Coping with Loss in Hemingway and Faulkner
Although both Hemingway and Faulkner use their writing styles to create characters who no longer recognize the world around them, Hemingway uses short, simple prose to create characters who thoughtlessly avoid their problems while Faulkner's messy stream of consciousness establishes characters who scramble to make sense of their new reality. In Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Vardaman Bundren struggles to find a solution that will allow him to cope with the loss of his mother. By focusing on thoughts, Faulkner captures the inner torment of his characters. In Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Jake Barnes suffers a war wound that leaves him unable to have a relationship with the one woman he truly wants, Lady Brett Ashley. Hemingway's lack of insight on his characters' feelings demonstrates Jake abstains from thought and focuses his attention on actions.
Throughout the novel, Jake Barnes finds himself unable to face the reality of his post-WWI life. Although the nature of Jake's injury is never discussed, it is clear that he suffered an injury in the war that left him impotent and therefore incapable of acting upon the desire that he still feels. Early in the novel, Brett and Jake share a kiss, but Brett immediately regrets it, “'Don't touch me,' she said, 'Please don't touch me'” (Hemingway 30). Brett tells Jake that being around him makes her weak with a desire he cannot fulfill, so he asks, “'Isn't there anything we can do about it?'...'I don't know,' she said, 'I don't want to go through that hell again'” (Hemingway 31). Since Jake was rendered impotent Brett refuses to be with him because of her need for sexual satisfaction, but despite this, they both have a strong sexual attraction toward one another and it only depresses them further to speak of it. Jake knows he cannot go back to who he was before the war, but he likewise cannot move on with life—since that would require being with Brett—so he remains stuck in a superficial, motionless existence.
Hemingway's blunt and precise language reveals that Jake is unwilling to accept his new reality. On the outside, the text seems like a largely neutral, action-and-dialogue-based piece, but it is Jake's inner turmoil that is responsible for this limited perspective. By never directly stating why Brett and Jake shouldn't be together, Hemingway can show Jake's avoidance, “'Isn't there anything we can do about it?'” (Hemingway 31). After kissing Brett, Jake lies awake in bed, “I couldn't keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett...Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by and way down the street, and then I went to sleep” (Hemingway 35). Hemingway's continuous use of 'it' demonstrates how Jake refuses to grant this feeling a name because naming it would only make it real and acknowledge its existence. His attention to external detail—such as the way Jake describes...