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The Sun Also Rises

by: Ernest Hemingway

Lady Brett Ashley

Brett is a strong, largely independent woman. She exerts great power over the men around her, as her beauty and charisma seem to charm everyone she meets. Moreover, she refuses to commit to any one man, preferring ultimate independence. However, her independence does not make her happy. She frequently complains to Jake about how miserable she is—her life, she claims, is aimless and unsatisfying. Her wandering from relationship to relationship parallels Jake and his friends’ wandering from bar to bar. Although she will not commit to any one man, she seems uncomfortable being by herself. As Jake remarks, “She can’t go anywhere alone.”

Indeed, there are several misogynist strains in Hemingway’s representation of Brett. For instance, she disrupts relationships between men with her very presence. It seems that, in Hemingway’s view, a liberated woman is necessarily a corrupting, dangerous force for men. Brett represents a threat to Pedro Romero and his career—she believes that her own strength and independence will eventually spoil Romero’s strength and independence. Because she does not conform to traditional feminine behavior, she is a danger to him.

As with Jake and his male friends, World War I seems to have played an essential part in the formation of Brett’s character. During the war, Brett’s true love died of dysentery. Her subsequent aimlessness, especially with regard to men, can be interpreted as a futile, subconscious search for this original love. Brett’s personal search is perhaps symbolic of the entire Lost Generation’s search for the shattered prewar values of love and romance.