This paper discusses Ernest Hemingway’s novel And Sun Also Rises (1926) and takes an in-depth analysis of the development of the female character Lady Brett Ashley in trying to come up with better understanding of the character’s role in the novel. Hemingway’s And Sun Also Rises is widely regarded as Hemingway’s best novel. It became the overnight Bible of the postwar generation. (Barrett, 724) The novel revolves the theme of damage done to Hemingway’s generation by the violence of World War I.
All the main characters of the novel are to certain extent scarred by war. Some of them suffer physical injuries like Jake or Count Mippipopolous and others bear the psychological trauma of “lost generation” (the phrase belonged to Hemingway’s friend Gertrude Stein and became the novel’s first epigraph). Among those psychologically deteriorated individuals Lady Brett Ashley is a controversial character that evokes different readers’ and critics’ reaction. This paper explores the path by which Lady Ashley’s character develops through the novel.
With the first meeting with Brett Ashley her individual female sexual appeal and exceptional general attractiveness is revealed. From the beginning of the book, men find her irresistible. When Jake, as narrator, first introduces Brett, he says, “Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, 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, 22).
Robert Cohn, too, is immediately captivated by Brett, and a short time later, he says, “She’s a remarkably attractive woman” (Hemingway, 38). She is a strong and independent woman and probably these are the features that attract men more than her physical beauty. Her real tool is her charisma that strikes the men around her. Every significant male character in the novel, at one time or another, comments on Brett’s female attractiveness. When he is introduced to Brett, Bill Gorton says, “Beautiful lady” (Hemingway, 74); Mike Campbell says, “Brett, you are a lovely piece.
Don’t you think she’s beautiful? ” (Hemingway, 79) These compliments are like a refrain that is reiterated through the rest of the novel. Despite the abounding attention on men’s side Brett rejects to become committed to a single man, at least physically. Neither the affluence of attention nor her independence makes Brett a happy woman. Having first appeared as a careless free woman Brett Ashley turns out to be an unhappy and miserable creature just the same as all those who lived through the war.
Brett is often described in the literary criticism as sexually promiscuous, or even a nymphomaniac, which seems extreme given that in the course of the story she has sexual relationships with, at most, three men – her fiancee, Mike Campbell; Robert Cohn; and Pedro Romero. Some critics, like Edmund Wilson, assess Brett’s conduct as “bitch-like”; Wilson interprets Brett Ashley as “an exclusively destructive force” (p. 238). This interpretation, plausibly, is directly related rely to Brett’s own assertion that she makes to Jake after she leaves Romero: “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch” (Hemingway, 245).
Nonetheless it is difficult to agree with such interpretation of Brett’s character. First of all it is known that she is one of the “lost generation”, the people whose youth fell on the post-war period when the relationships and responsibilities were loose and disordered, and so Brett’s behavior merely reflects this time. Furthermore, though Brett never stayed with any man longer than she wanted, she never displayed cruelty in attitude toward men, so she could not destruct them to any degree. And the most important thing which explains Brett’s character is again related to the time of the novel.
Brett Ashley belongs to those people whose thoughts are confused being affected by the war. So while looking for her way in life she fails in finding the lull for her psychological disturbances therefore continues her self-abusive conduct. Brett can be profoundly careless of the feelings of others. She scatters cigarette ashes on Jake’s rugs, and when Romero gives her a bull’s severed ear after a successful bullfight, she leaves the gift behind, stuffed in a hotel drawer. Cohn calls her a sadist when she is unmoved by the plight of the horses gored in the bullring.
Certainly she uses Jake heartlessly at times, expecting him to introduce her to a man she desires, put up with her affairs, remain steadfast in his devotion to her, and faithfully run to her rescue on short notice when she finds herself at loose ends in another country. Yet she is also deeply unhappy and emotionally fragile. Viewed more sympathetically, she can be seen as a self-destructive woman, traumatized by the ugly and unromantic loss of her first love to dysentery in the war: “Brett hurts no one in the novel as severely as she hurts herself.
Her nymphomania, her alcoholism, her constant fits of depression, and her obsession with bathing are all symptoms of an individual engaged in a consistent pattern of self-abuse” (Whitlow, 56). All in her misery she often complains to Jake, her only true friend, about her aimless existence and unsatisfying life. Her vagrancy from relationship to relationship is assimilated with Jake and company roaming around bars. As the novel unfolds one observes how Lady Ashley transforms from the self-confident independent woman into one who seems extremely awkward being by herself.
That is why she is searching for the shelter in more or less stable though platonic relations with Jake. As with the other characters, World War I obviously played the determinative role in the formation Brett Ashley’s character. Having lost her true love during the war she elaborated the pattern of random relations, especially with regard to men. Her skepticism and lost faith in search for true love symbolizes the search of the whole lost generation for their decayed values. Unable to find support in the traditional convictions that imposed certain meaning to her life Brett feels morally lost.
Having lost belief in anything Brett together with her friends is trying to escape the reality and fill her empty life with careless wandering from bar to bar, living night life, drinking and entertaining, doing everything that fits into the notion escapist activity. The character of Lady Brett Ashley is developing through the novel from the initial impression of careless but happy woman into the typical representative of post-war generation with aimless way in life. Parties, free love and other kinds of merry-making are only the futile distraction for concealing the sorrow and insecurity that filled her soul.