literature

Living Gendered Lives In Hemingway And Chopin

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I immediately notice the first line that read, “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton” (Hemingway). The male character is defined as a manly man. Then we read that he does not even like it but does it to prove himself to others which speaks to social pressure to live up to expectations as a male and a Jewish student.  There is also a bit of resentment to his mother who received the bulk of the father’s estate, and who later provides him a monthly stipend (as if he were a daughter).  The author also mentioned she was from an old family who probably brought funds to the marriage. It speaks to his belief in a patriarchy belief system of inheritance where the male receives it rather than the wife or daughters who were married off.  He also shows weakness when the author writes of his new girlfriend, “She was very forceful, and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand” (Hemingway).  Perhaps he is now dating his mother in theory? One controls the purse strings, and the other controls his life.  Then in Chapter two, there is a bit of an undertone toward American women. He speaks highly of the male publisher, but the narrator says the loose women in America corrupted his friend’s behavior.

The narrator then says he sees ‘poules’ walking by which is a French word for sluts (Hemingway Ch 3).  Barnes also compares women by their looks. He says of Hobin that she has bad teeth, but Brett is good-looking. Looks seem to be the only thing he sees a value in women.  There is also a line that reads, “Che mala fortuna! Che mala fortuna!” that I take to mean Barnes is impotent because Brett cannot be with him and he refers to himself as sick. Brett also makes an unusual comment, “When I think of the hell I’ve put chaps through” (Hemingway). If he is impotent and she can not have him, it makes sense that her treatment of other men is now causing her to pay for the love she has for Barnes. The dynamics between Cohn, Barnes, and Brett are interestingly gender-related, and yet they all have their issues with American ideologies. Cohn seems to feel emasculated by women, yet he found his strength and self-worth in America because of his success as a writer. Barnes seems to think that Americans are corrupted, yet he mentioned knowing Americans even when he looked down on the women with Cohn. Each of them seems to have experienced different elements of America that changed their perceptions of what represents the real American identity.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Just as in the other text, the man shows his manhood as he is upset he can not read his paper in peace. The narrator says, “The parrot and the mockingbird were the property of Madame Lebrun” (Chopin). He seems to feel emasculated by not being in a place where he had any authority. He then says, “Madame Lebrun* was bustling in and out, giving orders in a high key to a yard-boy whenever she got inside the house, and directions in an equally high voice to a dining-room servant” (Chopin). He is characterizing the owner of the property as shrill and loud which seems to be a stereotype associated with women as emotional.  He then references another woman as, “a lady in black was walking demurely up and down, telling her beads. Wearing the color black infers she just lost her husband and she is lost in the world without him since she is demure as, apparently, the narrator thinks women should be. They were accompanied by a quadroon nurse which shows how he used her race to subjugate her as a woman.

The narrator then speaks of Mr. Pontellier’s conversation with his wife as, “looking at his wife as one looks at a valuable piece of personal property” (Chopin).  Mr. Pontellier “reproaches” his wife as he thinks she does not care for the kids even though it seems he is looking for a reason to make her wake-up and conversate with him when he wanted it. The narrator said, “If it was not a mother’s place to look after children, whose on earth was it” (Chopin). The narrator then says, “They were women who idolized their children, worshiped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels” (Chopin). The men in this story all saw the women’s roles as wives and mothers. They saw Mrs. Pontellier as a beautiful woman but not so much a good mother because she taught her sons independence rather than to be needy much like Mr. Pontellier is.

Mrs. Pontellier also seems to be a woman who preferred to work rather than sit in a sewing group. It read, “She felt in it satisfaction of a kind which no other employment afforded her” (Chopin). She is unhappy with her life, and she uses Robert’s company and her art as examples of it. Mrs. Pontellier is interesting in that she was on one path as all women were expected, but she wanted to be on another badly. She felt motherhood was not for her even though she would never admit it.  She was different, and it was clear that she felt forced into the life she lived. This story is a representation of New Orleans lifestyles of the elite classes.

Edna represents a feminist in some ways as she says to her friend, “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me” (Chopin). She had finally come to the realization that she did not have to be defined by her husband which I think speaks to how society started to change where women were more than wives or mothers.  She found her independence with the winnings from the races and her sketch sales which gave her a new lease on life.  I felt this story was a representative of how Americans live to work and forget to live. She was held in her role as a mother just as her husband was as the breadwinner.  This character represents the role of women changing because women during her time dared to follow their dreams rather than fall into their place as society dictated.

Chopin, Kate and Pamela Knights. The Awakening : And Other Stories. OUP Oxford, 2000. Oxford World’s Classics. EBSCOhost.

Hemingway,  Ernest. “The Sun Also Rises.” Gutenberg Project. 1954. gutenberg.ca/ebooks/hemingwaye-sunalsorises/hemingwaye- sunalsorises-00-h.html#book1. Accessed 8 Mar 2018.
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