The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway takes place in the mid-1920’s. The characters arrive from America, England and other ports of call. They travel from Paris to Pamplona and back again. To me, the focus is mostly in Paris and Pamplona. It is not a novel of main events as one event leads to another. Without emphasis being drawn to heavily to any one certain thing or place.
The search and/or definition of masculinity even in Lady Brett Ashley (notice Brett is a masculine name) seems to be the central topic underscored by alcoholism, promiscuity, sex, anti-Semitism, lost and weakened souls and just surviving.
In all wars, not just the “Great War”, the toll is high for survival. We experience certain types of life in America, England, France and Spain but the character’s life style do not seem to change. Arise, drink, work, party, drink, sex, and then drink some more. They seem to want to wear themselves out. It is almost as if they fear sleep and solitude. You can not help to feel a sense of sadness and loss in all. Where are they going? Possibly just one place to the next. What are they searching for, other than a good time? Maybe they are searching for themselves. Excitement, love, honor, and life are just to be dealt with daily. Jake, who never seemed to practice what he preached, once said, “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to the next.” Do they achieve their goals? “Well, isn’t it pretty to think so”
In times following the First World War, men’s masculinity seemed to become somehow undefined. Even though the novel is told in the past tense, it emphasizes the present.
Most of the characters are in their twenties and thirties.
Jake Barnes, the narrator, a survivor of the war who’s wounds left him unable to perform sexually. However, he was still able to feel love. He can only express his love through his thoughts and non-sexual actions. He was perhaps the most invulnerable to Brett Ashley’s emasculation of all men she loved, regardless of how much or how little. Jake leaves us constantly searching for the underlying meaning of what he does not say. This could symbolize the character’s feelings of pointlessness in life.
Lady Brett Ashley is English, promiscuous, an alcoholic fatale. She has an affair with just about every male character in the novel. She is in love with Jake, but refuses to follow through with it because she is more in love with her freedom and sex.
Mike Campbell, of Scottish decent, a veteran and engaged to Brett was probably hurt the worst by Brett’s promiscuity, which we experience throughout the story. His passions at times result in violence and remorse.
Frances Coyne is a gold digger who is engaged to Robert Cohn. She hoped to ride his coat tails to success but eventually failed. She did manage to extract money from him and returned to England.
Robert Cohn, a Jew from New York, became the middleweight boxing champion in school because of his anger over Anti-Semitism. He was married, divorced, and the father of three children. Leaving America, he joined his friends in Paris and Spain. He became a target of racism and cruel humor throughout the novel.
Bill Gorton, an alcoholic war veteran and a writer in New York, joined Jake and friends in Spain and Pamplona. He also becomes attracted to Brett. He too adds his part to the anti-Semitism semi-partial castrations of Cohn even if it is only in their own minds.
Count Mippipopolus survived numerous wars and revolutions. Enamored of Britt. He Probably is the sanest of the novel’s characters. He allows nothing to make a changing difference in his lifestyle.
Pedro Romero is a bullfighter who is greatly admired by all. He takes many chances in the bullring, facing close to the bulls holding nothing back. Pedro becomes involved with Brett. She eventually breaks her involvement with him because of her fear for his life, and her reluctance to savage his manhood, perhaps because of his youth.
To me, the point of view is mostly one survival and self-indulgence. Not only indulgence in sex and drinking, but also in the dwelling of the mind to eradicate memories, longings, dreams unfulfilled, and love. As even today, how much of our life is spent in the search for love? How much is lost in the quest for dreams be they useless or divine?
Hemmingway tries to touch the core of human thought and emotion. Strong sexual tension, anger, and frustration are very evident in the interplay between all the characters.
I believe the main conflict is the love between Lady Brett and Jake. This to me is the central focus. The ins and outs, the ups and downs of their continuing relationship. The unfulfilled passions in both hearts are the mist and miseries that tend to haunt all our dreams.
The Subjects of anti-Semitism also play a part in the story. Conflict could be interpreted as mostly internal as in ones self. External is the effect in such others as Cohn and Jake. There seems to be an underlying sense of fear and loneliness flowing through almost everyone. The fight for survival in all characters is very strong. They all have a
central fear. Taking the other down makes you the strong/dominate person in the relationship. Like in most of Hemmingway’s work, the tone is somber and time seems to drift through almost a fog or mist.
There was conflict between almost every character over Brett ‘s changing moods and her ever-changing cast of lovers. The “Gay” friends she seemed to attract even became a certain worry and fear in Jake, Robert, and Mike’s sense of masculinity. Brett would lift them up, then cut them down above the knees, one at a time or all at once.
Cohn was the point of numerous ‘sidebar’ humors and direct insulting Jew jokes. So numerous they became almost common place to him. Almost, not even insulting, because they came from friends he found an excuse to ignore the insult.
Jake was more than once referred to as a Steer (Castrated Bull). There were a lot of internal emotions from the inside going out regardless of the pain caused to another. All except the count Mippipopohus should be ruled guilty. The violence of the bullfights reflects back to the war. The three friends Mike, Jake, and Cohn had a knock down drag out fight over Brett. The fists of the three friends become an even more intimate reflection of love and war, love and hate, love and love. Where closer the setting than the hearts and souls of people, wherever they be. The same setting resides, regardless the location, we come to realize our task is to deal with each new day as best we can
“The Sun Also Rises” for all…..