In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley is a British woman who loves to love men. At the beginning of the novel, Brett is separated from her husband and is in the process of divorcing him. Later, Brett becomes engaged to Mike Campbell, a poor Scotch aristocrat and veteran of World War I. Even though Brett is engaged to Mike, she openly has affairs with many men, including Robert Cohn, Pedro Romero, and Jake Barnes, albeit the relationship with Jake is not sexual. Jake Barnes is an American World War I veteran who lives in Paris and works as a journalist. Jake becomes a heavy drinker aft the war as a way to deal with his impotence and his declining moral values.
Brett and Jake Barnes are like magnets, they cling to each other. Brett often uses Jake as a support, telling Jake about her affairs with other men. They are in love with each other; however, they will never consummate their relationship. The relationship is destructive for both of them. Jake will never be one of Brett’s affairs and Brett will never be able to love Jake like she loves so many other men. Brett is a destructive woman who is bad for men, especially Jake.
In total disregard for Jake’s feelings (or anyone else’s but her own), Brett has numerous affairs and always runs to him for support when they inevitably fail. Brett has affairs with Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero. Brett turns to Robert because of her frustration with Jake’s impotence. The affair with Robert only makes Jake feel worse about himself. Through Brett and Robert’s affair, Jake becomes ever more aware of his deficiencies. Because of the affair, Jake grows openly hostile to Cohn, a man who he used to be good friends with. Robert ends up infatuated with Brett and follows her around everywhere. Brett uses up men and then spits them back out without ever thinking about their feelings. Oddly enough, Jake later introduced Brett to Pedro upon Brett’s request. Even knowing how she treats men, that introducing Brett may risk his standing as an aficionado, and that he would undoubtedly hear about the affair later, Jake still introduces her to Pedro. After Brett had enough of Pedro, she sends a telegram to Jake at a couple of hotels. The telegram reads “COULD YOU COME HOTEL MONTANA/
AM RATHER IN TROUBLE/ BRETT” (242). Jake drops everything, leaves on the next train to Madrid and sends Brett a reply telegram “LADY ASHLEY HOTEL
/ MADRID ARRIVING SUD EXPRESS/ TOMORROW LOVE JAKE” (243). Jake realizes the absurdity of his situation: “Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back and sign the wire with love. That was it all right” (243). Brett is unable to commit to any of the men with whom she has affairs. Brett’s affairs are fleeting and she never seems satisfied with her life. But she always runs back to Jake.
Another reason Brett is bad for Jake is that she constantly tells Jake she loves him but will not commit to him. Committing to a relationship with Jake would entail Brett giving up sex, as Jake is impotent from a war wound. Jake is hopelessly in love with Brett. However, he knows he will never consummate their relationship. Jake’s impotence is a barrier between him and the love of his life. This hopeless situation perpetuates Jake’s increased drinking and increased insecurities about his masculinity.
Because of Jake’s impotence, Brett throws herself into meaningless affairs with other men. Even though she will not commit to Jake, she will not give up her relationship with him. However, she often brings other men around Jake and tells him of her affairs and before Jake can really say anything about it, she will say something like: “But, oh, Jake, please let’s never talk about it” (Hemingway 247). One of the men Brett introduced to Jake was Count Mippipopolous. The Count is easy-going and unlike many of Brett’s lovers, the Count is not jealous of her other lovers. The Count takes Brett and Jake out for dinner and dancing. After dinner, the Count asks Jake and Brett “You are very nice people … Why don’t you get married, you two?” (Hemingway 68). Jake quickly replies “We want to lead our own lives” (Hemingway 68). Brett follows suit saying “We have our careers … Come on. Let’s get out of this” (Hemingway 68). The reality that they would not be together was hard for Brett and Jake to face. Later while dancing, Brett tells Jake that they will not be together romantically. Brett is not willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to be with Jake.
“You are a rotten dancer, Jake. Michael’s the best dancer I know.”
“He’s got his points.”
“I like him,” [Jake] said. “I’m damned fond of him.”
“I’m going to marry him” (Hemingway 69).
Brett and Jake’s “dancing” is easily identifiable as “sex”. Brett only wants to be with the best “dancer” who “has his points” (Kerrigan 90)
Through all of the affairs, Brett and Jake always end up together. Brett often uses Jake as a support. When she is in trouble or has had a bad experience, she calls on Jake to rescue her. Brett tells Jake stories about her adventures with other men. Brett knows that she will never have an affair with Jake. Jake knows that he will never be with Brett as a couple. Brett has to have sex. Committing to Jake would mean that she would end up cheating on Jake. Jake knows that there is no happy ending for Brett and him. For instance when Brett says, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together”, Jake replies, “Yes, Isn’t it pretty to think so” (Hemingway 251). But Jake won’t give up their relationship because he loves Brett and that is the only female relationship he seems to have. Neither Brett nor Jake get any real satisfaction from their relationship. Jake always has to hear about Brett’s other lovers and Brett can never/will never commit to Jake. The relationship is very destructive for both of them.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises.
: Scribner, 1926.
Kerrigan, William. “Something Funny about Hemingway’s Count” American Literature
46.1 (1974): 87-93. JSTOR. U of MD U Coll. Information and Lib. Services. 21