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Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 — July 2, 1961)
was an American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist. He was part of the 1920s expatriate community in Paris, and one of the veterans of World War I later known as "the Lost Generation". He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Hemingway's distinctive writing style is characterized by economy and understatement, and had a significant influence on the development of twentieth-century fiction writing. His protagonists are typically stoical men who exhibit an ideal described as "grace under pressure". Many of his works are now considered classics of American literature.
When the nineteen-year-old Hemingway returned home in 1919, his parents did not understand the psychological trauma he had suffered during the war, and they pestered him to get a job or go to college. His short story “Soldier's Home” draws on his difficulties in coping with his parents' and friends' romanticized ideals of war.
The Sun Also Rises portrays the lives of the members of the so-called Lost Generation, the group of men and women whose early adulthood was consumed by World War I. This horrific conflict, referred to as the Great War, set new standards for death and -immorality in war. It shattered many people's beliefs in traditional values of love, faith, and manhood. Without these long-held notions to rely on, members of the generation that fought and worked in the war suffered great moral and psychological aimlessness. The futile search for meaning in the wake of the Great War shapes The Sun Also Rises. Although the characters rarely mention the war directly, its effects haunt everything they do and say.
Plot and structure:
The Sun Also Rises opens with the narrator, Jake -Barnes, delivering a brief biographical sketch of his friend, Robert Cohn. Jake is a veteran of World War I who now works as a journalist in Paris. Cohn is also an American expatriate, although not a war veteran. He is a rich Jewish writer who lives in Paris with his forceful and controlling girlfriend, Frances Clyne. Cohn has become restless of late, and he comes to Jake's office one afternoon to try to convince Jake to go with him to South America. Jake refuses, and he takes pains to get rid of Cohn. That night at a dance club, Jake runs into Lady Brett Ashley, a divorced socialite and the love of Jake's life. Brett is a free-spirited and independent woman, but she can be very selfish at times. She and Jake met in England during World War I, when Brett treated Jake for a war wound. During Jake and Brett's conversation, it is subtly implied that Jake's injury rendered him impotent. Although Brett loves Jake, she hints that she is unwilling to give up sex, and that for this reason she will not commit to a relationship with him.
The next morning, Jake and Cohn have lunch. Cohn is quite taken with Brett, and he gets angry when Jake tells him that Brett plans to marry Mike Campbell, a heavy-drinking Scottish war veteran. That afternoon, Brett stands Jake up. That night, however, she arrives unexpectedly at his apartment with Count Mippipopolous, a rich Greek expatriate. After sending the count out for champagne, Brett tells Jake that she is leaving for San Sebastian, in Spain, saying it will be easier on both of them to be apart.
Several weeks later, while Brett and Cohn are both traveling outside of Paris, one of Jake's friends, a fellow American war veteran named Bill Gorton, arrives in Paris. Bill and Jake make plans to leave for Spain to do some fishing and later attend the fiesta at Pamplona. Jake makes plans to meet Cohn on the way to Pamplona. Jake runs into Brett, who has returned from San Sebastian; with her is Mike, her fiancé. They ask if they may join Jake in Spain, and he politely responds that they may. When Mike leaves for a moment, Brett reveals to Jake that she and Cohn were in San Sebastian together.
Bill and Jake take a train from Paris to Bayonne, in the south of France, where they meet Cohn. The three men travel together into Spain, to Pamplona. They plan on meeting Brett and Mike that night, but the couple does not show up. Bill and Jake decide to leave for a small town called Burguete to fish, but Cohn chooses to stay and wait for Brett. Bill and Jake travel to the Spanish countryside and check into a small, rural inn. They spend five pleasant days fishing, drinking, and playing cards. Eventually, Jake receives a letter from Mike. He writes that he and Brett will be arriving in Pamplona shortly. Jake and Bill leave on a bus that afternoon to meet the couple. After arriving in Pamplona, Jake and Bill check into a hotel owned by Montoya, a Spanish bullfighting expert who likes Jake for his earnest interest in the sport. Jake and Bill meet up with Brett, Mike, and Cohn, and the whole group goes to watch the bulls being unloaded in preparation for the bullfights during the fiesta. Mike mocks Cohn harshly for following Brett around when he is not wanted.
After a few more days of preparation, the fiesta begins. The city is consumed with dancing, drinking, and general debauchery. The highlight of the first day is the first bullfight, at which Pedro Romero, a nineteen-year-old prodigy, distinguishes himself above all the other bullfighters. Despite its violence, Brett cannot take her eyes off the bullfight, or Romero. A few days later, Jake and his friends are at the hotel dining room, and Brett notices Romero at a nearby table. She persuades Jake to introduce her to him. Mike again verbally abuses Cohn, and they almost come to blows before Jake defuses the situation. Later that night, Brett asks Jake to help her find Romero, with whom she says she has fallen in love. Jake agrees to help, and Brett and Romero spend the night together.
Jake then meets up with Mike and Bill, who are both extremely drunk. Cohn soon arrives, demanding to know where Brett is. After an exchange of insults, Cohn attacks Mike and Jake, knocking them both out. When Jake returns to the hotel, he finds Cohn lying face down on his bed and crying. Cohn begs Jake's forgiveness, and Jake reluctantly grants it. The next day, Jake learns from Bill and Mike that the night before Cohn also beat up Romero when he discovered the bullfighter with Brett; Cohn later begged Romero to shake hands with him, but Romero refused.
At the bullfight that afternoon, Romero fights brilliantly, dazzling the crowd by killing a bull that had gored a man to death in the streets. Afterward, he cuts the bull's ear off and gives it to Brett. After this final bullfight, Romero and Brett leave for Madrid together. Cohn has left that morning, so only Bill, Mike, and Jake remain as the fiesta draws to a close.
The next day, the three remaining men rent a car and drive out of Spain to Bayonne and then go their separate ways. Jake heads back into Spain to San Sebastian, where he plans to spend several quiet days relaxing. He receives a telegram from Brett, however, asking him to come meet her in Madrid. He complies, and boards an overnight train that same day. Jake finds Brett alone in a Madrid hotel room. She has broken with Romero, fearing that she would ruin him and his career. She announces that she now wants to return to Mike. Jake books tickets for them to leave Madrid. As they ride in a taxi through the Spanish capital, Brett laments that she and Jake could have had a wonderful time together. Jake responds, “Yes, isn't it pretty to think so?”
Jake Barnes: The narrator and protagonist of the novel. Jake is an American veteran of World War I working as a journalist in Paris, where he and his friends engage in an endless round of drinking and parties. Although Jake is the most stable of his friends, he struggles with anguish over his love for Lady Brett Ashley, his impotence, and the moral vacuum that resulted from the war. Jake positions himself as an observer, generally using his insight and intelligence to describe only those around him, rarely speaking directly about himself. However, in describing the events and people he sees, Jake implicitly reveals much about his own thoughts and feelings.
Lady Brett Ashley: A beautiful British socialite who drinks heavily. As the novel begins, Brett is separated from her husband and awaiting a divorce. Though she loves Jake, she is unwilling to commit to a relationship with him because it will mean giving up sex. Indeed, she is unwilling to commit fully to any of the many men who become infatuated with her, though she has affairs with a number of them. However, she does not seem to draw much happiness from her independence. Her life, like the lives of many in her generation, is aimless and unfulfilling.
Robert Cohn: A wealthy American writer living in Paris. Though he is an expatriate like many of his acquaintances, Cohn stands apart because he had no direct experience of World War I and because he is Jewish. He holds on to the romantic prewar ideals of love and fair play, yet, against the backdrop of the devastating legacy of World War I, these values seem tragically absurd. As a Jew and a nonveteran, Cohn is a convenient target for the cruel and petty antagonism of Jake and his friends.
Bill Gorton: Like Jake, a heavy-drinking war veteran, though not an expatriate. Bill uses humor to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout of World War I. He and Jake, as American veterans, share a strong bond, and their friendship is one of the few genuine emotional connections in the novel. However, Bill is not immune to the petty cruelty that characterizes Jake and Jake's circle of friends.
Mike Campbell: A constantly drunk, bankrupt Scottish war veteran. Mike has a terrible temper, which most often manifests itself during his extremely frequent bouts of drunkenness. He has a great deal of trouble coping with Brett's sexual promiscuity, which provokes outbreaks of self-pity and anger in him, and seems insecure about her infidelity as well as his lack of money.
Pedro Romero: A beautiful, nineteen-year-old bullfighter. Romero's talents in the ring charm both aficionados and newcomers to the sport alike. He serves as a foil (a character whose attitudes or emotions contrast with, and thereby accentuate, those of another character) for Jake and his friends in that he carries himself with dignity and confidence at all times. Moreover, his passion for bullfighting gives his life meaning and purpose. In a world of amorality and corrupted masculinity, Romero remains a figure of honesty, purity, and strength.
Montoya: The owner of a Pamplona inn and a bullfighting expert. Montoya sees bullfighting as something sacred, and he respects and admires Jake for his genuine enthusiasm about it. Montoya takes a paternal interest in the gifted young bullfighter Pedro Romero and seeks to protect him from the corrupting influences of tourists and fame.
Frances Clyne: Cohn's girlfriend at the beginning of the novel. A manipulative status-seeker, Frances was highly domineering early in their relationship and persuaded Cohn to move to Paris. As her looks begin to fade, she becomes increasingly possessive and jealous.
Count Mippipopolous: A wealthy Greek count and a veteran of seven wars and four revolutions. Count Mippipopolous becomes infatuated with Brett, but, unlike most of Brett's lovers, he does not subject her to jealous, controlling behavior. Amid the careless, amoral pleasure-seeking crowd that constitutes Jake's social circle, the count stands out as a stable, sane person. Like Pedro Romero, he serves as a foil for Jake and his friends.
Wilson-Harris: A British war veteran whom Jake and Bill befriend while fishing in
Spain. The three men share a profound common bond, having all experienced the horrors of World War I, as well as the intimacy that soldiers develop. Harris, as Jake and Bill call him, is a kind, friendly person who greatly values the brief time he spends with Jake and Bill.
Georgette: A beautiful but somewhat thick-witted prostitute whom Jake picks up and takes to dinner. Jake quickly grows bored of their superficial conversation and abandons her in a club to be with Brett.
Belmonte: A bullfighter who fights on the same day as Pedro Romero. In his early days, Belmonte was a great and popular bullfighter. But when he came out of retirement to fight again, he found he could never live up to the legends that had grown around him. Hence, he is bitter and dejected. He seems to symbolize the entire Lost Generation in that he feels out of place and purposeless in his later adult life.
Harvey Stone: A drunken expatriate gambler who is perpetually out of money. Harvey is intelligent and well read, yet he cannot escape his demons of excessive drinking and gambling. Like many of Jake's friends, he is prone to petty cruelty toward Cohn.
1924: Paris (France), Burguete (Spain), Pamplona (Spain), Madrid (Spain)
Point of view:
Jake is a classic First Person narrator. We see everything as he does, and the only thoughts and commentary we get are from him. Our understanding of the other characters, events, and relationships is limited to Jake’s own. We don’t see anything that happens when Jake’s not around, but we certainly hear about everything from his talkative friends. This perspective allows us to stay really close to Jake, our protagonist, and feel as though we’re intimately connected to his fate.
Terse, Economical, Journalistic
These three words are often used to describe Hemingway’s distinctive prose style. He turns away from the lush, rich style of his precursors, or even of some of his contemporaries (contrast The Sun Also Rises to his friend Scott Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby, published a year earlier). Hemingway learned a lot from his brief time as a journalist, and he introduced elements of newspaper style into the genre of the novel. The Sun Also Rises was the first serious work to really introduce Hemingway’s trademark voice to the world at large, and he immediately earned both praise and condemnation for it. In this novel, we see Hemingway employ short, simple sentences and snappy, realistic dialogue to create a novel that moves quickly and practically – we can actually feel the action of the text as it happens.
Increasingly cynical, though often comic
You get the feeling that the comedy of this book is there to mask what Hemingway himself called "a damned tragedy." Its characters engage in witty, often hilarious dialogue, but underneath their wisecracking shells lie vulnerable and discontented real people, disillusioned by the world around them. The tone of the book plays upon both of these aspects of our characters; as the novel approaches its end, the disillusioned side emerges more clearly. An increasing sense of cynicism and plain old exhaustion builds up during the days of the fiesta, as everyone drifts apart and some relationships disintegrate, perhaps beyond repair.
Dissatisfaction - People have fun in this book, but that’s about it – what’s missing is a lasting sense of contentment or satisfaction with life in general. The cause of this is the massive social upheaval caused by the First World War; after the war, nobody seems to care about the things that used to be important, and the whole world has to re-define itself. Hemingway’s characters all struggle to discover their individual brands of happiness, but none of them succeed in doing so. The implication is that the postwar world is so disorderly and unstable that it’s impossible to just settle down and figure everything out. This is understandable – heck, it’s hard enough to do that when everything’s peaceful, much less in the aftermath of a catastrophic global event.
Identity - This novel is just jam-packed with people who think they have their public images worked out, but really are just big old messes on the inside. Hemingway’s characters make a big show of being confident and witty, but we quickly realize that they’re just frontin’ – nobody is really that confident, and nobody is entirely true to themselves. Even our protagonist, who is one of the novel’s more grounded characters, faces deep anxieties about his beliefs and the ways in which his actions correspond with them. All of this has to do, of course, with the destabilizing trauma of the war; just as nations have to rebuild themselves after the war, so do individual people.
Men and Masculinity - Masculinity is somewhat problematic in the world of this novel. The insecurity of the central male characters produces an atmosphere of competition, rivalry, and mutual harassment, and we constantly witness petty arguments that are rooted in this sense of challenged masculinity. The novel revolves around several male characters and their various relationships with each other, and with one central female character; Hemingway plays up the tensions of competition and jealousy to demonstrate just how uncertain his male characters are. The shared sense of insecurity among many of the book’s central male characters suggests a redefinition of masculinity post-WWI; particularly notable is the fact that the protagonist’s impotence is caused by a wound he sustained in the war.
Drugs and Alcohol - The characters in The Sun Also Rises are serious drinkers – they drink like it’s their job. Actually, alcoholism practically is a profession for one of the characters (Mike), a slacker whose major distinguishing factor is his ability to get drunk and stay drunk for days, possibly years, on end. Alcohol provides a much-needed escape from the realities of the world that Hemingway’s characters move through; it allows them to push away their personal doubts and fears, as well as renounce responsibility for their actions. Drinking is a largely ineffectual coping mechanism for this group of aimless, uncertain, and irresponsible people.
Love - A novel set in Paris (city of love, duh), involves love. However, don’t forget that this is not exactly the romantic, sentimental Paris we usually imagine – Hemingway’s Paris is an ailing, disillusioned postwar city, and therefore Hemingway’s love is also a special kind of ailing, disillusioned, postwar love. The novel lacks a single substantial example of mutually shared and consummated romantic love. While some characters struggle with an outdated definition of love, for others, the prospect of love seems entirely subjugated to other concerns and realities. Love, when mentioned at all in The Sun Also Rises, is usually only brought up in the context of accusations or fights, or at best surrounding discussions of sex.
Man and the Natural World - There is an overwhelming sense that the modern world that Hemingway shows us runs the risk of drifting dangerously far from the natural world. The author sets up a clear-cut opposition between the decrepit urban space of Paris and the rejuvenating, healthy realm of Nature. Furthermore, many of the characters are divorced not only from capital-N-Nature, but from their own natural states; the perpetual drunkenness and self-imposed oblivion that dominate the book remove characters from their true thoughts and emotions. Our protagonist and a few other characters share a profound appreciation for nature, and in it they are able to take refuge from the negative effects of an unsatisfactory, unhealthy society.
Exile - Nationality is a funny thing in The Sun Also Rises. While all of its characters are defined partially by their roots, there is an overwhelming sense that national boundaries are no longer satisfactory in the aftermath of the Great War. The community we encounter in the novel is one of American and British expatriates living in France, in self-imposed exile from their respective homelands. The pressing need for escape, self-invention, and individuation from one’s country plays into the choices of the characters Hemingway shows us, as well as the fractured and unstable image of society he portrays.
Warfare - World War I is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to mention (yes, it occurred to us that this is probably the only time anyone has ever compared World War I to an elephant). When the war does come up, characters attempt to make flippant comments about it, but there’s a lingering sense of uneasiness – the experience of war is still too fresh in people’s minds to even seriously discuss it. Our protagonist suffered a physical wound that left him impotent as a result of the war; the other characters’ wounds are mental and emotional, and society as a whole is scarred by this global event.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
Bulls and bull-fighting are the two most critical symbols in The Sun Also Rises. The bulls symbolize passion, physicality, energy, and freedom. As a combination of these factors, in their interactions with the bull-fighters, they also come to symbolize the act of sex. Each bull-fight involves seduction, manipulation, maneuvering, and penetration by the bull-fighter of the bull. It is significant that, of all the characters, Jake, Brett, Romero, and Montoya are the most stirred by bull-fighting.
Romero’s status as bull-fighter suggests that, unlike the novel’s other male characters, he is capable of passionate love and sex. Although Cohn clings to an illusion of love for Brett, he is repelled initially by the bull-fights as boring, then later as gruesome. Brett is undisturbed by the gore of the bull-fights and, like Jake, is entranced by the interaction between bull-fighter and bull. After watching the bull-fights, Brett is determined to be with Romero. Jake, it seems, strives to experience sensuality vicariously through the bull-fights, as he is unable to have sex himself. As an aficionado, Jake recognizes and loves the passion of bull-fighting, suggesting that he, too, is a passionate man. Jake’s knowledge of bull-fighting empowers him to authoritatively describe the bull-fights to Brett. Although we do not learn much about Montoya’s personal life, it is apparent that he views bull-fighting as the highest, purest art form, one that exceeds all else in love, beauty, and passion. As discussed briefly in the above character analysis, the bull-fights can also be read as paralleling the characters and events of the novel. During the running of the bulls, to take just one example, a man is gored and killed the same day that Cohn leaves Pamplona.
Water appears on multiple occasions as a symbol of purification and relief. On Jake and Bill’s fishing trip, water seems to have the therapeutic effect of soothing Jake. While the men drink loads of wine while fishing, they first chill it in the river. This seems not only to cool the wine’s temperature but its effect; rather than creating a sense of drunken chaos, the wine rejuvenates them and stimulates Bill’s creativity (which he expresses verbally at a breakneck pace). When Jake leaves Pamplona for San Sebastian, he wants nothing more than to swim in the ocean. The water relieves and strengthens him, and he feels buoyant and supported. Finally, Brett is always going off to bathe, signifying her own innate desire to purify herself and perhaps disassociate herself from her actions.
Hemingway’s descriptions of the natural world are boldly sketched out in bright, clear colors. White roads, green fields, and the red tiled roofs of villages fill out the idealized landscape of Bill and Jake’s trip to Burguete, in contrast to the largely colorless, dimly lit interiors of Paris. This symbolizes the reawakening of the senses that Jake experiences as he leaves city life behind him, and heads toward the rejuvenating milieu of the country.
Romance, Modernist Novel
My own interpretation:
The novel explores the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation," chronicling the experiences of Jake Barnes and several acquaintances on their pilgrimage to Pamplona for the annual San Fermin festival and bull fights, known more commonly as the Running of the Bulls. Jake, a World War I veteran, is unable to consummate a sexual relationship with Brett Ashley because of a severe wound he suffered on the Italian Front, leaving him emasculated. However, he is still attracted to and in love with her. The story follows Jake and his various companions across France and Spain. Initially, Jake seeks peace away from Brett by taking a fishing trip to Burguete, deep within the Spanish hills, with companion Bill Gorton. The fiesta in Pamplona is the setting for the eventual meeting of all the characters, who play out their various desires and anxieties, alongside a great deal of drinking.
[Cohn:] “I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it.”
[Jake:] “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.”
“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?”
"No, I don’t like Paris. It’s expensive and dirty."
"Really? ... not been here very long."
"I’ve been here long enough."