Thursday, October 14, 2010


The Sun Also Rises is the first major novel by Ernest Hemingway. Published in 1926, the plot centers on a group of expatriate Americans and Britons in continental Europe during the 1920s. It follows the group from Paris to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. The book's title is taken from Ecclesiastes which is a book of the Hebrew Bible. Hemingway's original title for the work was Fiesta, which was used in the British, German, Russian, Italian, Czech and Spanish editions of the novel. It is often described as Hemingway's best novel.


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.


The major characters in the novel are Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, Pedro Romero and Mike Campbell.


Jake is the narrator and protagonist of the novel. He 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. Part of Jake's character represents the Lost Generation and its unfortunate position: he wanders through Paris, going from bar to bar and drinking heavily at each, his life filled with purposeless debauchery. He demonstrates the capacity to be extremely cruel, especially toward Cohn. His insecurities about his masculinity are typical of the anxieties that many members of the Lost Generation felt. Yet, in some important ways, Jake differs from those around him. He seems aware of the fruitlessness of the Lost Generation's way of life. He tells Cohn in Chapter II: "You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another." However, though Jake does perceive the problems in his life, he seems either unwilling or unable to remedy them. Though he understands the dilemma of the Lost Generation, he remains trapped within it.


Lady Brett Ashley is 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 of his impotency. She is a strong, largely independent woman who exerts great power over the men around her. She refuses to commit to any one man, preferring ultimate independence. However, her independence does not make her happy. Her wandering from relationship to relationship parallels Jake and his friends' wandering from bar to bar.


It seems that there are several misogynist strains in Hemingway's representation of Brett. For instance, she disrupts relationships between men with her very presence. It seems that, in Hemingway's view, a liberated woman is necessarily a corrupting, dangerous force for men. Brett represents a threat to Pedro Romero and his career as she believes that her own strength and independence will eventually spoil Romero's strength and independence. World War I seems to have played an essential part in the formation of Brett's character. During the war, Brett's true love died of dysentery. Her subsequent aimlessness, especially with regards to men, can be interpreted as a futile, subconscious search for her original love. Brett's personal search is symbolic of the entire Lost Generation's search for the shattered pre-war values of love and romance.


Robert Cohn is a wealthy American writer living in Paris. Though he is an expatriate like many of his acquaintances, yet he stands apart because he had no direct experience of World War I and because of the fact that he is a Jew. He holds on to the romantic pre-war 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 non-veteran, Cohn is a convenient target for the cruel and petty antagonism of Jake and his friends. He has spent his entire life feeling like an outsider. While at Princeton, he took up boxing to combat his feelings of shyness and inferiority. Although his confidence has grown with his literary success, his anxiety about being different or considered not good enough persists. These feelings of inadequacy may explain his irrational attachment to Brett that is; he is so terrified of rejection that, when it happens, he refuses to accept it. Cohn adheres to an outdated, pre-war value system of honor and romance. But sadly, his value system has no place in the postwar world, and he is unable to sustain it. His tearful request that Romero shake his hand after he has beaten him up is an absurd attempt to restore the validity of an antiquated code of conduct. His flight from Pamplona is symbolic of the failure of traditional values in the postwar world.


Pedro Romero is a nineteen-year-old bullfighter. His talents in the ring charm both aficionados and newcomers to the sport alike. He serves as a foil for Jake and his friends as 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. Brett develops an intense crush over him because of these qualities.

Mike Campbell is a constantly drunk, bankrupt Scottish war veteran. He 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 promiscuity, which provokes outbreaks of self-pity and anger in him, and he seems insecure about her infidelity as well as his lack of money. Being Brett's fiancĂ©, he feels he cannot exercise any control over Brett.


The major themes discussed in the novel are the aimlessness of the Lost Generation, the male insecurity and the destructive power of illicit physical relationship.


World War I undercut traditional notions of morality, faith, and justice. No longer able to rely on the traditional beliefs that gave life meaning, the men and women who experienced the war became psychologically and morally lost, and they wandered aimlessly in a world that appeared meaningless. Jake, Brett, and their acquaintances give dramatic life to this situation. Because they no longer believe in anything, their lives are empty. They fill their time with escapist activities, such as drinking, dancing, and debauchery. It is important to note that Hemingway never explicitly states that Jake and his friends' lives are aimless, or that this aimlessness is a result of the war. Instead, he implies these ideas through his portrayal of the characters' emotional and mental lives. Although they spend nearly all of their time partying in one way or another, they remain sorrowful or unfulfilled. Hence, their drinking and dancing is just a futile distraction, a purposeless activity characteristic of a wandering, aimless life.







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