The Sun Also Rises
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The United States in the 1920s was a land of change. The recent end to a horrific war brought about a change in life, culture and perception. Those who returned from the war had their view on life shattered and changed completely. This change of awareness is evident in the literature following World War I. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway demonstrated what many were experiencing with the short sentences and tough prose found in his novels. His first and defining novel, The Sun Also Rises, was written in 1926. Hemingway uses foils to develop flawed characters and convey a message of what the “Lost Generation” experiences in The Sun Also Rises.
World War I was a war in which much new technology and innovation was used. This advancement made killing more effective and the horrors of war even greater. The trench warfare on the Eastern Front was horrendous. Poison gasses were used to flush soldiers out of trenches. When they emerged, they would be met by bullets from machine guns, which would mow men down. Survivors of the ghastly battles had the images and memories scarred into their minds. Young men were sent to war, and what they saw changed them forever. One of these men was a certain ambulance driver on the Italian Front. He witnessed the effects of the new innovations on the human body, and the devastation they caused. That man was Ernest Hemmingway, and after the war, he translated his memories and experiences into the literature that is now famous. Novels like The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are examples of this defining literature (“The Sun Also Rises” 332).
Those soldiers that returned from the war were traumatized beyond belief. They were disillusioned and stunned by what they had gone through in World War I. They were a generation of people morally and spiritually lost, and dubbed the “Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein (“The Sun Also Rises 332-334).
One of Hemingways talents was to create characters with flaws and obstacles that challenge them. The protagonist in The Sun Also Rises is Jake Barnes. He was emasculated in World War I. Most of his obstacles involve his injury and the self-consciousness associated with it. The memories of the war traumatize him as well as the other veterans. Jake is insecure about his masculinity because of his insufficiency. His emasculation left him confused and feeling incapable and lacking (Elliott 338-339).
To accompany his insecurities and feeling of inadequacy, Jake is faced with the issue of homosexuality. Early in the novel, Jake gets in a confrontation with “men in jerseys” at a Paris dance hall. These men are presumably homosexual. Ira Elliot brings up the point that Jake is a heterosexual in desire and a homosexual as far as having relations with women go. He is bound by his injury, and can not take part in “masculine activities.” Because of this, he feels distanced from the rest of society and his companions, adding to his dissolution (Elliott 340).
What Jake experienced in the war, and the devastating injury he received had left him lost. He struggles to figure out how to live in the changing world and how to cope with the emasculation. What makes matters worse is that the woman he loves, Brett, can not deal with his injury. In the following passage, Jake begs her to live with him and devote to him, but she replies that the way things are it would be impossible:
“Couldnt we live together Brett? Couldnt we just live together?”
“I dont think so. Id just tromper you with everybody. You couldnt stand it.”
“I stand it now.”
“That would be different. Its not my fault Jake. Its the way Im made.” (62)
Bretts blatant statement that Jake can not satisfy her sexual desires only adds to Jakes feelings of insufficiency. Both of the main obstacles to Jake and Brett are presented here also. Jakes obstacle, well-known by this point, is his emasculation. The obstacle for Lady Brett is her moral corruption. Her desire for sex is an example of being spiritually adrift, lacking the guidance needed in life. Brett serves as an example of this moral corruption and spiritual disillusionment of the Lost Generation.
Cochran explains why the characters, and conversely the people of the time period turned from religion. He states that traditional religions do not seem to suit the problems they face, and do not seem to provide answers. Because of this, they seem unable to find a role in society, and appear misplaced (Cochran 345).
Jake and Brett are one of the most important relationships of the novel. Clues in the text suggest that both have strong feelings for each other, and the only hindrance is Jakes injury. He makes a pass at her early in the novel while riding in a carriage in Paris, but both abandon that notion. Jake is very devoted to her, and at the end of the novel, he abandons his trip early to travel to Madrid and console her. In Madrid, the story ends with the two reminiscing and dreaming of what may have been:
“Oh Jake,” Brett said, “We could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isnt it pretty to think so?” (251)
This ending leaves the possibility of a relationship between Brett and Jake open. The trials through the course of the novel may have changed the way Brett feels, and she may be willing to commit to Jake.
Jeffrey Lilburn has the idea for an alternate interpretation to this. He says that Jake may finally be coming to terms with his life. Through out the whole novel, Jake struggles to find his niche in life. This conclusion to the novel suggests that he is realizing his role in the relationship with Brett, and his role in life (Lilburn 338).
Brett has various relationships with men in the novel. Her promiscuity is attributed to this. Her main relationship is with an Englishman, Mike. He is a veteran of the war and an expatriate. He and Brett seem serious and ready to be married, however, like Jake; Mike has insecurities that Brett is concerned about. Mike is lacking money, which is important to her. He is also jealous of her promiscuity and that is a point of anger for him.
While with Mike, Brett has two affairs. While in Pamplona for the festival, Brett is infatuated by a young bullfighter named Romero. He seems to have everything