In the book The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, we explore the lifestyles and complications of a group of American emigrants living in Paris, France. The story takes places after World War I. The novel concerns a group of psychologically bruised, disillusioned expatriates living in postwar Paris, who take psychic refuge in such immediate physical activities as eating, drinking, traveling, brawling, and lovemaking. Hemingway presents a strong accurate background to the setting and time period primarily because the story is based around his personal experiences as an American emigrant living in Paris. The characters are selfish in a sense that they act without thinking of the possible consequences for their actions and they feel free of any obligations to loyalty or honor to themselves or others. Though Hemingway was a renowned writer at the time of the novels conception, he opened the public’s eyes to several taboo topics. At the period of time this book was written, which was in 1926, this book it was considered highly obscene and offensive.
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Hemingway’s knowledge of the feeling you get in Paris was evident given the vivid and detailed imagery of the city’s streets, locations of business and buildings, and the entire panorama. The references to certain the cafes, buildings, restaurants, and historic locations defiantly provided that Euro-Parisian feeling. The genuine descriptions of Paris, included in the accurate naming of particular restaurants, streets, and neighborhoods gives a odd pull to the reader and somehow draws you inward:
The driver started up the street. I settled back. Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out onto the Gran Via.
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. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
The amazingly colorful dialogue throughout the story makes you feel as though you are actually there eating at the café and watching the drama unravel.
Another significant location in this novel is Spain. In Spain, the characters journey to Burguete to fish and Pamplona to witness the Spanish bullfights, which is where Jake is introduced to Pedro Romero (Bloom 113). Romero is a nineteen year old young man, an authentic matador. Jake describes him as the “best-looking boy” he has ever seen, this is also where we get to see a little bit of Jake’s homosexual tendencies. In this book sexuality is flaunted and brought up often. Lady Brett Ashley is probably the biggest source of promiscuity in the novel. She is separated from her husband awaiting a divorce because of her trouble with promiscuity. In addition, several of Brett’s lovers are mention throughout the novel. Her lovers, to name a few, are Pedro Romero, Count Mippipopolous, and Mike Campbell.
Hemingway was first made aware of bullfights in Spain by a fellow emigrant and was immediately captivated. He soon developed a passion for bullfights which certainly influenced his invention of Pedro Romeo as a character. Hemingway’s individual experiences are riddled throughout the story and play an important role in the invention and growth of specific characters. Jake Barnes is the narrator and key character in the novel. Jake is a grief stricken, American journalist living in Paris in the 1920’s. While Jake does have homosexual tendencies he is in love with Lady Brett Ashley but the relationship is never pursued due to Jake’s impotency. By description Jake’s appearance is strikingly close to Hemingway’s actual looks, as well as his personality resembles Hemingway in several ways. After World War I, Hemingway felt strongly inept and detached from society; he often referred to himself as “lyrically impotent” and “physically diminished” (Bloom 95-100). Both Hemingway and Barnes were war wounded, journalists working in Paris’ emigrant society. Hemingway was not rendered sexually impotent however; he actually suffered wounds to his legs when a mortar exploded in the trench that he was occupying to assist in the health related evacuation of another soldier. Encyclopedia texts cite Hemingway’s wounds to be awful, he had twenty-eight pieces of shrapnel removed from his legs, leaving behind over two hundred other pieces that were too deep to be removed (Bloom 80-89). Jake’s war injury was an unfathomable wound to his genital area that left him impotent and in turn prevented him from having sexual relations with Lady Ashley or any other woman for that matter. Hemingway does not describe Jake’s wound, the novel merely states:
Undressing, I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed. That was a typically French way to furnish a room. Practical too, I suppose. Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny. I put on my pajamas and got into bed (Hemingway 38).
After that excerpt there was no more mention of Jake’s wound to the reader, it is left to the individual’s imagination.
Jake’s best friend from the U.S. is Bill Gorton. Bill shares Jake’s love of fishing and outdoorsy activities. Their relationship is one of respect and deep companionship. Bill is the animated, funny character in the novel. He brings humor to a very sad situation for Jake. His witty cynicism and comical perception bring light to the novel. In an excerpt from the book Hemingway tells us of situation in which Bill and Jake are venturing to Spain on the train and due to the large amount of Catholic Americans migrating to Spain the two were unable to get tickets for a lunch they had planned to attend. After much time had passed Bill became annoyed:
Finally at a quarter past four we had lunch. Bill had been rather difficult to the last. He buttonholed a priest who was coming back with one of the returning streams of pilgrims.
“When do us Protestants get a chance to eat, father?”
“I don’t know anything about it. Haven’t you got tickets?”
“It’s enough to make a man join the Klan,” Bill said. The priest looked back at him (Hemingway 93).
Michael Campbell, another character in the novel, is a Scottish veteran who is independently wealthy and jobless. Campbell is Lady Ashley’s pronounced fiancé and is horribly jealous of her sexual promiscuity. He does consider himself lucky, however, to be her fiancé and is willing to overlook her affairs no matter how much they hurt him internally. Robert Cohn, another emigrant character, gives rise to a conflict with his love affliction with Lady Ashley. Robert is also a writer in the click of friends in this novel; Hemingway furthermore establishes a likeness of his own personal experiences in this character and the group of friends he spent time with. Hemingway’s social circle at this time was his wife, Hadley, his friend Bill Smith, Don Stewart, Harold Loeb, Duff Twysden, and Pat Gutherie (Bloom 25). Hemingway was said to have somewhat of lust affliction toward Twysden but it was unknown if they actually had an affair (Bloom 28). This affection he had toward Duff however did create problems for him. Hemingway later admitted to his publisher that the book was about his own personal experiences. “It is a great mistake to put real people in a book and one I’ll never make, I hope, again” (Baker 215).
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Lady Brett Ashley, as said before, is a promiscuous woman with an appetite for drunken folly. Her promiscuity and alcoholism creates a conflict in two separate occasions in the novel, of course one between herself and Michael Campbell regarding her liaison with Robert Cohn. The other conflict arises because of Brett’s aversion to having an affair with Jake Barnes due to his impotency. The novel is highly centered on drunken follies and Brett’s weakness for alcohol and socialization. In each “scene” of the novel the group is drinking, either social or heavily, or trying to recover from a hangover by drinking more alcohol. The group lives without commitments or boundaries and do whatever comes to mind with no remorse or thought of obligations of loyalty to one another or anyone else.
During the 1920’s Paris was a focal point for young authors and artists of all sorts, among this congregation of emigrant youth was a spirited American woman named Gertrude Stein. Stein established a famous meeting location where painters and writers such as Picasso, Miro, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway would gather. Hemingway and Fitzgerald met at Stein’s café to exchange ideas and enjoy the company of one another. Gertrude told Hemingway that he was part of a “lost generation,” a casual remark, yet one which became world-famous after Hemingway used it as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises. This term was coined to describe Americans who served in World War I and felt estranged and social inept in their own nation. “All of you young people who served in the war are a lost generationâ€¦You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death” (Oliver 25).
Needless to say the novels risqué nature had a propensity of being offensive. After all for the 1920’s the words “bitch and damn” were highly unmentioned. When Max Perkins, Hemingway’s editor, received the manuscript he was hesitant to print the offensive material but Scribner, Hemingway’s publisher, insisted it was to remain the way Ernest had intended it. The unbridled rendering of drunkenness, mention of human and animal gentiles, and the profanity alone was enough to have gotten the novel thrown in the trash by any other publisher. Hemingway responded to Perkins by saying, “I think that words–and I will cut anything I can–that are used in conversation in The Sun etc. are justified by tragedy of the story” (Baker 211). In a message dated around a month later, Perkins had persuaded Hemingway to refrain from using such atrocious language (Baker 213).
When the novel was finally published, the profane nature of the book alone, without the obscene language, was enough for critics to up heave. Critics labeled it as a “profanity” and the Watch and Ward Society of Boston added the novel to their list of “obscene” books and requested sellers not to sell the book at all (Baker 215). Hemingway’s mother, Grace, was among the most offended by the book and wrote her son a letter stating so. Ernest wrote his mother a modest and polite response stating that he didn’t wish any pain upon her for reading it and he was not ashamed that he had written it.
This novel is intentionally designed for the reader to question Hemingway’s purpose and intentions. Was the novel truly written to merely express an emigrant’s perspective in Paris? Or was the novel actually an outright “slap in the face” toward the American government by depicting drunkenness during the prohibition? At any rate it is a deliberate use of profane language and portrayal of explicit and obscene events for that time period. Hemingway was in no way a conformist even at an early age. “In Hemingway’s ‘new art’ there was no human experience that was untouchable, no subject matter that was forbidden” (Reynolds 210). His mother, Grace Hemingway, stated that Ernest was often times “a wayward boy and somewhat of an outcast” (Baker 243). Even though the novel received ample negative reviews, The Sun Also Rises went down in history as one of Hemingway’s best works, a master piece.
In 1954, Ernest Hemingway was award the Nobel Prize in Literature. In his acceptance speech he stated “a writer should always try for something that has never been done or that other’s have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed” (Hulse par. 8). This novel was definitely the first of its kind, a ground breaker of epic proportions. Like the American’s who migrated to france, the The Sun Also Rises was a pioneer, a leader into the literary unknown. Hemingway is now and forever will be the cherished writer who led the American public into the next wave of unexplored topics. His life was a story in itself that lead to several great novels. “In his fiction, the conflicting elements of his personality, the emotional situations which obsess him, are externalized and objectified; and the result is an art which is severe, intense, and deeply serious” (Bloom 7). Hemingway’s career included four marriages (and three divorces); service as an ambulance driver for the Italians in World War I (with an honorable wound); activity as a war correspondent in the Greek-Turkish war (1922), the Spanish Civil War (1937-39), the Chinese-Japanese War (1941) and the War against Hitler in Europe (1944-45). Add big-game hunting and fishing, safaris, expatriation in France and Cuba, bullfighting, the Nobel prize, and the ultimate suicide in Idaho, and you have an absurdly implausible life, apparently lived in imitation of Hemingway’s own fiction (Baker 5). He is an elegant poet who mourns the self, who celebrates the self (rather less effectively) and who suffers divisions in the self. In the broadest tradition of American literature, he stems ultimately from the Emersonian reliance on the god within, which is the line of Whitman, Thoreau, and Dickenson (Baker 2).
In short, Hemingway led a full and beautiful life that will be forever mourned. He is one of the greatest writer’s in American history acclaimed by many. His life and times will live on forever in his works.
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