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The Sun Also Rises is set in Europe after World War I. Except for the bullfighter Pedro Romero, all the major characters are expatriates from America and Great Britain. In search of adventure, and of something to fill the void in their lives, they have come to live in Paris.
Paris in the 1920s was famous for its thriving Bohemian cafe culture. Painters such as Picasso, Miro, and Matisse were there, as was an indomitable American woman named Gertrude Stein, who had established a famous salon where painters and writers such as James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway met and exchanged ideas.
The cultural movement known as Modernism was then coming into its own. Modernism reflected the cultural dislocation, the break with tradition, and the freedom to experiment of the postwar era. Much original art and writing was created during this time, including The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway's novel thus both captures and is an expression of the age in which it was written.
Hemingway's characters find life in Paris exciting, but also empty. To escape the sophistication and corruption of the city, they travel to the more traditional world of Spain.
The book's main characters-Jake, Brett, Robert Cohn, Mike, and Bill-are not tied to any one set of values and can skim from place to place like water skiers over a lake. In contrast, the natives of Paris and Pamplona seem to lead deeply rooted and stable lives. The expatriates move from one European setting to another, permanent tourists forever looking in at a world to which they do not belong.