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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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Now that we know Robert Cohn-that he has been an outsider all his life, and that women can dominate him-the book's focus turns to Jake Barnes. It's twilight, and Jake takes a seat in a cafe to watch poules (chicks; that is, girls) walk past. A prostitute named Georgette struts by, catches Jake's eye, then joins him.

Georgette, as a streetwalker, has seen a lot of life, and she knows how to talk tough. She's one of the realists, without illusions. She doesn't hesitate to invite herself to have dinner with Jake, and in the taxi she lowers her hand to his lap. But he pushes her hand away.

Here we learn one of the most important things about Jake: he has a wound that has damaged his genitalia. We never learn exactly what the wound is, but we do know that it keeps him from making love, although it doesn't stop him from feeling desire. The wound torments Jake: whenever he wants a woman he must face the fact that he can do nothing about it.


Many readers see Jake as a symbol of life in the years after World War I. They liken him to the mythological character, a part of many legends including that of Perceval and Gawain, called generically the Fisher King. The Fisher King became impotent and then his kingdom became impotent, too. When he regained his potency, his kingdom blossomed. Jake's sterility, like the Fisher King's is also the sterility of the world. He cannot love, and there is almost no love in the world he lives in. Some readers see the book as Jake's quest to become personally healthy and to heal the world. Watch to see if he has any success.

When Georgette says, after hearing about his wound, "Everybody's sick. I'm sick, too," you're meant to make this connection between Jake and those around him. The war has undermined everyone's optimism and destroyed everyone's hope and faith. The world seems a sterile place, with no permanent values and no fine human emotions. Some readers call this postwar world a wasteland, after T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Waste Land," published four years before The Sun Also Rises. Used here, "wasteland" means a world in which things seems sick, impotent, and sterile.

At dinner Jake and Georgette discuss the war. Jake calls it a "calamity for civilization."


World War I was a great historical cataclysm that changed the mood of many people from one of simple hopefulness to one of complicated and frustrated despair. it's important to remember that The Sun Also Rises takes place only six years after Armistice Day, the day ending the war, and that the war is still on everyone's mind. Some of the characters miss the excitement of the war; others, like Jake, have never recovered from what the war did to them.

Jake had thought he'd enjoy eating with a prostitute more than he does, so he's pleased when an old friend, an American writer named Braddocks, drags him and Georgette to a bal musette, a risque nightclub.

Lady Brett Ashley, the book's heroine, arrives at the club surrounded by a group of young male homosexuals. She's a 34-year-old Englishwoman who became titled when she married her second husband, from whom she's now separated. She's thin and beautiful yet her short hair, like her name itself, gives her a masculine air.

Brett smokes and drinks, has careless affairs with men, runs around with homosexuals, and generally acts with blithe irresponsibility. She is very attractive, though, and has a power to draw men around her. Later you'll see her referred to as a festival goddess, and also as Circe, the Greek mythological figure who tempted men and then turned them into swine. An important question to ask yourself is whether Brett is an evil figure like Circe or just a sad, aging woman.

Jake hates homosexuals; his first impulse is to "swing [at] one, any one." Some people think that men who want to strike out at homosexuals are worried about their own manliness. Certainly, with his wound, a good case can be made that Jake is afraid he's not enough of a man.


Manliness-defined at its best by courage, strength, and clearheadedness, and at its worst by pigheadedness, random brutality, and violenceis a quality most of the male characters in the book worry about. Jake is physically less than a man. Another character you'll meet, Mike Campbell, seems obsessed by the need to prove his masculinity. Some readers think the Hemingway hero, with his macho poses, is no more than a comic-book figure. Others argue that Hemingway's heroes are too three-dimensional to be reduced to any one characteristic.

Everyone gets drunk. Throughout the book when people get together they drink. Gallons of liquor are consumed in The Sun Also Rises. This is one way the characters rebel against society's prohibitions back home. It is also a way of pouring pleasure into otherwise empty lives. Jake, watching from the bar, says, "This whole show makes me sick." Though he is part of the scene, he is also disgusted by what passes for civilization around him.

Robert Cohn appears and falls instantly in love with Brett. He asks Brett to dance, but she's with Jake.

When Jake leaves with Brett, he leaves money for Georgette. He's thoughtful enough to realize that even if he can't use her full services as a prostitute, he has taken up her time. In a taxi Brett turns to Jake and tells him, "I've been so miserable." We'll find out what's bothering her in the next chapter.

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