculinity. Robert Cohn, another main character, experiences the same results in that “he was not in love yet but he realized he was an attractive quantity to women and the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle” (83). His talent for learning defensive techniques along with his fighting prowess embodies another aspect of masculinity which continually drives the relationships within the novel. It is ingrained in human nature to wish for safety and security, which makes masculine men appealing to many women. Cohn’s self confidence shines through his rough conversations with Barnes, which includes insults and petty threats.

However, his identity is shattered as his embodiment of a man’s role in society was not enough: “and he was crying. There he was face down on the bed, crying… ‘When I met her down there Brett treated me as if I were a complete stranger. I just couldn’t stand it. We lived together at San Sebastian’” (175). Hemingway’s depiction of a male character crying exemplifies how detrimental gender norms can be. Even with feelings of love and care, society disregards that and pigeonholes men to ultimately give up the things that make them human: emotions. Ernest Hemingway seems to imply that to have a well-rounded and happier society, one must cross gender boundaries and adapt both gender’s traits. In this way, humans can truly become humane, with a society full of prosperity and romance. In A Farewell to Arms, the concept of masculinity is touched upon, and how it confines the action of men, leading to a sense of loss of what it means to be human. Throughout the start of the novel, Lieutenant Henry and Rinaldi, occasionally converse with a priest stationed alongside them. As an ambulance driver, Henry is often present at the war front and is familiar with the duty required of him. However, the priest is a pacifist and Rinaldi attacks his beliefs. Rinaldi taunts, “’Priest wants us never to attack. Don’t you want us to attack?’” ‘No. If there is a war I suppose we must attack.’ [the priest said] ‘Must attack. Shall attack!’ [said Rinaldi] The priest nodded” (14).

The brief, exclamatory remarks paints Rinaldi as a strong example of masculinity. Rinaldi sees his duty as a man to be aggressive and retaliate attacks, verbal and physical. As Rinaldi argues with the priest, Henry becomes aware and accepts Rinaldi’s definition of duty, fully encompassing the nature of social conformity and gender norms. This impression from both Henry and Rinaldi is a blind acceptance for what they see as duty. With only men being sent to the war, one can see how humanity slowly crumbles from such values. What makes humans human is the emotion and care that they hold, and isolating men as being ruthless and strong and sending them to war, restricts them from holding care for others.

This is also apparent through Rinaldi and Henry’s interaction regarding Catherine: ‘So you make progress with Miss Barkley?’ ‘We are friends.’ ‘You have the pleasant air of a dog in heat.’ I did not understand the word. ‘Of a what?’ He explained. ‘You,’ I said, ‘have the pleasant air of a dog who – ‘ ‘Stop it,’ he said. ‘In a little while we would say insulting things.’ He laughed. (27)This dialogue influences the misogynistic view of women as mere property onto Henry. Rinaldi takes this perspective even further as he attempts to use his seduction ability and claim various women saying,’tell me, baby, when you lie here all the time in hot weather don’t you get excited?’ (135). Rinaldi sees these conversations as a way to “give up” ownership of Catherine and pass it on to Henry, reinforcing traditional gender roles. No love or true relationship can spring forth between an object and human, which makes gender roles confine the essence of humanity.

This in turn promotes the idea of power and masculinity, in that Henry and Rinaldi reinforce their belief that they have power and authority over Catherine. Lieutenant Henry follows up on this concept as shown in the development of the main character from apathetic solder to a cognitive being. Upon hearing news of his stillborn child and the impending death of Catherine, he is struck with deep emotions and insight.“That was what you did. You died. You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you. Or they killed you gratuitously like Aymo. Or gave you syphilis like Rinaldi. But they killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you. (327)”

Each short statement gives a sense of building anger in himself as well as Henry’s change in maturity and definition of masculinity. He now realizes that the duty he once believed in would only lead to death with no meaning. His duty transforms to be one that is altruistic and not simply driven by masculinity. This realization allows him to change his view and participate in war not as a masculine driven duty, but as a universal desire to survive. Ultimately, he is unable to change his identity in time to repair his false relationship with Catherine, but in turn becomes what a human should be: an unrestricted emotional being.Similarly, Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, identifies society’s views on the masculine condition, and its effect on the definition of humanity. Robert Jordan, who struggles with his belief in Republicanism, recognizes love at first sight. He sees Maria and expresses, “I loved you when I saw you today and I loved you always but I never saw you before” (49). Jordan immediately throws an identity upon Maria at first sight. Through his shallow interpretation of his love from her physical beauty, he forces her into the notorious female image of being a “trophy wife.”

Simultaneously, Robert Jordan creates an identity of himself, one that entitles him to protect his “possession,” effectively following his role as a man. By doing so, Jordan burns the bridge allowing the further development of love, and instead makes way for lust. His imagery as a masculine figure creates a barrier for not only his relationship, but also the development of his emotions as a human being. Maria in turn embodies her role as an object-turned wife. She tells Jordan, “I will learn from Pilar what I should do to take care of a man well and those things I will do,’ Maria said. ‘Then, as I learn, I will discover things for myself and other things you can tell me” (135). Here, Maria throws away her self identity in order to be the spitting-image of a household wife, learning how to cook and clean in order to please her significant other. By complementing Robert Jordan’s role as a “man”, Maria and Jordan accurately represent the situation of modern society, where each gender has their own job to play.

This nature prevents society’s growth as a whole, as it dissuades individuality, forcing people to conform to these gender roles. Robert Jordan takes his role even further, attains the highest standard of masculinity by sacrificing his own life to protect his friends and lover. After being wounded and incapacitated, “Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest” (471). Regardless of his shallow interpretation of love, Jordan still finds it within himself to protect what he cares for. Living up to the ideal image of a man as being courageous and strong, he unselfishly sacrifices himself, staying behind in order to shoot oncoming enemies. But if every man is expected to do this, what would happen to the human race? Confining men to such standards is toxic to all, since it ruins the image of men who have no such ability, while also restricting the choice that women have in finding a socially acceptable man. This toxicity is clearly shown when Jordan holds doubt about his abilities, as he says, “‘You’re not so good at this, Jordan, he said.’ ‘Not so good at this. And who is so good at this? I don’t know and I don’t really care right now. But you are not.’” (391.)

Rationally speaking, society should be a supportive and healthy body promoting the growth of every human, but forcing identities upon people goes against this foundation. Along with free emotion, individuality defines humans as a whole, and if that is restricted, humans lose an essential part of themselves.Even though it has been around a hundred years since Hemingway’s time, gender roles and social equality are still largely debated topics today. One can still see influences that gender has in movies and video games, which contain brave male figures and attractive women, as well as in various magazines and national television. Most importantly, it still holds a place in daily life. Ernest Hemingway provides a shockingly accurate image of the consequences of gender roles through The Sun Also Rises, which focuses on the emotional restraints and insecurities of men, A Farewell to Arms, which illustrates the mental influences men face, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, where Hemingway outlines the effects that society and masculinity have on humanity and its meaning.


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