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Hemingway’s Portrayal Of Reversed Gender Roles

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The 1920s was a new era of freedom for the American community. Women gained significant roles in society by their increasing involvement in institutions with associations that were not established on authority, but instead on equality, hence declining the male chauvinism’s coercion. Women’s increasing power was a result of the end of World War I in 1918 because while men were in the war, women took responsibility to independently finance and take care of their own home and life. Soldiers were saved by nurses during the war time, highlighting women’s vital role in the war. Further, literature played a crucial part in social expression during the exploration of women’s liberty and the experimenting of gender performance. The carefree youth rebelled against old world traditions and disputed public’s standards, acquiring the attention of many writers who displayed this transformation of the American society in the 1920s, in their novels.

The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms written by Ernest Hemingway, portray the revolution of gender and sexual equality, which will be examined throughout this paper regarding feminism and gender role in the 1920s. Male preeminence and female inferiority was a strong ideal in the early 20th century. This paper claims that Ernest Hemingway contradicts male superiority and chauvinism by displaying females superior personage in his two novels. Thus, supporting gender equality and promoting female empowerment. This paper will examine the gender roles in the 1900s by introducing male chauvinism and the status of men and women in society. Further, it will focus on the impact of World War I and the lost generation, which the characters in the novel reflect. Frequent motives represented by the lost generation and their consequences, such as weakened masculinity, will be analyzed. The correlations and differentiations of the central male character of each novel will be evaluated, further, the same process will be proceeded with the female gender. Another aspect of reversed gender Hemingway portrays is the male depiction in female characters, consequently, the concept of sexuality will be clarified through Judith Butler’s theory of gender performance. To conclude, the power females and males expose, including the gender revolution will be explored.

The Early 1900s – Male Chauvinism

Ernest Hemingway’s novels reflect literary modernism, which implies the loss of purpose. A great deal of gender prejudice was present up until the 1920s, as men were unjustly discriminating against women by believing they are superior. This discriminating behavior was known as ‘Male Chauvinism’ and was originated from a French soldier named Nicolas Chauvin, who had a great admiration of the Emperor, which led his countrymen to adopt the word chauvinism to signify extravagant patriotism (Shapiro 3). The Englsih adapted this word in 1953 as the “unreasoning devotion to one’s race, sex, etc with contempt for other races, the opposite sex, etc”. Merriam Webster specifically describes it as “a belief of men being superior to women”. Hence, this attitude triggered many feminist authors and journalists to stand up for women and fight for gender equality. Society’s perspective in the early 1900s was straightforward and stereotypical. The male’s role was to work during the day, take care of the family financially and recharge at home by being served by the wife, which is a clear depiction of male chauvinism. The female’s role in the house was to stay at home, keep the house clean, go to the grocery store and take care and educate the children. Gender inequality started in the early stages of raising a child, as the mother was not supposed to have a close relationship with her son. It was expected for the son to grow up with less emotional attachments and to be raised more strictly, as the ideal man represented to be the following by society: more logical, less emotional, independent, intelligent, hard working and able to financially support his own family. These past idealizations demonstrate the objectification of women, viewed as being less intelligent and incompetent to study and have a job to financially support themselves; hence not being able to be independent. Despite women’s fight for equal rights and their accomplishment of authorization in the past decades, male chauvinism is still present today. Justice for both genders are to a great extent more impartial, however, the perception of women and behavior of males are to this day, in the 21st century, still discriminating. For instance, male and female wages are still not equal.

The Lost Generation – Meaning and Origin

The term the Lost Generation was established after World War I and includes everyone who took part in the war directly or indirectly and survived it. Directly affected includes veterans who were physically and mentally wounded. Indirectly implies to doctors and nurses who witnessed and saved severely injured men, and individuals who lost their family members and jobs due to the war. The repercussion they suffered from was mental and psychological traumatizations, which had shattered this generations faith in traditional values such as love, bravery, manhood, and womanhood. Without these values, they found their existence aimless, meaningless and unfulfilling. They were a group of expatriates who lived a life without purpose or hope after the war, being emotionally and physically damaged. Their pre-established perspective of the world and humanity, what gave life meaning had been dreadfully changed. In their eyes, Earth had transformed into a ruthless, unsafe place without the presence and protection of God. Hemingway portrays this through the character’s emotional lives.

Its Impact on the Character’s

All characters in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are members of the Lost Generation. The Author of “Comparing Ernest Hemingway’s Life to His Characters In The Sun Also Rises,” explains that Gertrude Stein formulated the term lost generation to: describe all the disillusioned young men who had survived WWI and who seemed to end up in France with no real purpose, but because of its relatively low cost of living.” France became the new home to these men, who were known to drink heavily and live “empty” lives because of their physical and mental setbacks caused by the War. They were said to have “lost their faith in the moral guideposts that had given them hope before, [therefore] they were ‘Lost’ (Roach 13). Hemingway agrees to this statement and portrays it through the characters in his novels, such as Jake Barnes. The lost generation believed that life existed so they could make the best out of it while it lasted. Thus, because of the recognition of being alive, they occupied themselves with temporary satisfactions and escapist activites, such as drinking.

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Excessive Drinking

Constantly drinking provides a way for the characters to escape their reality. Their surface actions such as merrymaking are joyless and driven by alcohol. Most of their time is spent partying, yet they remain sorrowful and unfulfilled. Drunkness worsens the mental and emotional disturbance that plagues the characters. Jake, avoiding the acceptance of not being able to have what he desires, which is Brett, leads to his alcohol addiction. Moments of honesty solemnly arise when characters feel their worst, such as Jake’s confrontation of his unhappiness with Brett. Despite her constant refusal to be with him, he proceeds to be in her surrounding ready to help. Being under the constant influence of alcohol hinders Jake Barnes to fully distance himself from Brett, who consistently reminds him of his weakened masculinity. The excessive drinking, heavily influenced Robert Cohn’s behavior, causing him to lose his temper and uncontrollably start a fight with Jake and Mike when they refused to tell him where Brett was. This demonstrates the powerful negative effects of alcohol, as it alters an individual’s whole personality and integrity. Additionally, Brett believes to eradicate her feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction by going out every night intoxicated and replace the love and moral values she once had by sleeping with multiple men. Nevertheless, she remains unsatisfied and admits to Jake, while she is intoxicated that she is ‘miserable’, hence turning this into a vicious cycle of frustration and restlessness.

A Farewell to Arms was set during World War I and characters were already part of the lost generation as they experienced traumatic sceneries and also constantly drank to forget about the merciless world they were witnessing. Henry is encountered drinking in every scenario of the novel, for example on the battlefield, in hospital, while escaping, etc. Henry even risked his health condition by drinking while healing from a concussion. Alcohol was also a positive distraction for Henry to avoid thinking about his loss and war and to think about Catherine instead, who gave his life meaning and hope. Catherine, just like Brett, lost her beloved one in war, thus all her hopes and values in life were shattered. The only value she found again was her hope for true love which she achieved throughout her relationship with Henry. Henry’s excessive drinking was clearly higher than Catherine’s, meaning he depends more on intoxication to clear his mind than her, which displays a greater weakness in the male than female.

The Male Gender – Weakened Masculinity

During the 1920s, masculinity was losing social privileges, as women gained the right to vote and began to work and occupy business places. Hence, men believed they had the necessity of reinforcing their manly social status. All men from the lost generation expressed male insecurity as WWI has caused a radical reevaluation of masculinity. Survival depended far more upon luck than bravery, therefore the traditional notions of a ‘man’ versus the reality of war were soon enough uncovered. Jake and Henry are both wounded male characters who display weakened masculinity as a result of the impacts of World War I. As they were psychologically and physically damaged, all their moral values including their self-recognition and identity values were shattered. In The Sun Also Rises Jake Barnes embodies cultural change as war renders his manhood useless due to his injury in war, resulting in impotence. This unveils his male insecurity as he feels ‘less of a man’ than before and because the love of his life, Brett, refuses to enter a relationship with him by virtue of the loss of his penis. Even though his injury restricts his sexual ability, it does not change his mentality and manly desire. However, it is clearly stated that even if Brett loves Jake too, there is no possibility for him to be with her. This is shown in the following conversation: “Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.” Ahead was a mounted policeman in Khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me. “Yes” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”.

The personal principles Jake displays is a manifestation of naiveness. Throughout the novel, his uprightness is always exposed, however, he is exhibited as being constantly used by others and tolerating it. Jake Barnes is the character who most suffers in this novel, who sacrifices for others, receiving nothing in return. For instance, helping Brett find Romero and introducing them to each other, who he is aware that she is sexually interested in and including Robert to his trips, who beat him up because of his jealousy of Brett and later begs him for forgiveness which Jake still grants him. Further, in spite of all that Jake leaves the same night he receives a message from Brett to meet her in Madrid after she had left Pamplona with Romero, who wanted to marry her and who she lastly dumped. Jake’s advice’s and the decision he makes is illustrative of his character. Even though he acknowledges the defects of the world and the ones in his surrounding, he never has the courage or will to resolve these defects. He just tolerates and complies to them, which he advises Robert to do too. Cohn says, “I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.” To which Jake replies, “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.”

Jake indicates Cohn that he must adapt to the feeling of dissatisfaction in his life. Robert Cohn, also depicts weakened masculinity. Hemingway highlights Robert’s inner feeling of inferiority as he says, “He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton”. He is physically described as a big and strong man but ironically depicted as being very timid and vulnerable. Therefore, his physical looks reflect the image of what a man was supposed to portray in the 1920s and his inner self-behavior reflected the reality of men from the lost generation. Cohn and other characters in the novels fixate on travel as a solution to their feelings of discontent. Jake expresses his image about Robert and considers him ignorant, pathetic and an inexperienced man as he never fought in WWI. He realizes that Cohn’s unhappiness stems from his personality and lifestyle and further criticizes him as shy, insecure and prone to the control and manipulation of women, thus headlining him as being weak. This judgment reveals Jake’s anxiety regarding his own masculinity. Henry struggles to prove his masculine social position and therefore joins the war to rebuild his masculine identity. However, he runs away from his duty in the battlefield in hope of establishing a household and achieving patriarchal renown to strengthen his masculinity. Hence, Henry’s antipathy for war is clearly depicted, which is understood when he says, “It evidently made no difference whether I was there to look after things or not” (A Farewell to Arms 16). Henry’s attempt to regain his manhood by joining the war had failed. Catherine and her pregnancy gave him hope of proving his manhood through family life. Henry displays weakness as he continuously says, “God please do not make her die. I’ll do anything you say if you don’t let her die” (A Farewell to Arms 330). Catherine calmly complies with her own death and tells Henry, “Don’t worry darling…I’m not a bit afraid” (A Farewell to Arms 330). This demonstrates her heroic moment of bravery and boldness, which Henry thrives to have but never achieves. Therefore, in spite of her being a woman, she is still able to express firm authentic masculinity.

Similarities of Male Character’s

In both novels, Hemingway emphasizes the motif of love and alcohol which are troublesome for the characters, yet their only sources of satisfaction. Ernest Hemingway sets a scene in a train in both novels, where Jake and Henry feel distressed by other characters. In The Sun Also Rises, Jake is bothered by Catholics on the train because they possess a strong faith in God and in the moral order, even though he himself is a Catholic, yet whose mind wanders when he prays. In A Farewell to Arms, Henry had organized a machine-gunner to reserve him a seat on the train and a captain protested against this, which distressed him. Henry ended up unwillingly giving the captain the seat. These two scenes juxtapose the reason for their irritation, which stems from their lost faith in God due to the war and therefore alters their perspective towards Catholics and captains; their respect and mindset towards them had elapsed. Additionally, both characters do not react against them, proving that both conform with dissatisfactions in life instead of taking actions to solve them. Henry is diagnosed with jaundice and Jake is impotent which triggers his biggest feeling of dissatisfaction in life as he cannot be with Brett. Both consciously worsen their condition.

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Hemingway’s Portrayal Of Reversed Gender Roles. (2021, August 31). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 25, 2023, from
“Hemingway’s Portrayal Of Reversed Gender Roles.” Edubirdie, 31 Aug. 2021,
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