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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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Is there any evidence of joyful, fulfilling love in The Sun Also Rises? Hardly a trace. The two main characters, Jake and Brett, can't love either physically or emotionally. When they speak of the possibility of love, they are imagining life in another, better world. In the actual world they inhabit, both are wounded, Jake physically, Brett psychically. Neither is able to find any satisfaction or completeness in love.

Robert Cohn loves, but it's a silly, naive love predicated on storybook romances. Cohn is immediately attracted to Brett. Because she's part curious, part bored, she goes off with him. What does their romance mean? For Brett, nothing; for Cohn, everything. He continues to believe against all evidence that theirs is a perfect love. He's wrong, of course, and all the other characters despise him for his blindness.

Mike, Brett's fiance, is too drunk and insecure to love. Bill Gorton picks up an American girl at the fiesta, but nothing comes of it-he's too cynical to love.

That leaves Pedro Romero, the hero of Hemingway's code-a man young, innocent, passionate, and brave enough to love. He falls for Brett and wants to marry her. But Brett, knowing she'll ruin him, gives him up.


Does formal religion play a role in the lives of any of the characters? Does it satisfy anyone's need for faith? For these members of the Lost Generation, no. Brett feels uncomfortable in a church, Jake has turned away from Roman Catholicism (the church offered no consolation for his wound), and Robert Cohn, a Jew, seems indifferent to his faith.


Many readers see a correspondence between The Sun Also Rises and T. S. Eliot's noted poem, "The Waste Land." The poem was published four years before the novel, and although Hemingway denied it, it seems to have influenced the book. The central figure in the poem is acknowledged by Eliot to be the Fisher King, as described in Jessie L. Weston's study of the Grail legend, From Ritual to Romance. The Fisher King had a sickness that kept him from reproducing. Because his personal health was reflected in the health of his country, his land remained sterile. Many readers see Jake Barnes as this impotent hero presiding over an infertile land. Though life in Paris is liberating for this young American, it is also decadent and essentially pointless. Only in the Spanish countryside does fertility abound. While fishing, Jake becomes well, but when he returns to his civilized friends he loses his health again.

The wasteland is a dead land, and those in it are dead-in-life. In the novel this death-in-life is found in an emotional sterility that infects all the characters. Only Brett regains some health when she gives up Romero. The greater rejuvenation that might be possible from a life with Jake is, for both of them, only a wistful dream.


The Sun Also Rises is a portrait of Americans searching for new values in a world in which old standards have been blown away by war. Jake, the primary searcher, is interested in Count Mippipopolous, who seems to know exactly what he wants and how to get it. But the count's value system is simply to pay as little as possible for as much as possible-marvelous advice in a department store, but a little thin when applied to life.

Pedro Romero has a strong sense of right and wrong, but he doesn't talk about it. He simply does his job perfectly. He fights bulls and conducts his life with aficion, or passion, which both Hemingway and his characters greatly admire. Romero's aficion is as untarnished and pure as the bullfighter himself. Is this because he comes from a land that was relatively untouched by the war?

Most of the characters have settled for empty rounds of drinking and sex in Paris. Romero is different. He doesn't need to buy pleasure, he gets whatever he needs because he deserves it. He doesn't need to shop for love because he is part of life; he experiences it from the inside.


World War I ended six years before the novel begins but it continues to affect each of the characters. Jake's genital wound destroyed his hope of romantic fulfillment; the death of a soldier, Brett's first true love, destroyed her capacity for selfless love.

Though the war was unimaginably destructive, it did have an excitement and drama that make postwar life seem drab in comparison. One reason the characters go to the bullfights in Spain is to recapture the excitement of the war. The fiesta is like a battlefield-it catches the characters up in something larger than themselves and lets them forget their own meager lives.

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