“Whoa, Man!”: the Lack of Feminization in Ernest Hemingway’s the Sun Also Rises and Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest

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Blair Shemwell
Mrs. Sandifer
English IV AP / Dual Enrollment
12 Feb. 2010
“Whoa, Man!”:
The Lack of Feminization in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
While Ernest Hemingway and Ken Kesey’s writing style and plot details are often found on opposite ends of the literary spectrum, The Sun Also Rises and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are similar in that the main female characters both share masculine qualities that were strengthened due to war. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway “not only contributes to the body of travel literature that offers an insider’s perspective on the lifestyle of the self-exiled writers, artists, and bon vivants who made Paris in the 1920s legendary, but also mythologizes this historic moment” (Field 36). Lady Brett Ashley is a “symbol of this post-war environment” in that her power comes from “preying on the weakness of a society devalued by the breakdown of pre-war values and ideals” (Wilentz 189). On the other hand, “Nurse Ratched—a sterile, distant, and oppressive force who psychologically castrates [her] male patients—represents Kesey’s fears of a cold war era that fosters an impotent, feminine American masculinity through a climate of fear and conformity” (Meloy 3). Kesey’s criticism of a “cold-war society that he believed fundamentally emasculated men strikes a chord in contemporary America” (4). In both Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, men are not capable of being dominant in their shattered environments; therefore, masculine qualities must ironically be found in the female characters Lady Brett Ashley and Nurse Ratched, which emphasizes the destructive atmospheres of post-war Europe and the Cold War Era.

Lady Brett Ashley is one of Hemingway’s “richest” female characters; “her personality gradually emerges as an intriguing mix of femininity and masculinity, strength and vulnerability, morality and dissolution” (Fulton 61). However, she has also been seen as “either a destroyer of men or fantasy figure—‘bitch or goddess’” (Nolan Jr. 105). Thus, as a true “Hemingwayesque protagonist”, Lady Brett Ashley “comprehends many forms of identity besides her maleness and attendant social masculinity” (Onderdonk 67). In addition to her ambiguity, as Richard Fantina described, “The ideal Hemingway woman demonstrates power and a will to dominate” (84). Although, “Traditionally, when critics comment on masochism in Hemingway they generally do so idiomatically, without touching on the sexual implications, by referring to the many physical wounds his characters suffer” (Fantina 85). For example, there comes “an emotional wounding by Brett, which Jake associates with his unmanning sexual wounding during the war” (Adair 73) and he receives “intense humiliations at the hands of the sexually peripatetic ‘new woman’” (Onderdonk 62). Both masculinity and opposition to the war exist “at the cost of marginalizing all women” (Michel 127). As Lorie Fulton mentions in her “Reading Around Jake’s Narration: Brett Ashley and The Sun Also Rises”, “The most damning critical charges against Brett, the ones that delineate her as a ‘bitch’ with devastating powers, seem rooted in one portion of the text: Jake’s aforementioned assertion that he would probably have had no problems after his injury had he not met Brett” (64). Being described as a ‘bitch’ here “implies that the condition it names is—that bad thing—to be feminized” (Onderdonk 61). “While feminization is not a word Hemingway himself uses, the metaphorical representation of men acting or being treated ‘like a woman’ is a central concern of his works” (Onderdonk 70). However, “sexual difference” is “the driving force behind the novel’s other iterations of difference” in The Sun Also Rises (70). For instance, Brett Ashley “wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair brushed back like a boy’s. She started all that” (Hemingway 29-30)....
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