Toward the Mastery of Submission: Robert Cohn's Problem with Masochism in The Sun Also Rises.
The issue of male heterosexual masochism represented by Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises has been raised and discussed in Richard Fantina's representative work, Ernest Hemingway: Machismo and Masochism. As Fantina suggests, Jake's masochistic desire and behaviour are represented through his wish to imbue Brett with a "phallic sexual agency" (54), his willingness to be positioned in a "state of suspended" throughout the novel (59), his acceptance of humiliation by assisting Brett in connecting with Pedro Romero (57) and so forth. From my viewpoint, these significant instances of masochism performed by Jake take precedence over Robert Cohn's problem with masochism. Instead of focusing on Jake, in this article, I demonstrate Robert Cohn's ambivalent relationship with masochism, suggesting that the essentials of Cohn's masochistic desire and behaviour, which can be found in the practice of boxing and his submission to dominant women, are derived from the increase of anti-Semitism after the First World War. Furthermore, I postulate the climax of the whole plot--the part where Cohn knocks down other characters and his apologetic hand-shaking--as Cohn's version of self-realization, which enables the reader to interpret a rather positive ending regarding Cohn. That is, his leaving Pamplona symbolizes a new starting point for his life--his mastery of submission.
Before going into detailed analysis, the associations between Ernest Hemingway and masochism should be provided. These include: Havelock Ellis, The First War, and Hemingway's upbringing. Firstly, drawing on Michael Reynolds's description that Hemingway is fond of Havelock Ellis, "whom he would continue to read as late as 1939" (124), one comes to believe that other than Erotic Symbolism--a book he found so fascinating that he recommended it to Bill Smith later in a letter (120)--Hemingway might have also read Sexual Inversion and/or "Love and Pain", which provides a variety of case studies on masochism. In Erotic Symbolism, Hemingway found clear descriptions of case histories and classical references of the Krafft-Ebing fetishes, which include the symbolism of self-inflicted pain, shoe-fetishism in relation to masochism, the erotic nature of hair and so forth. From this aspect, it is possible to affirm that Hemingway's interest in the notion of masochism was inspired by Ellis's works. Indeed, the effect of Erotic Symbolism is so clear that Hemingway's way of describing Brett Ashley's hypersexual behaviour in The Sun Also Rises is adopted from Ellis's, in which he concentrates on the "what" instead of the "why" of the behaviour (Reynolds 122). Secondly, since masochism serves as a medium to highlight the "historical trauma" originating from The First World War, "Hemingway, who saw action in Italy during the war, arguably has more at stake, risks more, in embracing masochism" (Fantina 26). Like the tortured men in D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love and the scenes in "Night town" in James Joyce's Ulysses, writers at this particular time often employed the idea of masochism in their works as a way to highlight the loss-of-faith phenomenon in the postwar world (Fantina 26). Thirdly, Hemingway's conflicted attitude towards masculinity can be traced back to the relationship between his dominant mother and his submissive father, which encouraged him to build "a persona of ultra-masculinity" in order to not to become like his father (Fantina 85). Nevertheless, Hemingway was trapped by his own myth of machismo because he was "enslave[d]" by the "androgynous powers" of liberated women (Fantina 157). This leads to a perception that Hemingway himself might be constantly struggling between his macho self and his masochist self.
It is necessary to foreground the definition of masochism as the term adopts new definitions in different periods throughout history. Based on the personal case of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, masochism was first coined by Richard von Krafft-Ebing as a kind of sexual perversion, in which the masochist "in sexual feeling and thought is controlled by the idea of being completely and unconditionally subjected to the will of a person of the opposite sex; of being treated by this person as by a master, humiliated and abused" (28). The term was then popularized by Sigmund Freud, whereby he suggested that the origin of masochism was derived from the male child's castration anxiety caused by a dominant father and that masochism and sadism are symbiotic because "[E]very active perversion is [...] accompanied by its passive counterpart" (45). While Freud's understanding of masochism is based on his own psychoanalytical case studies, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze's notion of masochism goes beyond the clinical realm by reviewing the Marquis de Sade's and Sacher-Masoch's literary works. To Deleuze, masochism is different from sadism in terms of sexual practices and narrative structures and furthermore, it is the male child's fear of being abandoned by the mother that serves as the cause of masochism (Thanem and Wallenberg). Following this analysis, by the early twentieth century, masochism had become a problem of the self. As Anita Katz claims, "any behavioral act, verbalization, or fantasy that--by unconscious design--is physically or psychically injurious to oneself, self-defeating, humiliating, or unduly self-sacrificing" can be referred to as masochism (226). In regard to this, Roy F. Baumeister sees masochism not only as "a product of the desire to escape from self" but also a product of socialization. He argues, "the more a society is based on dominance and authority, the more masochistic activity there should be" (39). In this respect, the portrayal of Robert Cohn as a dominant/mature boxer while at the same time a submissive/immature man comes to signify his masochistic self, leading the reader to uncover the social conditions and cultural politics that existed in the 1920s.
The Formation and Representation of Robert Cohn's Masochism The Practice of Boxing
The opening paragraph of the novel gives the reader a sense that there is something "strange" about this character named Robert Cohn.
Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. [...] He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton. There was a certain inner comfort in knowing he could knock down anybody who was snooty to him, although being very shy and a thoroughly nice boy, he never fought except in the gym. He was Spider Kelly's star pupil. [...] He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose. In his last year at Princeton he read too much and took to wearing spectacles. I never met any one of his class who remembered him. They did not even remember that he was middleweight boxing champion. (SAR 11)
Drawing on the description above, the strangeness of Robert Cohn lies in his conflicted feelings toward the practice of boxing. Despite disliking and caring nothing about boxing, he learns it "painfully and thoroughly"--so painful that he not only feels "a certain inner comfort" when he knocks down his enemy, but there is "a certain satisfaction of some strange sort" that Cohn feels when he is being hit and his nose becomes "permanently flattened". In this respect, Cohn's experience of taking pleasure in pain and humiliation resembles the essential element of masochism.
Following Jake's description, one gets to discover that Cohn is from one of the richest and oldest families in New York (SAR 12). Also, Cohn was a boxing champion at Princeton. However, he is not remembered by anyone from his class, not only because he is shy and feels inferior but also because he is a Jew: "No one had ever made him feel he was a Jew, and hence any different from anybody else, until he went to Princeton" (SAR 12). Suffering from this lack of self-awareness and possessing low self-esteem, Cohn begins to practice boxing in order to decrease the feeling of inferiority that is derived from his Jewish consciousness. Moreover, Cohn attempts to "undo" his Jewishness by practicing boxing. This explains why Cohn feels a certain pleasure after his nose gets flattened, as this will differentiate him from the Jewish community and help him fit into the white American community. (1) This subversive feeling toward his flattened nose represents his masochistic tendency that is derived from his "painful self-consciousness" (SAR 12).
Cohn's painful self-consciousness is deeply rooted in the social oppression directed toward Jews during the 1920s in America. As Kayla Brodkin points out, the period between the 1920s and 1930s was the "peak of anti-Semitism in America", where universities started to restrict Jewish admissions in order to prevent Jewish domination of "white" American culture (26, 30). At that time, Jews were viewed as "unwashed, uncouth, unrefined, loud, and pushy" (Brodkin 30). This wave of anti-Semitism can be further traced back to the First World War, where conflicts between Jews and non-Jews unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism, which resulted in the spreading of anti-Semitic propaganda such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the establishment of laws that isolated Jews from entering America (Isaacs). This history of anti-Semitism comes to explain why Cohn's self-consciousness can be so "painful". As Ron Berman claims, "Cohn enjoys or practices suffering because that is a form of passive aggressiveness" (41). The "passive aggressiveness" Berman notes can be linked to masochism, which is used by Cohn as a way to escape from his inherent self.
In Masochism and the Self, Baumeister introduces the theory of "action identification", suggesting that the multiple ways of describing actions can also be applied to the theory of the self (27). In other words, human thinking and awareness can be divided into high-levels that carry more abstract and symbolic meaning, and also low-levels that imply less emotional attachment or more mechanical details. Baumeister continues to note, low-level thinking serves as an essential step in the transition from one high-level interpretation to another (28). That is to say, high-level thinking is accomplished by low-level thinking. Regarding masochism, it occurs in low-level consciousness, whereby the self is stripped off the ability to make decisions and to use metaphors, leaving "the original, minimal basis of self": The body (Baumeister 30). In Cohn's case, his practice of boxing can be described as "moving his fists" (low-level) as well as "building his career" (high-level). It is his concentration on the low-level thinking during boxing that enables him to temporarily isolate himself from all the unpleasant feelings--inferiority, anxiety, race-consciousness, guilt--that he has to bear throughout his college life at Princeton. In other words, when Cohn feels pleasure out of the humiliation and pain he receives, he is actually "unmaking the world" he sees, converting his inherent self into a false but pleasant self: a non-Jew (Baumeister 71). In this sense, the practice of boxing is both pain and pleasure as it involves both destruction and reconstruction of the self, pushing Cohn toward the path of masochism.
The Dominant Women
Another instance of masochism that is presented by Cohn is his submissive behaviour toward the women he encounters, especially his first wife and his girlfriend Frances Clynes. As Jake emphasizes, "[e]xternally he had been formed at Princeton. Internally he had been molded by the two women who had trained him" (SAR 52). Right after leaving Princeton, Cohn is "married by the first girl who was nice to him" (SAR 12). Under the contract, Cohn forces himself to live "under domestic unhappiness with [his] rich wife" for five years (SAR 12). While suffering from his unhappiness, Cohn is incapable of breaking the contract because he thinks that "it would be too cruel to deprive her of himself" (SAR 12). Here, phrases such as "is married by" and "deprive [somebody] of [something]" highlight the unequal power relationship between his wife and Cohn. However, it seems that there is something that thrills Cohn in putting himself into this position, the feeling of suffering for the sake of love. This masochistic idea, as Baumeister reasserts, represents a part of Western culture, in which "modern individuals are well acquainted with the idea that making sacrifices or enduring suffering are acceptable ways of expressing one's love for another" (66). In this sense, Cohn's victimization of himself for the purpose of reinforcing his self-value and masculinity could be part of the influence of romantic culture.
Cohn's perception toward romantic love as masochistic in nature can be linked to the practice of reading, for instance, Jake claims that Cohn "had read and reread 'The Purple Land'", a novel that relates the "splendid imaginary amorous adventures of a perfect English gentleman in an intensely romantic land" (SAR 17). When fantasy is substituted for reality, one might see reality as merely an episode in one's fantasy, losing the balance between the two. Indulging in his romantic fantasy inspired by The Purple Land, Cohn believes that by traveling to South America, the land of fantasy, the feeling of self-insignificance and emptiness that he has felt in Paris, the land of reality, will disappear.
Cohn had had high hopes that something pleasurable would have happened to him, but Paris disappointed him: "Nothing happened to me. I walked all alone one night and nothing happened, except a bicycle cop stopped me and asked to see my papers" (SAR 20). In Paris, Cohn cannot help but feel that something is missing in his life, within his innermost being. As he laments, "[m]y life is going so fast and I'm not really living it" (SAR 18). Cohn's strong sense of helplessness is related to the collective mood represented by the Lost Generation, even though he never experienced the war firsthand. However, due to his lack of experience with the war, Cohn does not understand the limitations of his fantasy like Jake does: "You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There's nothing to that" (SAR 19).
Cohn's fantasy continues to lead him toward masochism. Soon after his wife divorces him, he is once again "taken in hand by" Frances Clynes, who is "very forceful": she could not care less if her words offended Cohn (SAR 13). Nevertheless, Cohn assumes that this is "love", that during the two-and-a-half year together with Frances he does not even look at another woman (SAR 13). As Jake claims, "she led him quite a life" (SAR 15). Indeed, the scene that confirms Frances's role as the dominant woman while Cohn the submissive man is shown in Chapter Six, where Frances publicly humiliates Cohn in front of Jake, an important audience to their drama. As Jake claims, "[s]he turned to me with that terribly bright smile. It was very satisfactory to her to have an audience for this" (SAR 56). Despite being accused of having an affair with his ex-secretary and being humiliated publicly about his career as a writer, Cohn does not say a thing but is resigned to "taking it all" (SAR 47). This submissive behaviour that Cohn demonstrates recalls his proclamation, "I have certain obligations to her" (SAR 46). The word "obligation" means "a binding agreement committing a person to a payment or other action" (OED). Thus, this could mean that at least to Cohn, there is a "verbal agreement" that he takes up with Frances. As Fantina notes, "the contract, or at least a verbal agreement, forms an important part of many masochistic relationships according to some of its adherents" (61). Cohn's attempt to make Frances sign up to this "agreement" instead of the proper marriage agreement is for the purpose of reversing the power relation between enslavement and law. As Deleuze notes, "[i]n the contractual relation the woman typically figures as an object in the patriarchal system. The contract in masochism reverses this state of affairs by making the woman into the party with whom the contract is entered into" (92). By making Frances the master, the mother, the Cruel Woman, Cohn forefronts an alternative master-slave relationship that is different from the traditional relationship style.
Paradoxically, it is the victim himself, Cohn, who confers the power to his master for the purpose of reaffirming power over himself. As Suzanne R. Stewart states, the "masochist himself created this Cruel Woman as an aesthetic object and in that move attempted to reassert control, both over the means of cultural production and over the woman's body" (13). In Cohn's case, his intention in making Frances his ideal Cruel Woman can be understood through Frances' complaint: "Robert's always wanted to have a mistress, and if he doesn't marry me, why, then he's had one. She was his mistress for over two years" (SAR 58). Cohn prefers Frances to be his mistress because the power structure of a traditional marriage does not match his ideal power relationship. As Frances claims, "if he marries me, like he's always promised he would, that would be the end of all the romance" (SAR 58). That is to say, by marrying Frances, the image of the Cruel Woman constructed inside Cohn will vanish and hence there will be no more romance. Here, "romance" does not mean the sensation of pain but the meaning of pain that is derived from suspension and self-victimization. Therefore, the harder Frances forces Cohn to get married, the stronger he ought to refuse for the purpose of enhancing the quality of romance between them.
Brett Ashley represents another potential candidate whom Cohn would like to make his mistress. When Cohn first meets Brett, he looks as though he has just found his "promised land" (SAR 29). To Cohn, this "promised land" is linked to Brett's upper-class quality, as Cohn later reveals that he is attracted by her "breeding" (SAR 46). As Daniel S. Traber notes, the identity Cohn desires is the "access to all the privileges and abuses the upper class enjoy with their closed version of whiteness" through the likes of Brett, "the holder of 'true' Anglo-Saxon 'blood'" (244). That is to say, if Cohn was with Brett, Brett's quality would enhance him in the sense that it would make invisible his Jewish identity so that he could stand unopposed by mainstream society. This explains why Cohn becomes so obsessed with Brett--so obsessed that he cannot allow himself to stop looking at this "promised land" for even one second, which disgusts Mike: "He hung around Brett and just looked at her. It made me damned well sick" (SAR 147) (emphasis original). Due to his blind obsession toward Brett, Cohn is called "a poor bloody steer" whose destiny is nothing but death (SAR 146). As Delueze notes, for the masochists, the love contract "is made deliberately to promote slavery and even death at the service of the woman and the mother" (94-5). Even though Brett has not made any solid commitment with Cohn, but to Cohn, their secret affair implies this meaning: Brett's taking Cohn with her to San Sebastian leads Cohn to think that they have started a "relationship" (a sexual connection serves as an essential element of the masochist's love-contract). This statement is confirmed through Jake's description: "He could not stop looking at Brett. It seemed to make him happy. It must have been pleasant for him to see her looking so lovely, and know he had been away with her and that everyone knew it. They could not take that away from him"; "[i]t was his affair with a lady of title" (SAR 150, 182). This is then followed by Brett's suspension and dismissal of Cohn in Pamplona, which encourages Cohn to come up with the idea that if Brett is a "sadist"--she could also be his mistress (SAR 170).
Being suspended in Pamplona, Cohn then calls Brett the Greek goddess "Circe" who can "turn men into swine" (SAR 148). In Greek Magic: Ancient, Medieval and Modern, Circe is described as "the magical image of the naked goddess and Mistress of Animals who combines sexuality and danger" (Petropoulos 12). This leads to the assumption that Cohn must have fantasized himself as a heroic victim of Brett's dangerous and yet pleasant seduction. Here, Cohn's imagining of Brett recalls Delueze's theory of masochism, in which "[t]he masochistic contract generates a type of law which leads straight into ritual. The masochist is obsessed; ritualistic activity is essential to him, since it epitomizes the world of fantasy" (94). Just like the riau-riau dancer who needs Brett to perform "as an image to dance around" (SAR 159), Cohn needs Brett to be his ritual image in order to carry out "the rites of regeneration and rebirth" (Deleuze 94)--to be reborn as a new "Anglo-Saxon" gentleman. In fact, the San Fermin festival itself also implies a sense of ritual masochism originated from the martyr experience of Saint Fermin. (2) Metaphorically, this comes to explain why Cohn is not so much into the festival as the others: because all his energy is devoted into his own version of ritual masochism. This may serve as a reason why Cohn passes out while the others are awake throughout the time of the riau-riau ritual performance. While Jake's description of Cohn's sleeping quietly with "a big wreath of twisted garlics" on his neck and chest symbolizes Cohn's engagement with the ritual activity, Bill's describing Cohn as "dead" could be seen as the metaphor of his ritual death (SAR 162, 163).
The representation of the witch Circe is further associated with "the atmosphere of motherhood" or "the concept of 'surrogate mother'" (Shamas 83). This mother figure of Brett is emphasized by William Adair's calling of Brett the "Mother Brett", suggesting that Brett can be viewed as "a personification of the wounded 'orphan' Jake's unconscious longing for mother-love" (190). In Cohn's case, Brett can be regarded as an ambivalent figure who serves as both the love object and the determinant "mother". As Torkid Thanem and Louise Wallenberg citing Deleuze's theory explain, "[b]oth love object and controlling agent for the helpless child, the mother is an ambivalent figure during the child's oral phase. Breast-feeding the child she also has the power to punish him by withholding breastfeeding and abandoning him. [...] The adult male masochist re-enacts this mother-child relationship". (n.p.). This leads to an assumption that Cohn's fear of being abandoned by the "Mother Brett" constitutes the primary source of Brett's authority and magical power, which explains why Cohn is so afraid of losing sight of Brett during the whole Pamplona trip.
Toward the Mastery of Submission: Confronting the Self
Unable to understand Cohn's problem with masochism, all the other characters exclude Cohn from their expatriate community. While Jake criticizes Cohn as having "a hard, Jewish, stubborn streak" (SAR 18), Mike condemns Cohn's "manners" (147) and Bill criticizes him for having "Jewish superiority" (166)--all of them want Cohn to "behave or get out" of their group (148). Here, Cohn's Jewish superiority becomes a primary issue to be discussed. Drawing on Alfred Alder's psychological theory, in which he claims, "[t]he superiority complex is one of the ways which a person with an inferiority complex may use as a method of escape from his difficulties", one understands that Cohn's Jewish superiority serves as a false compensation for his unbearable Jewish inferiority (in Mosak and Maniacci 82). (3) Nevertheless, paradoxically, the more Cohn tries to make himself not behave like an outsider, the more he is seen by the others as superior, and hence, an outsider who behaves badly.
As to Jewish behaviour in public places in the 1920s, Walter Lippmann commends,
Jewish "behavior in public places" was itself a cause of anti-Semitism. It was incumbent on the Jew, as it is for Cohn in The Sun Also Rises, to behave well and not to be 'conspicuous' in polite society. Specifically, the assimilated Jew needed to learn "moderation" and "taste." That would lead to "sympathetic understanding" by others. (in Berman 2001, 91)
For Jews in the 1920s, the key to be sympathetically understood by others is to go through the process of cultural and social assimilation. In Cohn's case, one of the reasons that stops him from being understood by others is that he assimilates to the wrong role models. As Ronald Berman suggests, Cohn's "romantic-medieval readiness 'to do battle for his lady love'" is nothing but a "false chivalry" that is derived from the late Victorian era (44, 43). In other words, Cohn's failure to adapt the post-war values through assimilation remains an obstacle to achieving what Lippmann calls "sympathetic understanding".
The primary obstacle that blocks Cohn from truly being understood by others is his masochism. Drawing on Adler's idea, Robert W. Ludin claims, "masochists are discouraged people with inferiority complexes" and they produce "fear-excitement" by allowing the other to hurt them. From this they can feel superior through confronting the pain (45). Cohn's fear-excitement not only comes from the practice of boxing as well as his submission to dominant women, but also from his anti-Semitic friends. While being "insulted" by them, Cohn seems awkward but "somehow he seemed to be enjoying it" (SAR 182). In this case he may appear as if he has a superiority complex but it is simply his masochistic side expressing itself. This dichotomy between appearance and actual can lead Cohn to be rejected by others. In this sense, masochism becomes Cohn's main obstacle to achieving cultural assimilation or to being understood and accepted by others. Therefore, in order to stop himself from depending on masochism, Cohn first has to confront his inherent (Jewish) self.
It is not until the disappearance of Brett, followed by his knocking down of the young Spanish bullfighter, Pedro Romero, that Cohn is lead to confront his masochistic self. More specifically, Romero's representation of his inherent (Spanish) masculine spirit serves as the spark for Cohn to embrace his inherent (Jewish) self.
He'd been knocked down about fifteen times, and he wanted to fight some more. Brett held him and wouldn't let him get up. He was weak, but Brett couldn't hold him, and he got up. Then Cohn said he wouldn't hit him again. Said he couldn't do it. Said it would be wicked. So the bull-fighter chap sort of rather staggered over him. Cohn went back against the wall. "So you won't hit me?" "No," said Cohn. "I'd be ashamed to". (SAR 206)
The description above shows that even though Romero has been knocked down fifteen times, he continues to get up to fight for his dignity. This masculine spirit enlightens Cohn in a sense that Romero keeps holding on to his inherent Spanish masculinity and never feels ashamed by it. Realizing this, Cohn stops his attack as he is ashamed by not only his incapability to knock down his enemy but also at himself for not being able to hold on to or reject his inherent (Jewish) masculine spirit. (4) Too ashamed of himself, Cohn begs for revenge and forgiveness; he offers to allow Romero to hit him back and asks him to shake hands. Here, Cohn's apologetic behaviour can be seen as a way to reconstruct his masculine identity, as asking for forgiveness from the other is an essential step towards forgiving oneself. Through the act of shaking hands, Cohn comes to accept that his own self is not perfect and that he can never be the perfect English gentleman epitomized in W. H. Hudson's fiction. The truth is that what he sees as Other, his Jewishness, is nothing but his authentic self. In this respect, the act of shaking hands releases Cohn from the circle of shame, guilt, and the fear of being a Jew.
Readers might assume, due to Jake's description, that Cohn is going back to the dominant Frances and that he will continue to be manipulated by her. However, one should not forget that Jake's description of Cohn is somehow biased due to his jealousy toward Cohn and his inferiority toward himself. A brief look at the conversation below will support his argument.
"I feel sorry about Cohn," Bill said. "He had an awful time." "Oh, to hell with Cohn," I said. "Where do you suppose he went?" "Up to Paris." "What do you suppose he'll do?" "Oh, to hell with him." "What do you suppose he'll do?" "Pick up with his old girl, probably." "Who was his old girl?" "Somebody named Frances". (SAR 226)
As one can see, every question asked by Bill includes the word "suppose", which means that all the answers are based on Jake's prediction. This allows the reader to assume a rather positive outcome regarding Cohn's future: his higher self allows him to see that he is in fact imperfect and now he no longer feels a need to hide his otherness because it is who he is. This possible assumption is supported by the fact that there is no solid description concerning Cohn's ending, as Cohn claims, "I'm going away in the morning" (SAR 199). Prior to that, the realization that "[n]ow everything's gone. Everything" provided Cohn a chance to let go and start a new life (SAR 198). Thus, in the end, one can assume that by submitting to his otherness, Cohn accomplishes self-mastery and for the first time he starts taking charge of his life.
When one perceives something as Other, one stops understanding it and one becomes afraid of it, resulting in an urge to escape from it. However, it turns out that what one is running from is what one is running to, because one can never transcend the Other until one truly understands it, and one cannot understand it until one embraces it. Throughout the novel, Robert Cohn struggles to fit into mainstream society and in order to do this he tries to "forget" his own Jewish identity through engaging in the practice of boxing. Moreover, Cohn reconstructs a temporal image of himself, a non-Jew, through inflicting pain on his body. In this sense, the practice of boxing serves as a masochistic activity for Cohn to stabilize his unbalanced social self and individual self.
Another method used by Cohn to deepen his sense of existence is to submit to dominant women such as his mother, his first wife, his current girlfriend, Frances Clynes, and his idol, Lady Brett Ashley. Through identifying those women as the Cruel Women, Cohn is able to victimize and sympathize with himself and thus strengthen his own existence. For Cohn, the dominant women are ambivalent in the sense that they serve as both his love object and his "mother", for instance, Brett is imagined by Cohn as the Greek goddess "Circe" who can be both the mother and the mistress of men. Cohn's obsession with Brett can be regarded as his longing for mother-love. Unable to understand Cohn's fear of being abandoned by the "Mother Brett", Mike, Jake Barnes and Bill criticize his following-Brett-like-a-steer behaviour as a kind of Jewish superiority. However, no one realizes the fact that Cohn's Jewish superiority functions as a false compensation for his unbearable Jewish inferiority. This Jewish inferiority is a product of social and cultural discrimination, which results in the increase of his dependency on masochism. While masochism on the one hand does help Cohn to feel powerful through reconstructing a temporal pleasant self within himself, on other hand it becomes the main obstacle for the other to truly understand Cohn as it converts inferiority to superiority, leading the other to see Cohn as an outsider. Also, Cohn's failure to assimilate himself to the right role models explains why he cannot be "sympathetically understood" by others. In both cases, masochism remains as the main obstacle for Cohn to achieve assimilation and to be understood by others. Therefore, it is only through confronting his inherent (Jewish) self that Cohn can stop relying on masochism, and hence, be accepted by others.
It is not until his encounter with Pedro Romero that Cohn comes to realize this issue. It is Romero's demonstration of his inherent (Spanish) masculinity that Cohn finally comes to realize that there should be no shame in being open to one's own inherent identity--there will be shame only if one attempts to hide it. This leads to an assumption that Cohn is defeated by the rejection of his own nature, his fear of being himself and of being imperfect. Acknowledging this, Cohn then carries out the process of begging forgiveness from Jake, Brett and the others in order to allow him to accept the fact that he is imperfect, that he is no one but the Jewish Robert Cohn. Alternatively, this mastery of submission can be interpreted by the reader as an engine for Cohn to start his second life.
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Ng Lay Sion is a PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Language and Culture at Osaka University, Japan. Her academic interests include feminist ecocriticism, racial cannibalism, post-humanism, among others. Her publications include "Gender and Environmental Utopia/Dystopia in Paul Auster's In the Country of Last Things" (2017) and "'Exploding and Being Swallowed': Cannibalism in Toni Morrison's Beloved" (2017). E-mail: email@example.com
(1) Regarding the relation between the Jewish nose and Jewish identity, one can refer to Mary Dearborn's description in Ernest Hemingway: A Biography that Hemingway once said to a movie producer named Herb Klein that "I'd like to flatten your big Jewish nose", emphasizing the link between Jewish nose and Jewish identity (388).
(2) According to the official website of San Fermin named "San Fermin History", Fermin was believed to be the son of Senator Firmo, who was converted to Christianity by Saint Honestus. Fermin decided to be a priest when he was seventeen years old and was confirmed as a bishop by Honorato, the prelate of Toulouse, when he was twenty-four years old. However, after preaching in many places, the great achievement at Armens resulted in Fermin being tortured and imprisoned. Fermin is now recognized as a martyr by the Catholic Church.
(3) Drawing on Alder's description, one understands that there is no contradiction between feeling both superior and inferior as they feed into each other; superiority is a false representation of inferiority while inferiority is the essential element that forms superiority.
(4) The description that "[t]he fight with Cohn had not touched his [Romero] spirit but his face had been smashed and his body hurt" leads one to postulate the idea that the fight with Romero had touched Cohn's spirit even though his face had not been smashed and his body had not been hurt (SAR 223).
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|Author:||Sion, Ng Lay|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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