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The novel The Sun Also Rises is a novel set in the post WWI era, a era of gender confusion and societal change. The characters of the novel are on a search for hope after suffering the consequences of WWI, and for themselves as they live as expatriates in Europe. As they attempt to cope with the effects of the war and the gender roles given to them by society, the manliness, or lack there of, of some of the characters seems to counter societal gender constraints. Manliness, as portrayed in the novel provokes one to wonder what it truly is and how it can define someone.
Masculinity: having qualities traditionally ascribed to men, as strength and boldness.
Jake tries to overcome his impotence (from his injury from WWI) and insecurity that his injury brings, by possessing a manly exterior, yet does that truly reflect manliness?
“This was Brett, that I had felt like crying about. It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the day time, but at night it is another thing”
Jake can put on a façade of manliness in the presence of others (daytime) yet when he is in his own solace and privacy (night) he lets go of the manliness and becomes emotionally softened. This leads one to wonder, what truly defines a man and do Jake’s actions fit this paradigm?
Fem⋅i⋅nin⋅i⋅ty: the quality of being feminine; usually easily expresses tender feelings, and is quiet and compassionate towards others
Brett struggles to be a free and liberated woman in a male dominated society. This is the era of changing gender roles and Brett is at the front of the movement. Brett holds a bit of enigma with her short haircut, drinking habits, and homosexual friends. Her androgynisitc attitude provokes one to wonder if she is deserving of the title “Lady” Ashley.
Brett is a contradiction in a way, and the outcome of confusing gender roles in a changing society. In many ways, Brett possesses feminine characteristics with her flirtatious behavior. Yet, she refers to herself as a “chap”, a word usually designated to men. Perhaps Brett wants the liberation of male, and the attention of a female.
Jake and Brett’s actions and behaviors define their manliness, or lack there of. These two characters live in a world of confusion in gender, and a society amidst change. Do the gender constraints of society prevent Jake and Brett from discovering themselves. Do these given roles cause the development of the characters to be arrested? Brett’s lack of freedom (because she is a female) causes her to indulge in alcohol, which arrests her development. Jake’s injury arrests his development, and causes him to be emotionally hardened by day, yet soft and sensitive at night. Hemingway leaves the reader wondering the place in society for Brett and Jake, and how their masculinity or lack there of contributes to their stature and place in society.