Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” stands as a seminal work in modernist literature, embodying the ethos of the “Lost Generation” and the disillusionment that followed World War I. One of the most intriguing characters in this novel is Lady Brett Ashley, a complex woman who defies societal norms and expectations. In analyzing her character through the lens of the “code hero,” a concept closely associated with Hemingway’s writing, it becomes evident that Brett Ashley embodies the quintessential traits of the code hero. This essay delves into the various facets of Brett’s character and how she encapsulates the characteristics that define a code hero, as well as the implications of her role in the narrative.
Defining the Code Hero
The concept of the code hero, which Hemingway developed and refined throughout his literary career, centers around a character who lives life with a sense of honor, courage, and grace under pressure. These individuals navigate an often chaotic and morally ambiguous world while maintaining their integrity and authenticity. In “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway crafts Lady Brett Ashley as a character who perfectly embodies these principles, thus making her the true code hero of the narrative.
Embracing Ambiguity and Stoicism
One of the fundamental traits of a code hero is the ability to navigate moral ambiguity. Brett’s relationships with various male characters, especially Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn, showcase her ability to handle complex emotional situations with a certain stoicism. She maintains an air of detachment and control over her emotions, even though she is deeply torn between her affections for Jake and her physical desires. This stoicism is highlighted by her unwillingness to fully commit to a romantic relationship due to Jake’s impotence, symbolizing her capacity to confront adversity and face life’s challenges head-on.
Hemingway’s biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, notes that code heroes are characterized by their “grace under pressure,” a quality Brett exemplifies throughout the novel. Her experiences during the war have left her emotionally scarred, but she manages to present herself with poise and elegance despite her internal struggles. This resilience in the face of adversity is a hallmark of the code hero.
Rejecting Conventional Gender Roles
Brett’s refusal to conform to societal expectations of women during the 1920s is another aspect of her character that aligns with the code hero archetype. In a time when women were often confined to traditional gender roles, Brett boldly navigates the world on her own terms. Her short hair, assertive demeanor, and open discussions about her sexuality challenge the norms of the era.
Hemingway’s depiction of Brett’s nonconformity is influenced by his own experiences with strong and independent women in his life. In an article by Linda Wagner-Martin, it is noted that Hemingway was surrounded by influential women, such as his mother and his first wife, Hadley, who shared traits with his code hero characters. This suggests that Hemingway’s portrayal of Brett was not just a narrative choice but also a reflection of the changing role of women in society.
Seeking Authenticity and Meaning
The search for authenticity and a meaningful existence is another central tenet of the code hero philosophy, and Brett’s constant quest for fulfillment resonates strongly with this principle. Despite her self-destructive tendencies and tumultuous relationships, Brett remains dedicated to finding a sense of purpose. Her desire to love and be loved authentically drives her actions, even as she grapples with her own inner demons.
In his essay “The Code Hero in the Fiction of Ernest Hemingway,” Charles A. Fenton asserts that the code hero is defined by “courage, endurance, and the ability to maintain one’s self-control in the face of pain, misfortune, or death.” Brett’s attempts to find happiness through her relationships and experiences epitomize these qualities. Her candid conversations with Jake about her struggles underscore her vulnerability while also highlighting her unwavering determination to lead a meaningful life.
In “The Sun Also Rises,” Lady Brett Ashley emerges as the embodiment of the code hero, representing the complex intersection of courage, authenticity, and grace under pressure. Hemingway’s portrayal of Brett’s multifaceted character transcends conventional gender roles and challenges societal norms, reflecting the changing dynamics of the post-war era. Through her emotional resilience, ability to navigate ambiguity, and pursuit of authentic experiences, Brett captures the essence of the code hero philosophy. Hemingway’s masterful crafting of Lady Brett Ashley not only enriches the narrative of “The Sun Also Rises” but also contributes to the broader discourse on the nature of heroism, gender roles, and the human condition.