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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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Mike is a Scot who is engaged to Lady Brett Ashley. She has agreed to marry him after her divorce from Lord Ashley, but she later changes her mind.

Almost every time we see Mike he is pathetically drunk. He says vicious, stupid things about Robert Cohn and obnoxious things about Brett. Once wealthy, but now bankrupt, he runs up credit he knows he can't repay. By the end of the novel he is forced to borrow money to pay his hotel expenses.

Mike is a virulent anti-Semite who lashes out at Cohn whenever he is feeling frustrated and inadequate. We can criticize Mike for making Cohn a scapegoat; yet, because Cohn is trying to steal Brett, Mike has some reason to attack him.

Mike would like others to think he is strong, courageous, manly, and successful. He fails at this and drinks to forget his failure. Why, you'll want to ask, do his friends put up with him? Very likely they see a lot of Mike Campbell in themselves. To condemn him would be to condemn themselves, so they look instead at his positive side. Jake, for instance, points out that when Mike is sober he is very charming. From the evidence in the book, however, Mike is never sober and never charming.

Mike, Jake, Bill, and Brett belong to a clique that excludes Robert Cohn and others. Mike is not a very important character except to represent the worst characteristics of this group.


Bill Gorton is a successful American writer and an old friend of Jake's. He comes to Paris especially to go with the group to the fiesta in Spain. Bill also drinks too much and has a hard, cynical wit that is sometimes funny and sometimes simply cruel. In contrast to his friend Jake, who is trying hard to find something to believe in (and failing) Bill never seems to believe in anything at all. Another product-some would say casualty-of the war, he deals with life by mocking it.

It is Bill who joins Jake on the fishing idyll to the Irati River in Spain. He is loyal to Jake and other members of their clique, but to those he doesn't know or doesn't think he should accept, he's unkind and arrogant.

Of all these lost characters, Bill is one of the most lost, though he'd never admit it.


If any of the major characters remains untarnished by the modern world, it is the young, handsome bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Though he is only 19, he has made his name as a bullfighter and triumphantly kills the last bull at the fiesta.

Pedro Romero is a professional. He separates his work from himself, and he performs his work perfectly. He knows his art too well to care about showing off or using tricks. He gets very close to the bull and does his job "smoothly, calmly, and beautifully."

Romero is also an innocent. This is not only because he is young, but because he has something to believe in and to dedicate his life to: bullfighting. Bullfighting repays his dedication. None of the other characters believes in anything with the passion Romero gives to bullfighting.

Romero also believes in love. Much like Robert Cohn, he falls completely in love with Lady Brett. The difference between the two men, however, is that Romero never loses his dignity. He is always proud and determined. He does things to please himself, not others, and he always follows a strict code of behavior. He is fearless and intrepid-an unflawed hero.

All the other characters respect Romero. Brett respects him so much that even though she wants to stay with him, she leaves because she's afraid she'll corrupt him. One of the book's unanswered questions is whether Romero's purity could ever withstand Brett and the corruption of the modern world she represents. You'll have to decide for yourself whether you think Romero would, in a few years, become tarnished, too.

In terms of The Sun Also Rises, however, Romero is as close as any character comes to a hero. In comparison, all the other characters, especially Jake, are failures. Romero is important because he stands outside the modern wasteland. He represents tradition, ritual, passion, and faith. Bullfighting is a closed world of its own, and that's what keeps him pure. The other characters can only visit this world for a short time, as tourists going to the fiesta.

But remember, Romero is a young man. We don't see enough of him to know if or when he'll be corrupted, but we do see enough to know that he cannot cure people lost in the modern world.


The count is a rich, titled friend of Lady Brett who always gets good value for what he pays for, be it champagne or antiques. He has no use for God or anything that does not fit into his narrow scale of values. Whether he is capable of love is something you'll have to decide for yourself.

The count is plump and roly-poly, a fine comic creation. ultimately, though, he's pathetic. He might be happier than Bill and Mike, for at least he has pleasure, but it's the easy pleasure that comes from instant material gratification. We have to wonder if he embraces any of the uncertainty in life that leads to surprise and grandeur. Maybe he has come to terms with the world too well; maybe, as Brett says, he is dead.

The count does have experience. He has seen much of the world. Like Jake, he has a wound-an arrow pierced his stomach. He is older than the other characters and perhaps the toughest. He is an image of what Jake and Brett could easily become.


Montoya runs the hotel in Pamplona where Jake and his friends stay. He is perceptive enough to know who has real aficion (passion) for bullfighting, and he will always find a room for those who share his passion, no matter how crowded his place is. He knows Romero has aficion, and decides that Jake does, too. In a way, Montoya is the book's best judge of values. He finally decides that Jake's friends-Brett, Cohn, Mike, and Bill-are unworthy. He makes Jake feel ashamed of his friends, of the way he himself has behaved. When Jake leaves, Montoya won't even say good-bye to him.

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