Monday, May 17, 2010
Evolving Gender Roles in The Sun Also Rises
The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, is about the growing emergence of a new type of woman that comes about in the early twentieth century. In the novel Hemingway creates new models for strong American women that had not been used before in literature. Though authors like Henry James had independent women characters in their novels (for example Daisy Miller), Brett has even less regard for her lack of compliance with the societal expectations of her time period than any female character that precedes her in American literature. Hemingway uses the character of Brett to redefine the preexisting gender roles for women and men in the twentieth century by revealing that manly, alcoholic, and emotionally callous women can still be loveable, but in doing so he reinforces the binary system of gender that his character Brett is trying to escape.
Brett has many manly attributes that in the nineteenth century would have made her unattractive to most men, but in the twentieth century her attributes only add to her sex appeal. The attributes include her short hair and the men’s clothing that she wears. The men don’t mind her boyish appearance as Hemingway writes, “Brett was damned good-looking . . . 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 27). Her boyish appearance causes Jake’s attention to be drawn to the curviness of her body so that the hair doesn’t detract from her womanhood. Instead, it gives Jake a heightened awareness of that womanhood that Brett is striving to push against. In her book Female Masculinity, Judith Halbarstam sheds light on how bending gender roles often reinforces the gender binary because "in a way, gender's very flexibility and seeming fluidity is precisely what allows dimorhphic gender to hold sway. Because so few people actually match any given community standards for male or female, in other words, gender can be imprecise and therefore multiply relayed through a solidly binary system. At the same time, there are very few people in any given public space who are completely unreadable in terms of their gender" (Halbarstam, 948). Essentially, Brett's gender as a female is still readable to Jake and their peers regardless of how masculine she tries to become. Halbarstram would argue that the fact that her womanhood is even in question to begin with proves that the binary system can not be escaped by simply changing ones clothes and hair style.
Unlike most women of the nineteenth century, Brett is always in control of her surroundings and this control gives Brett options that women generally had not experienced. Her independence can be seen in her promiscuity. She makes no apologies for her behavior when she responds to Jake’s accusations about having multiple love interests as she replies, “Oh, well. What if I do?” (Hemingway 27). In Jake’s case her attitude instills respect on his part because he can relate to her unfeminine approach at romance. However, this promiscuity runs contrary to the societal expectations that exists for Brett. In his book, "The History of Sexuality", Michel Foucault discusses how before the industrial revolution religion and society created a "transformation of sex into discourse not governed by the endeavor to expel from reality the forms of sexuality that were not amenable to the strict economy of reproduction" and he goes on to state that society aimed to "banish casual pleasures, to reduce or exclude practices whose object was not procreation" (Foucault, 892). Jake and Brett's relationship is unique because they can not produce children even if they desired to. This is due to Jake's war wound which forces Jake to look at Brett as being more than a sexual object (the wound suppresses his capability to have sex). As a result, their friendship is based entirely on the emotional support that they offer to one another and this makes it impossible for them to conform to the traditional expectations of society.
Jake's feminization, and Brett's promiscuity, are both products of the industrial revolution that forced both men and women's sexual roles to evolve. In her essay, "Sexual Transformations", Gayle Rubin describes the effect of industrialization on sex as she writes:
In spite of many continuities with ancestral forms, modern sexual arrangements have a distinctive character which sets them apart from preexisting systems. In Western Europe and the United States, industrialization and urbanization reshaped the traditional rural and peasant populations into a new urban industrial and service workforce. It generated new forms of state apparatus, reorganized family relations, altered gender roles, and made possible new forms of identity, produced new varieties of social inequality, and created new formats for political and ideological conflict. It also gave rise to a new sexual system characterized by distinct types of sexual persons, populations, stratification, and political conflict. (Rubin, 889)
Brett and Jake are both products of that urbanization that Rubin is referring to in this quote. Both of them have served in World War I (Jake as a soldier and Brett as a nurse) and this exposure to human depravity strips them of their faith in society. Without this inherent faith in society they are able to transcend the societal conventions such as gender roles and matrimony.
Brett is an alcoholic but the attribute does not make her any less desirable to the men around her. They encourage the alcoholic behavior because they wish to impress Brett with their ability to show her a good time. Every chance Brett gets she orders a drink, yet the Count tells her that she has “the most class of anybody I ever seen. You got it.” (Hemingway 59). His praise reflects the evolving gender roles of both men and women as the men acknowledge that a woman who acts (in this case drinks) like a man can still be desirable. Yet it takes her alcoholism for her to be accepted outside of her conventional gender. She is looked at as a tragic drunk who adds "class" to their brutish bar sessions.
Even though Brett is callous and cold with the men that pursue her, she is still aggressively pursued by these men because their desire outweighs their fear. Even when her fiancé realizes that she is cheating on him he remains engaged to her because he feels he understands her fickleness. Her emotional distance from men reminds these men of themselves. Jake shares the strongest connection with Brett and her emotional distance because the two of them are both isolationists. They both are very lonely even though they spend much of their time with people; they find that they can not relate to the joy expressed by their peers and this alienates them. Her coldness redefines her gender role as a woman because it is the men who are expected to be less emotionally attached to the women they date. It was expected that a woman would be forthcoming with her affection but Brett defies that expectation. She juggles men at her whim and refuses to settle for just one.
Her chilly demeanor does not make her any less desirable to Jake. In the critical essay “Brett Ashley: The Beauty of It All” Linda Miller asserts that “Although Jake cannot penetrate Brett physically, he can realize her spiritually, as her eyes become the windows of her soul” (Miller 177). Miller is referring to the cab ride that Jake shares with Brett and how her eyes seem to come alive when they are alone, as opposed to when they are in public and her eyes become flat. Jake being allowed into Brett’s more vulnerable side grants him access to Brett that the others don’t get, and this is furthered by the fact that their friendship is not based on sex. This is evident when Jake goes back to help Brett at the close of the novel. At this point it is clear to Jake that Brett can never be romantically exclusive yet he still desires to be near her because he appreciates her friendship in a purely platonic manner. Hemingway uses their friendship to make a statement that the gender roles of women and men are changing. The fact that both characters in the end have to settle for dysfunction, rather than happiness, shows that Hemingway himself feared this change.
To further illustrate this fear Hemingway creates the characters of Robert and Romero whom are not ready to fully accept those changes. Hemingway writes that Robert “wanted to take Brett away. Wanted to make an honest woman of her” (Hemingway 181) and Brett says Romero, “really wanted to marry. So [I] couldn’t get away from him” (Hemingway 218). Robert and Romero can not handle Brett the way that she naturally is so they wish to marry her so that they can feminize her to meet their standards. The standards were established by their upbringing. It is interesting to note that Romero grows up in Spain, and Robert grows up in the United States, yet their expectations of the female gender remain nearly identical. It is because of those standards that Brett chooses to leave both of these men because she refuses to compromise her sexual identity for them. In the end Brett’s independence does not bother Jake enough for him to stop pursuing her. Essentially, Hemingway uses Jake to contrast Robert and Romero and to make a statement that some men are willing to put their egos aside in order to embrace this new sense of womanhood, even if it means humbling themselves to a position that holds no power. The men who are not willing to accept her take her version of the female gender to represent a third gender, or an un-woman. She is not allowed to take the status of a man, but she does not prescribe to the preexisting female gender roles, so she becomes genderless, and therefore worthless in their eyes. Halbarstam discusses this phenomenon of not belonging to either gender when she wrote, "Ambiguous gender, when and where it does appear, is inevitably transformed into deviance, thirdness, or a blurred version of either male or female" (Halbarstam, 948). By unsubscribing to a particular gender Brett has become "deviant" and her peers (aside from Jack) tend to approach her with caution.
Jake values Brett enough to relinquish any false sense of power that he could have over her because their friendship is not based on sex, it is based on a kinship they share due to their inability to connect with others. In her essay “Life Unworthy of Life? Masculinity, Disability, and Guilt in The Sun Also Rises” Dana Fore writes that “critics have glossed over the complexity of the relationship between Jake’s identity and the stereotypes linking wounds, physical power, and masculine degeneration” (Fore 74).When Jake leaves Paris to go help Brett he is actively giving up his masculinity because he knows in his heart that Brett will never be satiated by him physically (due to his war wound). Hemingway is exploring the boundaries of what it means to be a strong leading male protagonist by creating a character that Todd Onderdonk labeled as a “sensitive, socially passive observer, given to tears and quiet resignation” (Onderdonk 61). Jake knows in his heart that Brett is incapable of loving him but he chooses to help her because they are friends. This aspect of their friendship that is strictly platonic is not understood by society or their peers.
Jake develops a new philosophy regarding gender roles when he thinks to himself that “Women made such swell friends. Awfully swell. In the first place, you had to be in love with a woman to have a basis of a friendship” (Hemingway 137). These thoughts weigh on him for the rest of the novel. J.F. Buckley asserts that Jake handles the friendship with more honesty than Brett, as he writes that “Brett bemoans the loss of such a model relationship, while Jake, in a very telling manner, rejects both the possibility and the desirability of any such arrangement” (Buckley 73). At the end of the story Jake knows that having a romantic relationship with Brett is just a “pretty” idea because they could never be together due to his lack of sexual competence and her lack of capability to emotionally connect with others.
Hemingway affected how Americans viewed their evolving gender roles. Sara Pendergast writes about the influence of the novel in her reference book St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, “The book was amazingly influential: young women began talking like the flippant heroine, Brett Ashley, and young men started acting like Jake Barnes . . . muttering tough-sounding understatements and donning the repressive sackcloth of machismo” she goes on to write about how the novel inspired Hollywood “icons such as John Wayne, Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood” (Pendergast 387). It is ironic that Jake inspired macho icons with his misogynistic dialogue when if one looks closely at the character one can see that Jake is vulnerable and in some ways devoid of manhood (for example his war wound that eliminates his sex drive). Again, by trying to create a character like Jake who behaves contrary to the typical male gender archetype, Hemingway unwittingly established a new archetype. The new male definition includes vulnerability, but it does not free the men from their old roles as protector and provider. In other words, Hemingway redefines manhood to include more feminine attributes, but he does not release men from the chains of their past roles so that in essence the new man has even more expectations set upon him. These new men would be responsible for being not only tough, but also sensitive.
With society changing, both in America and in Europe, what is deemed to be acceptable also changes; in the middle there is confusion as to how much of the older gender roles are worth keeping and how much should be thrown out. The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway’s attempt at explaining how that confusion is experienced by his generation, but unfortunately he offers no solutions. Instead, he unwillingly continues to promote the gender binary system that was so clearly established before he was born by creating characters who defy that binary, only to be misunderstood and treated miserably by their peers. His novel is a warning about how evolving gender roles threaten to ruin the happiness and comfort of those who can not fit within the status quo.
Buckley, J.F. “Echoes of Closeted Desires: The Narrator and Character Voices of Jake Barnes”. The Hemingway Review 19.2 (2000): 73. Literature Resource Center Web. 1 October 2009.
Foucault, Michel. "The History of Sexuality." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second
Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004.
Fore, Dana. “Life Unworthy of Life? Masculinity, Disability, and Guilt in The Sun Also Rises”. The Hemingway Review 26.2 (2007): 74. Literature Resource Center Web. 1 October 2009.
Halberstam, Judith. "Female Masculinity." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 935-955. Print.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. 1926. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print.
Miller, Linda. “Brett Ashley: The Beauty of It All”. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 203 (1995): 170-184. Literature Resource Center Web. 1 October 2009.
Onderdonk, Todd. “Bitched: Feminization, Identity, and the Hemingwayesque in The Sun Also Rises”. Twentieth Century Literature 52.1 (2006): 61. Literature Resource Center Web. 1 October 2009.
Pendergast, Sara. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. Print.
Rubin, Gayle. "Sexual Transformations." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004.
I think the entire class understood the material and any confusion that they may have had was explained by Professor Wexler, or other members of my group. People also responded to the activity that my group devised for them. The activity consisted of giving the class construction paper and chalk so that they could recreate the famous image of "The Birth of Venus" with a postmodern twist. Some of the class was very clever and they used symbols and words to convey the image, as opposed to simply drawing a realistic portrayal of the initial painting. I feel that they really understood what my group was trying to achieve by showing classic art and than transferring that art into a postmodern era.
To further illustrate the differences between postmodern art and romantic art we showed a clip of an old rendition of Romeo and Juliet where Mercutio is telling Romeo about the fairy who makes men fall in love and compared it to a rendition of the same scene that was released in the 90's. The class preferred the newer postmodern rendition because it put a new spin on old words, which is exactly what postmodernism is all about. In addition, the Oreo cookies we gave out as a treat during the activity were a big hit! Even the Professor came back for more.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
The comedian George Carlin had a very post-modern comedy routine about seven words in the English language that were extremely taboo to say in polite conversation. The humor in the joke is that these words are just words until society gives them power by creating a negative association with those words. In the case of the seven words that George chooses to discuss (I can not state them in a formal paper because they are so extremely explicit that my professor may deem their usage to be indecent) the connotation of the words is so vile that nearly everyone in America can agree that those words should not be said, accept for in private settings with close friends. It would also be agreed that any of the seven dirty words could be cause for physical violence if those words were directed towards a second party with malice.
Jean-Francois Lyotard would agree with Carlin that those words were given power by the elite ruling class to hold negative sway over the public. He might even argue that curse words can be used to control the public by censoring these words so that people who use them can be viewed as savage, while people who do not use them can be seen as civilized. In essence the seven curse words are part of a language game that society plays with its members to enforce a notion of what is good and evil. Lyotard writes of how society has "many different language games . . . the decision makers, however, attempt to manage these clouds of sociality according to input/output matrices" and that the application "of this criterion to all of our games neccessarily ential a certain level of terror" (Lyotard, 356). Essentially, the words we use are given to us by the elite through education during childhood and adolescence to further the elites power over society. Words that are noble and virtuous are attributed with America, such as liberty, freedom, and justice. Words that are ugly, like Carlin's seven words, are attributed to lower class brutes and foreigners. When one uses post-modern theory to analyze these words they can begin to be deconstructed so that the power given to them by the elite becomes null.
Lyotard writes of this deconstruction as the "delegitmation" (Lyotard, 360) of societal word games. He felt that legitimation, "can only spring from [the citizens] own linguistic practice and communicational interaction" (Lyotard, 360). More simply put, words can only be legitimized by discussing their meanings and associations with other, un-elite, members of society so that a new perspective regarding their definitions and connotations can be redefined. In this way words like liberty and freedom can be reanalyzed and seen as potentially negative because the cost of those ideals is paid for in human blood. Carlin uses comedy to create delegitimation because he creates a space for common people to discuss words at length, and how silly it is that they hold so much power when that power can only be given to them by the common people who use them. If we take all the taboo out of the words than they simply become sounds, and no longer can they cause such violent reactions with their presence. This same tactic can be used to remove any other language game because it forces one to look at words with a post-modern skepticism, and as such we can begin to rebuild our vocabulary based on new ideals and constructs not being imposed upon us by the elite.
Lyotard, Jean-Francois. "The Postmodern Condition." Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 397-414. Print.
Therefore, gender studies and gay/lesbian studies should not only be considered important to homosexuals and transgendered individuals because the effects of gender roles can be stifling on all the members of society who may not feel the need to prescribe to these set expectations. For example if a man wants to be single his whole life he runs the risk of being labeled homosexual and being judged as inferior to the rest of his married peers (the same is true for a woman). Of course we have Hugh Hefner to help us dispel these rigid gender roles but he does so by exploiting other gender roles, like the fact that woman are disposable once they have given their partner sex. His is a different kind of gender role, the role of a king. But what of the man who does not wish to exploit many women and who only wants to be in relationships with one woman at a time, just never involving matrimony? Or what about the man who may want to be with women and men? There are a myriad of scenarios that are deemed perverse by society and without gender studies we have no field in the academia who is responsible for monitoring and dispelling archaic traditions of sexuality.
Rivkin, Julie. "Introduction: Contingencies of Gender" Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004. 397-414. Print.
We also saw a clip from "A Westside Story". In the clip one of the hooligans visits different authority figures within American society. He sees a police man, a judge, a therapist, and a social worker. The different authority figures represent the different schools of authority that exist within the center of the hooligans' world. It is panoptic because these figures observe the behavior of the teenager, as do his peers, and that behavior, which is deemed as inappropriate by the elite, forces the teen into exile from his peers and society. At the end the teens rebel against the panoptic tendencies of their society by choosing to not subscribe to expectations, and laughing at the authorities lack of capability to control them.
Freud believed that human beings were driven by more than just pleasure. He felt that repetitive behavior was used by humans to not only generate pleasure (the satisfaction of completing an objective such as drinking whiskey or solving a math equation) but also as an attempt to cope with some of the more traumatic aspects of life such as death and rejection. He saw how games were used by children to act out experiences that caused them fear or anxiety such as going to the doctor, or losing a parent to a war. The pleasure was gained by having an active role in the action. When the child is a passive member of the experience he or she feels out of control, but when they are active in the role playing experience they feel empowered.
This can be said of modern video games. Children that grow up in urban areas sometimes can feel anxiety regarding the violence that surrounds them in the form of gangs or abusive fathers. These same children very often play violent video games where they can shoot others and remain safe as long as they are the most tactically skilled. The randomness of gang-violence is removed from their life and replaced with a structure that entails survival as being possible as long as one is equipped with the best strategy. The children are repeating the behavior they have observed around them in order to cope with the trauma of not being able to control the violence in their daily lives. In addition, it can be said that American children grow up learning about how America has subverted other nations (such as the indigenous people of this land) in order to serve its own needs for material growth. As a result many Americans yearn for power and control because they feel it is a God given right. The reality of our society, however, dictates that only a select few shall have power and control. As a result, these video games where one is in control of who dies and who lives offer an opportunity for those born into poverty to subvert and control, if only within a virtual medium. In this sense the children are repeating America's behavior of using death and destruction to protect itself.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Freud wrote that as man grows up, "he is disturbed by the admonitions of others and by the awakening of his own critical judgment, so that he can no longer retain that perfection[of his youth], he seeks to recover it in the new form of an ego ideal. What he projects before him as his ideal is the substitute for the lost narcissism of his childhood in which he was his own ideal" (416). Tony Stark is extremely self critical because he feels responsible for the deaths he has caused with technology. In order to balance that guilt, and return to his former glorified self of his childhood, he creates Iron Man to regain that love of self. With Iron Man he can right all the worlds wrongs, like Jesus Christ, but more importantly, he can finally be at the center of the entire worlds attention, just like how he felt when he was a child.
Freud goes on to write that the idealization that occurs within narcissism is directed at a particular object that, "without any alteration in its nature, is aggrandized and exalted in the subject's mind" (406). The object that Tony chooses to obsess over is his metal suit of armor. Freud states that these objects are the target of the ego-libido, meaning that sexual frustrations and desires can be projected onto the object. Tony's suit is clearly an extension of his manhood. With the suit he is nearly invincible and can destroy anyone or anything. When he wears his suit he is essentially living out a young boys perfect fantasy of being invincible.
People that suffer from narcissism also have delusions of being watched. They are critically watching their own actions as if they were a critical parent. Freud believes that these people revolt against "those who trained and taught him, and the innumerable and indefinable host of all other people in his environment, his fellow-men-and public opinion" (417). Tony is extremely fearful of the army who trained him, and public opinion of his hero status, because he feels only he is capable of choosing who best to his use his suit for good. In other words, Tony doesn't trust the public of being capable of choosing for themselves whether or not to accept his help. That is obviously narcissistic in a Freudian sense.
The part of this analysis that Tony might not like is that Freud believes homosexuals as an outlet for their sexual frustrations and societal misrepresentation. These men, in Freud's eyes, use their parents and society as a scapegoat for their own dissatisfaction with life, so they create ideal-egos to revolt against those agencies. I do not claim that Iron Man is gay, but it does seem clear to me that he is running from something. In the first Iron Man, Tony Stark reveals to the world his true identity. Now the mask is no longer hiding who he is, perhaps it is instead masking who he truly desires, other men.