The inflexible understanding of the appropriate social roles and characteristics for men and women is perhaps one of the most crucial elements in terms of reinforcing inequality. In the ‘traditional’ discourse of war, the perceived differences between men and women are emphasized even more actively than during the time of peace. Creating a strong image of ‘the real man’, who is a brave fighter, and the ‘real woman’, whose main responsibility is reproduction, indeed often serves as motivators that would push men into an even stronger fight. In the context of war, men’s bodies become the property of the state and there is a strong need to create an ideology that would embrace and glorify this dependence. Yet, because these images are socially constructed and do not take into account individual differences, they might be quickly decoded by real life experience, especially in highly stressful situations such as war. In his work The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway shows the weakening of masculinity and the emergence of the new type of woman in American culture, who contradicts the commonly accepted understanding of femininity.

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Hemingway shows a strong inconsistency between the romanticized social perception of men as honorable, courageous, and virile, and the actual images of men in real life situations. The ‘fall of masculinity’ happened partly as a result of the development of new war techniques as a result of World War I (Leland 42). Namely, the long-range artillery bombarding and gas make a human being helpless, no matter if this person is perceived by society as invincible or not. The negative effect that war had on men in terms of emasculating them is particularly evident from the example of Jakes Barnes. He is physically emasculated as a result of genital injury in the war. In the traditional patriarchal discourse, the ability to have a heterosexual vaginal intercourse with a woman is the essential element of proving oneself as a man. Although Jake shows his masculinity in other ways, such as through his work and economic practices, the audience acquires a clear understanding that the character does not perceive himself as the man because of his physical imperfection. It is important to note that the traditional patriarchal discourse about masculinity puts an even stronger pressure on men in terms of following the stereotypical understanding of masculinity because masculinity is much more privileged than femininity is, which eventually results in higher expectation regarding men’s performance. The reader can see the internal conflicts that Jake’s inability to translate his sexuality into practice brings him and how it diminishes his masculinity, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of society. Hemingway challenges the traditional notions about masculinity not only through physical disabilities of his characters. Cohn is clearly ‘unmanly’ in the way that he pursuit Brett, the main character. Cohn is distinctively lacks confidence, especially when it comes to women, which also makes a big contribution in terms of decoding the social understanding of the appropriate qualities of a man. In the eyes of the society that he is a part of, Cohn is a loser. The author argues ‘Cohn had married on the rebound from the rotten time he has in college, and Frances took him on the rebound from his discovery that he had not been everything to his first wife. He was not in love yet but he realized he was an attractive quantity to women and the fact that a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle’ (Hemingway 35). Hemingway thus shows the lack of confidence that the character has in his image in front of women, which, according to the norms of patriarchy, diminishes him because women initially have a lower status and should not be perceived as someone who can emasculate men by intimidating them.

Brett, the only female character in the novel, demonstrates the qualities that society defines as ‘masculine’ and thus seriously challenges the social norms regarding femininity. The fact that the image of Brett is inconsistent with the norms of patriarchy is evident from her physical appearance. Namely, Brett has a short hair and prefers men’s clothing, yet, it does not make her less attractive to men. From this point of view, Hemingway shows the rise of the new woman in American culture, who has the vigor and inner strength to challenge the social understanding of the appropriate gender norms, which men eventually find intriguing and accept. The author describe the character the following way, ‘Brett was damned good-looking…And her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey’ (Hemingway 27). Brett, regardless of her boyish appearance, is very attractive and her lack of femininity is not something that diminishes her physical beauty. Yet, it is important to note that Brett is objectified, which falls within the traditional gender discourse (Blackmore 52). Namely, in the very description of her, Hemingway is objectifying her. It is important to note that the author does not do the same when describing male characters. Yet, Brett has a very high sex drive, which society does not expect from a woman, especially back in the beginning of the 20th century. From this point of view, Hemingway defies the social understanding about differences in male and female sexuality and presents women as sexual beings to the same extent as men are. Finally, Brett constantly presents the qualities that are ‘traditionally’ regarded as masculine, such as assertiveness, determination, control over her emotions, and courage.

In his work The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway shows the weakening of masculinity and the emergence of the new type of woman in American culture, who contradicts the commonly accepted understanding of femininity. There is a strong inconsistency between the romanticized social perception of men as honorable, courageous, and virile, and the actual images of men in real life situations. Namely, the long-range artillery bombarding and gas make a human being helpless, no matter if this person is perceived by society as invincible or not. Jake is physically emasculated as a result of genital injury in the war. In addition to this, Cohn is distinctively lacks confidence, especially when it comes to women, which also makes a big contribution in terms of decoding the social understanding of the appropriate qualities of a man. According to the norms of patriarchy, this diminishes him because women initially have a lower status and should not be perceived as someone who can emasculate men by intimidating them. Yet, Brett, the only female character in the novel, demonstrates the qualities that society defines as ‘masculine’ and thus seriously challenges the social norms regarding femininity. The fact that the image of Brett is inconsistent with the norms of patriarchy is evident from her physical appearance, the qualities of her character, and her sex drive. From this point of view, Hemingway rejects the social image of ‘the real man’, who is a brave fighter, and the ‘real woman’, whose main responsibility is limited to reproduction.

    References
  • Blackmore, David. “In New York It’d Mean I Was A…”: Masculinity Anxiety and Period Discourses of Sexuality in “The Sun Also Rises.” Hemingway Review, vol. 18, no. 1, Fall98, pp. 49-67.
  • Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1954. Print.
  • Leland, Jacob Michael. “Yes, That Is a Roll of Bills in My Pocket: The Economy of Masculinity in “The Sun Also Rises..” Hemingway Review, vol. 23, no. 2, Spring2004, pp. 37-46