Challenging Misogyny in Hemingway's Female Characters

Categories: The Sun Also Rises

Despite Ernest Hemingway's reputation as a misogynist, critics have analyzed his books like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. Some criticize him for being sexist towards the main female characters, Catherine Barkley and Lady Brett Ashley. However, others argue that Catherine and Brett are strong female leads who challenge the notion of misogyny in Hemingway's work. Through these characters, Hemingway showcases independent female roles, countering accusations of sexism and portraying women capable of thinking for themselves.

In A Farewell to Arms, Catherine demonstrates her independence by refusing Frederic's kiss and calling him out for lying about loving her (Hemingway, 31).

This shows that she is not dependent and can think for herself. Similarly, in The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley exhibits her freedom by engaging in promiscuous behavior and partying with the men.

During World War I, many women were expected to stay home and tend to household duties rather than socialize with men. However, Catherine defied these expectations by getting involved with Romero and standing up to Cohn when he became jealous and violent.

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This independence and assertiveness were uncommon for women of that time period, leading critics to view Catherine as "merely a male fantasy" who sacrifices her identity for love, as seen in her statement, "You're my religion." (Shmoop Editorial Team)

Despite critics interpreting Catherine as not having a separate identity from Frederic, her desire to be united with him is rooted in her romantic nature and profound loneliness. She longs for a deep and passionate love in the midst of death and despair, which makes her need to merge with Frederic understandable.

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Sandra Whipple Spanier suggests that Catherine's willingness to love Frederic completely is heroic as it prevents her from succumbing to madness.

When confronted with disorder and unrest, individuals often experience a greater sense of immediacy. This is clearly shown through her strong emotions towards Frederic and her distinct, poetic declarations of affection. The depiction of Catherine in this manner is not a result of Hemingway's prejudice against women, but rather an illustration of the effects of war on her. Another instance showcasing Catherine's self-reliance is evident in her determination to persist and move forward with her life despite being apart from Frederic. Her capability to manage without him showcases her resilience and autonomy as a woman.

Her distinctive qualities are evident in her nuanced perspective on marriage, setting her apart from traditional sexist depictions. She grapples with societal expectations she deems unnecessary while still conforming to them for practical reasons, as pointed out by the Shmoop Editorial Team. She openly confides in Frederic that she and her deceased fiancé were engaged for eight years because she feared marriage would restrict him. When Frederic brings up marriage, she nonchalantly brushes it off by remarking that they are essentially already married and wonders why their harmonious relationship must change.

After her pregnancy, she only begins to change her mind. Critics were proven wrong by Hemingway when he connected the significance of rain during the war with Catherine. While rain is typically viewed as a symbol of spring and renewal, Catherine interprets it differently, associating it with death and sadness (Shmoop Editorial Team). When Frederic questions her fear of the rain, she explains that "It’s very hard on loving" (Hemingway), confessing "I’m afraid of the rain because sometimes I see me dead in it" (Hemingway), and admitting "And sometimes I see you dead in it" (Hemingway).

Shmoop suggests that soldiers are more likely to get injured in the rain and did a study to uncover why Catherine believes rain is "hard on loving." The research revealed that her partner passed away during the rainy Battle of Somme, leading her to link rain with death. This demonstrates Hemingway's portrayal of Catherine as a multifaceted character. Hemingway defies the stereotype of weak and emotionally unstable females by portraying Catherine and Lady Brett Ashley as strong individuals.

Catherine works as a World War I nurse at an overseas hospital, caring for fatally wounded soldiers due to the loss of her fiance in battle. Rather than succumbing to despair after his death, she perseveres and makes a positive impact on others. Contrary to the treatment Shakespeare gives his weak female characters, Hemingway's portrayal of Catherine demonstrates strength and resilience.

According to the Shmoop Editorial Team, Hemingway draws a comparison between the deaths of soldiers in battle and Catherine's death, emphasizing their bravery. He also portrays Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises as strong and unfazed by bullfighting, defying gender norms. In both A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway presents readers with two strong and independent female characters who are highly commendable.

In his depiction of Catherine's strength and diverse thinking during World War I, as well as Lady Brett Ashley's ability to blend in with men and assert herself, Hemingway challenges the perception of him as a misogynist.
Works Cited:
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. New York: Scribner, 1957. Print. 16 Feb. 2014.
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms." Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 Feb. 2014.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Challenging Misogyny in Hemingway's Female Characters. (2016, Sep 06). Retrieved from

Challenging Misogyny in Hemingway's Female Characters essay
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