The Sun Also Rises, is often depicted as being a “bitch-goddess.” A ‘Bitch-goddess’ is a person who uses beauty and sensuality to lure men in and then rule them. On the surface, Brett may fit this description to a T. Yet, as a reader learns more about Brett, they see that she has faced many challenges in her life. She is a flawed human caught in a downward spiral towards destruction. Some challenges Brett have faced were; she was a nurse in World War I, she suffered domestic abuse in her previous marriage, and there are were expectations as a woman living in the 1920’s that Brett confronts.
As a Nurse in World War I, Brett was witness to the horrors of war. She would have seen gruesome scenes and witnessed deaths. At least 20% of veterans come back from World War I with post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. There is a plausible argument that Brett suffers from a PTSD. Some classic symptoms that Brett displays are; periods of withdrawing into herself and staring into space. For instance, When Brett and her friends are dining in Pamplona, the men of the group almost get into a fight. Although the violence wasn’t directed at Brett, she froze up. “Brett was sitting there, looking straight ahead at nothing” (Hemingway). There is also a sense of a limited future. Her relationships never last long and the readers do not hear about future plans, as well as a fear of being alone. Brett is always searching for a relationship or some kind of connection to another human being.
Not only is PTSD a consequence of warfare, it is also one of the many results of domestic violence. Brett is a survivor of domestic violence. She married a war veteran who continuously threatened her life. Brett’s fiance Mike said “[W]hen he got really bad, he used to tell her he’d kill her. Always slept with a loaded revolver” (Hemingway). The effects of domestic abuse are ongoing, even after one has escaped from the harmful situation and can affect the person for the rest of their lives. Brett presented many common effects that domestic violence produces such as low self-esteem and questioning one’s sense of self. Brett belittles her self on more than one occasion, saying things such as “I do feel such a bitch” (Hemingway 167) and “He’s so awful. He’s my sort of thing” (Hemingway 219). Brett also displays alcohol and drug abuse, and the inability to trust.
Brett refuses to let the expectation of a woman in the 1920’s define who she is and how she acts. Brett ignores the standard style and ignores gender binaries. “Her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 27). One of her lovers wanted to change Brett. “He wanted me to grow out my hair… He said it would make me more womanly” (Hemingway 218) Despite the expectations of a woman, Brett refused to do this and broke up with him. This is her way of representing her freedom and refusing to let anyone put her in the position of a victim again.
The men of The Sun Also Rises repeatedly objectifies Brett. Jake once compared Brett to “a racing yacht” (Hemingway) Her friends often refer to her appearance rather than other qualities. Over time this can become demoralizing. One might object here that because Brett does use her beauty and sexuality to control men. Cohn, one of her friends, becomes obsessed with Brett after a night together. He ends up physically fighting with his friends over her.
A common counterpoint is that Brett is indeed a “bitch-goddess.” For example, they contend that she uses her beauty and sensuality to control men. Cohn becomes entranced by Brett and follows her around. He gets into physical fights with his friends over her. Cohn once related her to Circe, the Greek goddess of sorcery known for turning men into beasts. Although some people agree with this conclusion, others understand that her past has defined many of her actions.