The character that I chose to talk about from The Sun Also Rises is Brett. She stood out to me for a few reasons. I chose her because she is an empowered and independent woman, and also because she seems to be the character that the story finds a way to revolve around. Brett is a woman who seems to epitomize and really sum up what I thought the true theme of the book was.
I thought that there were a lot of interwoven lives and personalities in this story, and they all had a sense of being lost souls. I think that of all the characters she is truly a wanderer in life. Overall, the easiest first impression to make about Brett is one that shows her as a very shallow and selfish woman, which in my opinion seems to be a fair assessment.
Brett first comes into this novel with a crowd of men, and seems to have a very commanding presence. Throughout the novel we find out that this is exactly right. We learn that she somehow manages to create a hold, a force even, over the people, specifically men, that she meets. While there are some exceptions to her “power” (i.e. Bill), this is a rare occurrence. While this sense of female dominance continues, it brings a more negative connotation the farther into the novel it gets. In addition, it is quickly learned that Brett’s number one concern in her insatiable desire for sex. A relationship in her eyes is defined by the amount of and quality of sexual intercourse that she can get. While she is seemingly capable of loving someone, as we see in chapter 4 and beyond, love is not important enough to prevail. “Love you? I simply turn all to jelly when you touch me,”(Hemingway, p.34) is what she mentions to Jake during the first encounter that we see in the novel. Her relationship with Jake is never fully understood and definitely never reaches its full potential due to her inability to commit to anything of substance. Brett truly seems more interested in having a good time, which can be seen through her promiscuous actions and constant partying. In addition, she wanders through life by traveling and just sweeping in and out of people’s lives. She truly shows her shallow nature through these actions.
Another example of when we can see more of her shallowness appears in chapter 5 when we first become aware of the fact that she is actually engaged. Being first introduced to her by knowing her promiscuity and then later learning she is engaged, makes her appear even more of a negative character.
Besides being shallow, it can also be said that she is one of the most selfish characters in the entire book. She leads a very unsettling life and comes through others lives like a tornado. She does what she wants and never considers the effects that her actions have on others. We can really see this through her actions with Jake. She is constantly asking for reassurance of his love for her, yet has not intentions on following through with a relationship. Brett has a habit of making plans with Jake and then standing him up. Jake questions her, “You don’t remember anything about a date with me at the Crillon?” In which Brett replies, “No. Did we have one? I must have been blind” (Hemingway, p.61). She continually leads him on, and while he knows there really isn’t a chance that anything will come of their feelings for each other, it is like throwing salt on his wounds at every mention of her love for him. In addition to acting selfishly towards Jake, which is the most severe, she also is treating her fiancé Mike severely selfishly. She fairly openly has affairs and expects him to stand there and wait for her. Between the combination of her promiscuity and selfishness, we can get a complete picture of Brett as a truly inconsiderate person.
When we look at all these factors, and while I do have a much more negative view of Lady Brett than positive, I can’t help but wonder if this behavior is a result of being confused and afraid. Someone feeling unsure about the direction her life is going, may act in ways that they think will have no foreseeable consequences in the immediate future. What she is not looking at is the bigger picture. She is a live day-to-day kind of girl, and looking towards her future doesn’t appear to be a question in her mind.
It is mentioned in the book that this group has all experienced the hardships of WWI in some way or another. The disaster has really hit them all and they are struggling to find meaning in their lives post-war. Many of them never wanted the war to begin with, and they are now dealing with the detriments of life after war. “We would probably have gone on and discussed the war and agreed that it was in reality a calamity for civilization, and perhaps would have been better avoided” (Hemingway, p. 24-25).
In addition to dealing with the war, it is learned through a conversation between Jake and Cohn that Brett had married shortly after her true love died. “When did she marry Ashley?” “During the war. Her own true love had just kicked off with dysentery” (Hemingway, p.46). The fact that Brett suffered through the loss of her true love could be the root of all of her recent negative actions. She could have been so distraught from the loss of her love, that she now found it hard to allow herself to truly fall for another man, and if she seems to have feelings, like she does with Jake, she pushes them aside. All of her antics could actually be a defense mechanism and her real reason for being selfish stems from fear. Allowing herself to open up to another person would open her up for the possibility of heartbreak and distress. Overall, the war left her alone and without any direction as to where her life was going. She was left to basically start her life over. Afraid and unsure, she chose to live a life filled with sex and alcohol.
Another cause of her inability to commit to a man could be due to her disheveled and corrupt past marriage with Lord Ashley. He “always made Brett sleep on the floor. Finally, when he got really bad, he used to tell her he’d kill her”(Hemingway, p.207). This unstable and violent relationship most likely further damaged any remaining faith she may have had in relationships. The impression I got from reading the novel was that the only reason she was in an engagement was because they had a relationship of convenience and were comfortable enough in their dysfunctional relationship.
An example of finally seeing an ounce of morality in Brett is exposed during the last chapter when she leaves Romero. At first, Brett seemed to have a connection with him, and she most likely still did upon leaving him, but she claimed that he was young and she didn’t want to hurt him. She knew she wouldn’t be able to remain faithful. While this initially seemed to be an admirable move, this decision could have also easily been driven by selfishness or her fear of settling down and/or conforming. She knew Romero loved her, but wanted her to be something that she couldn’t possibly be. “He wanted to make it sure I could never go away from him. After I’d gotten more womanly, of course” (Hemingway, p. 246). Romero was trying to turn an independent woman into a dependent housewife, a lifestyle Brett couldn’t conform to.
Given all of the information the novel exposes to us about Brett, more than one interpretation can be made about her character. She could be a nice girl deep down, with fear of commitment lurking in her head. While I do think that there is definitely some truth to this, I still think that Brett has let her past circumstances dictate her life in a negative way, rather than growing from her pain and experience. I feel that Brett is using her pain as an excuse to behave in such a harmful way. She allowed herself to become an extremely selfish, inconsiderate woman, who is willing to hurt anyone in her way in order to get what she wants sexually.
The last quote being used to be analyzed is one that stood out to me immediately. In the last paragraph she states, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together” (Hemingway, p. 251). This line proves that her self-centeredness has ironically not only caused other pain, specifically Jake, but also herself. She is her own worst enemy and her current lifestyle is ruining her chances of truly being happy again.
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