The Sun Also Rises is a 1926 novel written by American author Ernest Hemingway about a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. An early and enduring modernist novel, it received mixed reviews upon publication.
The most excited comments focus primarily on style. Hemingway bursts on the modernist scene well acquainted with the current passion for innovation. The modernist method was understatement, a seemingly objective way of presenting the hard scene or image, allowing readers to find the meaning for themselves. "hard-boiled" was not exactly the right phrase, but it came close. No 'sentiment," no didacticism, no leading the reader: The modernist work would stand out on its own words, would reflect unflinchingly its own world, and would smash through the facade of "polite literature" that had dominated the Victorian era and turn-of-the-century American literature.
Reader reacted to the novel explosively. "Here is a book which, like its characters, begins nowhere and ends in nothing"...But there were also the avid Hemingway readers, those trained to appreciate his subtle efforts, his omitted details, through experience with his earler short stories...Herbert S. Gorman noticed his creation of people "who lived with almost painful reality".
This book could easily be described as "immoral." There are many characters doing things that parents would not want their children doing. Perhaps most shockingly, Brett seems to have sex indiscriminately. Jake betrays his friend Montoya by allowing Romero and Brett to disappear together. Cohn abandons his aging fiancee because he thinks he has not had enough experience to marry. Mike is bankrupt, quite cruel when he is drunk, and looks the other way when his fiancee has affairs with other men. Almost all of the characters are tremendous drinkers, and virtually every character gets too drunk to walk at some point in the book.
Basically, the novel is comprised of many failing people who are just trying to find something that they aspire. Their predisposed disillusionment from the war makes you feel for them and intrigued in their stories, but at the end of the novel they end up realizing that most of their aspirations are not meant to be.
Jake, like the others, is tested by Brett, and though his failure seems to take more effort on her part, it is more serious than the others. Brett tells Jake that she loves him, and treats him differently, possibly because of his impotence. She connects with Cohn through him, though he does not know about her trip to San Sebastian with Cohn until afterward. He does know about her intentions with Romero, though, and he not only introduces the two of them, he politely steps out of the way so that they can abscond together. By risking the corruption of Romero, the only really positive male character in the book and the greatest hope for moral clarity, Jake risks despair, something that is conveyed in the last line of the novel-that it might only be a pretty lie that he and Brett could ever really be in love if he wasn't impotent.
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.
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.
Everyone in this book experiences some kind of disappointment or loss. If you take the book at face value, you can see people partying, drinking, fooling around-all what seem like fun or satisfying events. But looking deeper, each character truly wants a particular thing at the time, yet fails to obtain it.
Hemingway draws numerous parallels between bull-fighting and Brett's sexuality. Early in the novel, Brett tells Jake she cannot commit to him, as she will "tromper" him; while this means "to be unfaithful to," it also means "to elude," and it makes sense why she is attracted to Romero: as a great bull-fighter, he is the consummate eluder, deceiving the bulls into thinking they are close to him, then pulling away, much as Brett does with men. Romero also penetrates with his phallic sword both the bull and, as Jake metaphorically describes it, the audience; he begins as the coy, elusive female, then metamorphoses into the violent, dominant male. In one episode, Jake and Cohn also resemble steers (Mike even calls Cohn a steer), young oxen castrated before sexual maturity. Jake resembles the steer that joins the herd of bulls (much as he, as a castrated male, manages to belong to his group of virile friends), while Cohn is like the steer excluded from the group, the pariah who follows around Brett.
Ernest Hemingway's first novel, "The Sun Also Rises," treats of certain of those younger Americans concerning whom Gertrude Stein has remarked: "You are all a lost generation." This is the novel for which a keen appetite was stimulated by Mr. Hemingway's exciting volume of short stories. "In Our Time." The clear objectivity and the sustained intensity of the stories , and their concentration upon action in the present moment, seemed to point to a failure to project a novel in terms of the same method, yet a resort to any other method would have let down the reader's expectations. It is a relief to find that "The Sun Also Rises" maintains the same heightened, intimate tangibility as the shorter narratives and does it in the same kind of weighted, quickening prose.
The Sun Also Rises is an impressive document of the people who came to be known, in Gertrude Stein's words (which form half the novel's epigraph), as the "Lost Generation." The young generation she speaks of had their dreams and innocence smashed by World War I, emerged from the war bitter and aimless, and spent much of the prosperous 1920s drinking and partying away their frustrations. Jake epitomizes the Lost Generation; physically and emotionally wounded from the war, he is disillusioned, cares little about conventional sources of hope -- family, friends, religion, work -- and apathetically drinks his way through his expatriate life. Even travel, a rich source of potential experience, mostly becomes an excuse to drink in exotic locales. Irresponsibility also marks the Lost Generation; Jake rarely intervenes in other's affairs, even when he could help (as with Cohn), and Brett carelessly hurts men and considers herself powerless to stop doing so. While Hemingway critiques the superficial, empty attitudes of the Lost Generation, the other quote in the epigraph from Ecclesiastes expresses the hope that future generations may rediscover themselves.
Hemingway wrote this novel right around a time of war. His timing was impecable because Jake, the main character, had been wounded in the war in the novel. Jakes's injury leads to disillusionment and lose of his dreams (brought to light by his failure to win over Lady Brett Ashley). This is relatable to any readers who had been injured in the war as well and had experienced this type of generational lose of hope and inspiration brought on by the war.
The love affair of Jake and the lovely, impulsive Lady Ashley might easily have descended into bathos. It is an erotic attraction which is destined from the start to be frustrated. Mr. Hemingway has such a sure hold on his values that he makes an absorbing, beautifully and tenderly absurd, heartbreaking narrative of it. Jake was wounded in the war in a manner that won for him a grandiose speech from the Italian General. Certainly Jake is led to consider his life worse than death. When he and Brett (Lady Ashley) fall in love, and know, with that complete absence of reticences of the war generation, that nothing can be done about it, the thing might well have ended there. Mr. Hemingway shows uncanny skill in prolonging it and delivering it of all its implications.