Brett Ashley is both the modern woman and the traditional one, but she only resembles them since she cannot be labeled due to her prominent individuality. She is a very attractive and fashionable woman who is irresistible to men. All of the men in the novel love her more or less and she has great influence over them. However, she does not let men guide her through life and she does not take money for sexual favors. Therefore, she is a complex character who takes what she wants with the use of her sex-appeal as power.
Her male friends compare her to a mythical creature that affects men in a negative way. Mike tells the people that Jake refers to her as Circe: “He calls her Circe, “Mike said. “He claims she turns men into swine. Damn good. I wish I were one of these literary chaps” (Hemingway 76). Brett is a mythical being according to the men in her life and she is a stubborn woman who always gets her way. She is capable of dividing men and making them fight over her because she is the dominant figure in their lives. John, Mike and Cohn are jealous of one another because of Brett being unfaithful. Mike is her fiancé, but she loves Jake and has feeling for Romero as well. Her sophisticated appearance makes her true emotions and character hidden from everybody. She is miserable and easily hurt, although she behaves as if she were capable of controlling everything. All of the characters are tender and have their hearts broken while searching for their purpose in life.
While dancing with Jake, she reveals to him about being a sad person who is not satisfied with her life. “Oh darling,” Brett said, “I’m so miserable.” I had that feeling of going through something that has all happened before. “You were happy a minute ago” (Hemingway 34). The emotions are fleeting and the moods of the characters are easily shifted which is why they feel bad so often. That is the emotion that prevails and all the destructive things that they do in life are related to their personal unhappiness. Brett has a reason for being miserable and that is because the man she loves is impotent which is devastating for her. It ruins her life and there is nothing unusual about it because it explains her behavior and attitude towards life in general. When she is with Romero, it is evident that Brett can feel true emotions, but she does not let that happen often because she is punishing herself.
The story is set in Paris which is a city full of romance and Brett is the woman who becomes even more attractive because of such a location. Brett is dependent on men because she needs to feel encouraged by them, but at the same time, she is free because she makes her own decisions in life. The men were real gentlemen in those times and that is why nobody treats her like a prostitute and feels only love for her. Brett is a modern woman who appears at the beginning of the 20th century and she is a symbol of feminine freedom and power over her own sexuality. Brett wears her hair short and her clothes are boyish which makes her attractive instead of diminishing her sexuality. “Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey” (Hemingway 12). Men are attracted by her body which is even more alluring due to the fact that she tries to cover it. Brett is female and she is feminine although she is trying to present herself as the tough woman. She finds freedom and independence in being promiscuous and she feels no regrets for such a behavior. Brett values life experience and is eager to acquire it in all possible ways even the destructive ones. When Jake confronts her about her love affairs, she admits that she embraces being promiscuous and he respects her choice. Jake has a special kind of a relationship with Brett because he was wounded in war which left him sexually disabled and unable to have children which is why he observes Brett more profoundly than other men. The two of them share a great emotional bond and understand each other well.
Jake is deprived of his masculinity while Brett is man-like in her sexual and emotional behavior. Brett leads her life in the best possible way that she can and she this makes her life fulfilling. All of this is happening during the times when the world was going through the industrial change which also had impact on gender roles. People have become more urban and they no longer care about the expectations of the society. During the war, Brett was working in a hospital treating injured soldiers and Jake was fighting in the war. This experience connects them and makes them disrespectful of the societal norms. They saw the ugly side of life, the war and killings which made them stronger and less emotional, at least on the outside. Traditional gender roles are challenged because time has changed and people have more personal freedom, especially women.
Brett drinks excessively, but nobody judges her because of that even though that is not lady-like behavior. She orders drinks all the time and she enjoys drinking while men encourage her in such a behavior because it suggests that they are all having a good time. When she meets a count, he says that she is very classy: “You don’t need a title. You got class all over you” (Hemingway 31). It is impossible to relate femininity with drinking, but Brett is a woman capable of that. It is unusual for such a woman to be so attractive to men, but it is possible in the case of Brett. Her alcoholism makes her accept reality and have courage in life as an inspiration for men. Brett is cold towards men who desire to be with her, but they are still infatuated by her because they think of her as a trophy. Their masculinity is not threatened because she has sexual power over them and their only goal in life is to be with her. Mike is aware of the fact that she is unfaithful, but he is still her fiancé. She is emotionally unavailable except to Jake since the two of them have much in common. There are real soul-mates and understand each other on a very profound level. When either one of them spends time with other people, they feel lonely because those people do not fulfill them.
Brett is cold towards men, but she is still attractive to Jake because they intuitively understand each other. She can be her true self only in his presence and this is a liberating experience for both of them. Their relationship is spiritual which makes it as deep as possible because physical relationships are less significant. The two of them are physically dysfunctional, but they need each other’s presence in order to feel complete.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun also Rised. New York: Scribner, 2006. Print.