Critique and Report: The Sun Also Rises

In the novel that established Ernest Hemingway as a distinguished author, The Sun Also Rises follows the lives of several Americans residing in Europe after World War I.  The particular generation depicted in the book has now been referred to as the “Lost Generation”.  The war, known as the “Great War”, shaped the lives of the men and women that lived in that era.  According to, the war “set new standards for death and immortality in war, and it also shattered many people’s beliefs in traditional values of love, faith, and manhood”.  Although it is never discussed in the book, the war affects the characters’ lives in everything that they do and say.

World War I lasted approximately from the year 1914 to the year 1918.  Also named “The War to end all Wars”, it resulted in millions upon millions of innocent people’s death, and helped shape the modern world indefinitely.  During this war, the Allied Powers, led by France, Russia, Great Britain, Italy, and later the United States overthrew the Central Powers which consisted of Austria, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire.  The results of World War I proved to be substantial in the elaboration of World War II, which took place twenty one years later.

The Sun Also Rises is Ernest Hemingway’s first big literary creation.  Written during the mid-1920’s in Paris, the novel’s point of view is told by American World War I veteran and journalist, Jake Barnes.  The dreary story starts in Paris and then moves to Pamplona and Madrid, Spain.  The lack of purpose of the Lost Generation, male insecurity, the failure of communication, excessive drinking, and false friendships are just a few of the pieces of the novel that put it together.  However, as important as the themes and the setting are, the characters are the heart and soul of the story.

The narrator, Jake Barnes, is indeed the protagonist of the novel.  Jake is caught up, along with his friends, in the world of extreme drinking and non-stop parties.  Although he appears to be the most stable of all the characters, his vulnerability and rickety nature exposes itself as the story goes on.  He, like many others, is madly in love with the beautiful Lady Brett Ashley.  However, his insecurities and impotence caused by the war drive him to hold back and not pursue what he claims to so deeply want.  This type of behavior makes the reader question how deep his love for Lady Brett Ashley really does run.  Jake has a talent for analyzing other people, but is incapable of attempting to figure his self out.

Lady Brett Ashley is beyond question the most frustrating character in the novel.  A stunning British socialite, Lady Brett Ashley searches for a meaning in her life at the bottom of every bottle.  She claims to love Jake, but due to his impotence her shallow nature reveals that she does not love any other person but herself.  At the start of the novel she is separated from her husband and is anticipating her divorce.  Every man who lays his eyes on her immediately becomes captivated by her beauty and essence.  In result of the opposite sex’s admiration for her, she toys with men and has them eating out of the palm of her hand.  Lady Brett Ashley’s character is no doubt the “poster-child” for the Lost Generation considering the fact that she lives a life full of meaningless and disgruntled ventures.

The character of Robert Cohn is the first character that the readers are introduced to by the narrator.  A wealthy, American writer living in Paris, Cohn is distanced from Jake and his friends because he is a non-veteran and is Jewish.  Being that his religious preference differs from the normality of his colleagues, Cohn has been ridiculed his entire life and continues to be by Jake and his associates.  Due to his felt separation, Cohn took up boxing while studying at the prestigious Princeton University.  He has somewhat of a romantic fantasy that seems bizarre during the atrocious endowment of World War I.  He, too, claims to love Lady Brett Ashley; while her, like with all the other men, plays with his emotions.

Other important characters in the novel include Bill Gorton and Mike Campbell.  Bill Gorton is Jake’s old veteran friend who, along with his constant inebriated state, uses humor and cruelty to deal with the war scars that are so heavily bound in him.  Mike Campbell is a prosperous, Scottish war veteran who is engaged to Lady Brett Ashley.  Constantly drunk, Campbell lets the liquor speak out loud for his insecurities and disgusted feelings towards his fiancée’s infidelity.

A professor at the University of New Mexico by the name of Robert E. Fleming writes that “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 the situation”.  Due to the fact that the men and women of the Lost Generation’s lives are presumably empty, the characters in the The Sun Also Rises search for absolutely anything to believe in, and they fill their time with non-consequential behavior that is usually driven by alcohol.  Although Hemingway never establishes the fact that these characters’ lives are hollow, their actions speak loud and clear.

The majority of the characters in the novel are male, but they still fall to their knees and feel inferior to the single female character.  Male insecurity was a very present factor after World War I because “the prewar ideal of the brave, stoic soldier had little relevance in the context of brutal trench warfare that characterized the war”.  Soldiers were forced to sit in close quarters while the enemy attacked them; the soldiers’ survival was based merely on luck rather than that of bravery.

An example of male insecurity in the book is that of Jake Barnes.  The war relinquished him of his “manhood”, therefore making him feel as he says, “less of a man.”  This insecurity only expands with the case of Lady Brett Ashley’s refusal to infiltrate a relationship with him.  Despite her supposed love for Jake, Brett’s response to Jake’s asking her to live with him is, “I don’t quite think so.  I’d just tromper you with everybody”.  The word, “tromper” is a French word that means to commit adultery”.  With the previous statement having been noted, Brett is once again deflating Jake and his unfortunate impotence.

The failure of communication is probably the most obvious factor in the character’s overall problems.  The conversations among Jake and his friends are lacking depth.  Whenever the war is brought up, it is talked about in a humorous fashion to disguise the permanent emotional scars that it left these unfortunate men and women.  The only time that true feelings are expressed by the characters in the novel is when they are heavily under the influence of alcohol; then though, only are the deep, darkening feelings expressed.

Ernest Hemingway once said himself, “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk.  That will teach you to keep your mouth shut”.  Hemingway obviously had knowledge and experience with excessive drinking, which helps bring realization to the characters he produced.  The characters’ excessive drinking was their way of escaping reality.

The friendships in the novel are anything but secure, and this relates closely with the failure to communicate.  An example of this is Jake and Robert Cohn’s relationship.  Jake claims to genuinely like Cohn, however, his jealousy of Cohn’s brief affair with Brett has Jake appearing to root for Cohn, but in all actuality is really rooting against him. 

In conclusion, the characters in The Sun Also Rises are appearing to be something entirely different than what they truly are.  They want the outsiders to view them as content and happy with their life.  However, each and every one of the characters in the novel is fighting with all their might to keep their composure in a war terrorized world.

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