The Sun Also Rises is a tale about the lives of foreigners in Europe post the Great War. Having read A Moveable Feast prior to his, I can see how Ernest Hemingway’s life up until the book’s release inspired the story and the characters that in inhabit the world of this classic.
The backdrop of the war and its effects on people’s attitudes towards life serves as the current under which the plot progresses. Jake, Brett, and Robert are all troubled figures, whether it was directly as a result of the war or as its by-product.
Jake was left impotent and spends the majority of the novel coming to terms with this newfound insecurity around his masculinity. Brett appears free-spirited and emancipated, doing whatever she wants with whomever she wants, often without thought to any potential consequence. Robert is the outsider amongst the group having being the only nonveteran. His ambitions and actions don’t differ from the other male characters. But his nonveteran status makes him more open to mockery from his comrades. In their own way, each of these protagonist’s represent one part of the lost generation that came of age during the Great War.
Hemingway portrays the lost generation as generally being aimless, defeatist, and ultimately hopeless. That concoction of traits blends plays into the alcoholism of each character. They turn to alcohol perhaps to salve their woes, futile as it may be.
What I found most interesting about Jake’s character is how he turned from afficionado to foreigner for Mr. Montoya. Before the fiesta, Montoya held Jake in high regard on account of his previous visits to Pamplona for bullfighting. Montoya confided in him that he did not want Romero to be tainted by foreign influences – a life of excess. It is funny how it played out through Jake instead, an afficionado, instead of normal foreigners.
Brett’s infatuation with Romero did the trick and resulted in his beating by Cohn. While not entirely Jake’s fault, Montoya becomes cold with him after he finds out. It underscores how fickle identity is for this lost generation. Jake was once a soldier, Brett a lover in a stable relationship, and Robert was Robert. But the war corrupted these identities: now they all go on hurtling through life with little regard for who they bump into.
I have fallen hopelessly in love with Hemingway’s style of writing. It’s economical yet manages to avoid sacrificing imagination. It recalls something he mentioned in his memoir, that he measures the quality of his writing not by standard of his manuscript, but by the calibre of what he has had to cut i.e. every sentence, paragraph, and chapter. Those omissions would make such interesting reading!
Highly Recommended. The story is engaging, the prose is beyond crisp, and the characters are timeless. It’s an easy sell.