Hemingways Man

Madam Adam:
Hemingway’s exploration of Man in The Sun Also Rises

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

Much of Hemingway’s body of work grows from issues of male morality. In his concise, “Hills Like White Elephants,” a couple discusses getting an abortion while waiting for a train in a Spanish rail station bar. Years before Roe v. Wade, before the issues of abortion rights, mothers’ rights, and unborn children’s rights splashed across the American mass consciousness, Ernest Hemingway assessed the effects of abortion on a relationship, and, more specifically, he examined a man’s role in determining the necessity of the procedure and its impact on his psyche and his ability to love. The Sun Also Rises continues the investigation of the morality of being a man in longer, more foundational form. Rather than dealing with such a discrete issue as “Hills Like White Elephants,” the novel discusses questions of masculinity on a large scale by testing an array of male characters, each perfect in some traditionally masculine traits, with a woman perfectly designed to cut to their flaws. The three most important of these controlled experiments balance each other particularly well. Lady Brett’s treatment of Jake Barnes, Pedro Romero, and, much more briefly, Count Mippopopolous allows Ernest Hemingway to exhibit the infinite fallibility of Man as his most fundamental and important quality rather than exulting the tough-guy, ubermench cult he is often credited with popularizing.

Ernest Hemingway says he slapped Max Eastman’s face with a book… and Max Eastman says he threw Hemingway over a desk and stood him on his head in a corner… They both tell of the face-slapping, but Mr. Hemingway denies Mr. Eastman threw him anywhere or stood him on his head in any place, and says that he will donate $1,000 to any charity…for the pleasure of Mr. Eastman’s company in a locked room with all legal rights waved.

Hemingway’s penchant for adventure, belief in honor, and outward male pride often manifested themselves in well-publicized scandals such as his 1937 rumble with Max Eastman. Some of his stories, like surviving on bananas and rum in the African jungle after suffering two plane crashes, have integrated themselves into American folklore. The author seemed to live the romantic, wild lifestyle his novels reported. And Hemingway did lead an exciting life—hunting in Africa, fishing off Cuba, battling in Spain, and drinking in France. However, Hemingway killed himself in July of 1961, so he obviously found shortcomings in the commingling of fiction and reality that he created.
Consequently, a reading of The Sun Also Rises that examines the failures of its male characters as a study of qualities men ought to have inevitably proves anemic—all of them suffer from flaws the author purposely highlights. Hemingway cannot deny the importance and existence of heroic acts even within a novel containing no complete hero. Rather, the defects of the men with whom Lady Brett cultivates relationships throughout the book represent the obstacles that all men must overcome as the necessary action of heroism. His story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” follows the full cycle of this process, from the emasculation of its protagonist when his wife witnesses his flight from a lion on safari, to his murder as a result of conquering his fear. Noticeably, though, the heroic completion of Francis Macomber who grows, “‘awfully brave, awfully suddenly’” immediately precedes the death he suffers not in the fangs of his previous adversary but at the hands of his wife, society’s representative on that plot of savannah.
Jake Barnes, the narrator in The Sun Also Rises, does not clearly recount the moments that stole the physical component of his masculinity. The novel simply informs the reader of the presence of such a war injury, which becomes Lady Brett, his professed love’s excuse for her incomplete attention to him. But Jake’s basic failing as a man paradoxically provides him with an increased tolerance for Brett and his ability to, somewhat objectively, relate a story about her sexual activity. Barnes also wields a cool tone before any emotional situation in completing the tough task of tracking Ashley. The man refuses any connection to an outside character deeper than drinking and banter. For instance, in