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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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THE NOVEL

THE PLOT - SHORT CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

A group of young Americans is living in Paris in the years after World War I. Before the war they might have become bankers or lawyers, but the experience of so much death and destruction undermined their belief in traditional American values, and sent them off to Paris in search of new experiences. Now they're living as artists and writers, going from cafe to cafe, drinking too much, gossiping more than working, and exploring a new sexual freedom.

Robert Cohn, a Jew who went to Princeton (where he found himself an outsider in a predominantly White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture), and Jake Barnes, a newspaperman, are two of these American expatriates. Jake is in love with a beautiful but mannish British woman, Lady Brett Ashley, but their love can't be consummated because Jake has a wound around his genitals and cannot make love. Cohn, like most other men, falls madly in love with Lady Brett the moment he meets her. He's an old-fashioned romantic, believing in true love and chivalry-in sharp contrast to Brett, Jake, and all their jaded, hardboiled friends, who believe that nothing, especially love, has much of a chance to survive in this fallen, postwar world. Only superficial pleasures are left for these "survivors," and sex is one of their favorites. Since Jake can't satisfy her, Brett goes off for a tryst in Spain with Robert Cohn.

Meanwhile, Brett's fiance Michael Campbell and a writer named Bill Gorton arrive in Paris. Jake has planned a trip to Pamplona, Spain, for the famous festival of San Fermin, which is highlighted by the running of bulls through the streets, and a week of bullfights. The whole gang-Jake, Brett, Mike, Bill, even Robert Cohn-decide to go. This creates some complicated relationships, since Brett, like a queen, is surrounded by three suitors, all of whom feel they deserve her affection. Brett is a free spirit, though, and loses interest in her men; in fact, no sooner does she get to Pamplona than she sets her sights on another man, the bullfighter Pedro Romero.

Before the festivities Jake and Bill go fishing up into the Spanish Pyrenees, where they restore themselves in nature. The countryside soothes while the civilized city chafes. But their idyll ends, and they head back to Pamplona.


Brett, Mike, and Robert Cohn are already there. Mike and Brett had taken their own side trip to San Sebastian, and Cohn had joined them. He wasn't wanted, but he felt he owned Brett, and made a nuisance of himself all weekend. Now in Pamplona, he continues to follow Brett around like a lovesick puppy.

Jake is no less lovesick, but he holds his feelings in, except when he's alone at night. Then he's not so tough. He is tortured by the sounds of Brett and Mike laughing in a nearby room. He curses the wound that makes him less than a man, and curses Brett for tempting him. He even curses the Catholic Church, in which he once believed, because it can no longer help him. Finally, in tears, and with a nightlight burning, he falls asleep.

The festival begins. Dancers appear, carrying Brett as if she were their goddess. Jake and Bill meet Pedro Romero, a handsome, 19-year-old bullfighter who best exemplifies what readers call the Hemingway hero. Romero is a professional, passionately devoted to his art. He does his job cleanly and concisely, without grandstand flourishes. Brett falls for him, and Jake, still in despair, arranges for the two of them to get together.

When Robert Cohn hears what Jake has done, he calls Jake a pimp. Jake swings at him, but Cohn was a college boxer and knocks Jake out. Throughout the trip Mike has been taunting and insulting Cohn, and now Cohn knocks Mike down, too. On a rampage, Cohn finds Brett and Romero together and beats Romero black and blue. Romero is outclassed in size and boxing skill, but he fights tenaciously. Afterward a guilt-ridden Cohn apologizes to Jake, and then leaves Pamplona.

The bulls are run through the streets, and a Spanish peasant is lifted on a bull's horns and gored to death. The whole town turns out for his funeral. On the last day of the bullfights, Romero shines. He fights a difficult bull with calm grace, then finishes off the bull that gored the peasant and is awarded the bull's ear. He gives the bloody ear to Brett as a love token.

The festival over, everybody leaves-Brett to Madrid with Romero; Mike to a French border town where he has credit at a bar; Bill back to Paris. Jake goes to San Sebastian to relax for a while. He reads, swims, eats well, talks to the townspeople-and then receives a telegram from Brett: she needs help in Madrid.

When Jake arrives he finds that Romero wanted to marry Brett. Because of his youth and innocence, however, she was afraid of corrupting him, and turned him down. She's pleased at her act-it was so wonderfully moral-but she also feels lonely. She's glad Jake has come, she has really loved only him. But their love is impossible, and when she wistfully thinks how happy they might have been, Jake, with bittersweet irony, replies, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" Nothing, we learn, will improve for these people. If they're lost, they won't be found; if they're forsaken, they won't be redeemed.

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