Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Echoes of Closeted Desire(s): The Narrator and Character Voices of Jake Barnes

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Echoes of Closeted Desire(s): The Narrator and Character Voices of Jake Barnes

Article excerpt

MUCH MORE THAN "a compact white skyline on the top of a little cliff" (SAR 216), Madrid is the setting for the final performance of Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises. Sitting with his arm around Lady Ashley as their taxi enters the Gran Via, he at last acknowledges that he and Brett were never destined to be the sort of lovers welcomed into society. Brett bemoans the loss of such a model relationship, while Jake, in a very telling manner, rejects both the possibility and the desirability of any such arrangement:(1)

   "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?" (222)

With Brett pressed against him and phallic power directing him, Jake dismisses --in a very campy fashion--strict heterosexual prescriptions for desire.(2) His final words echo the "pretty thoughts" of those who"like to do a lot of things" but know, perhaps better than such sentimentalists as Brett, that they must steel themselves with "another bottle of rioja alta" before venturing out into the "hot and bright, and ... sharply white" world (221-2).

Thus Jake Barnes gives final voice to his "lives" in Paris, Burguete, and Pamplona where he discriminates between heterosexual and homosexual desire but is rarely able to shift between his narrating role echoing the heterosexual--and his character role echoing the homosexual--without emphasizing that someone or something he desires is missing. Although his two "roles" are never clearly and concisely dichotomized, for convenience only and not to assert any consistent contrast, I am calling the more normative narrating voice sharing thoughts with Hemingway's reader, "Barnes," and the more antisocial voice speaking in dialogue with other characters, "Jake."

Now certainly any narrator can distance himself from and even comment on his role as character. He can relive, even erroneously, his past, can "operate independently" of the character sharing his name (Phelan Narrative 110, 112). Yet, as Judith Butler notes, the self's social presence is a "reiterated acting" or process, instantiating and destabilizing the norms it acts (9-10). And most destabilizing to the "fixity" or "materialization" of the process that is selfhood is desire. For example, at the bal musette, the narrating Barnes shares with the reader an apparently frank and simple heterosexual desire:

   Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a
   tweed skirt.... She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht,
   and you missed none of it with that wool jersey. (SAR 27)

However, before he voices this desire, Barnes concentrates on "the gay men in detail; their appearance stands as the initial object of his gaze" (Blackmore 55). He asserts that he "wanted to swing on ... that simpering composure" of the homosexual men who are dancing at the bal musette (25). His heteroglot language resonates with homophobia over "grimacing, gesturing" dancers, but it also resonates with an excessive attention to "white hands, wavy hair" etc. Certainly, Bakhtinian complications constitute both the Barnes who narrates and the Jake who speaks in dialogue; certainly, Bakhtinian complications help our understanding of any such "split."(3)

Yet, because Paris, Burguete, Pamplona, and the final cab ride in Madrid are performances of self in which his "roles" vary because of different desires, Jake Barnes is an excellent example of how expressing desire complicates not only any voice that would be at all inclusive,(4) but any notion of a character/narrator who would be at all unitary. Identity is an uneasy tension between the normative and the personal that serves to locate Jake Barnes in a closet from which he does not easily emerge. In fact, by the end of his story he scarcely comes to terms with any unifying concept of himself. …

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