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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Hemingway's plot is structured in a ritual circle. As one cultural anthropologist has shown, narratives are often structured on the circle in which the hero begins in a flawed society, goes out on a quest in order to find some kind of solution to what has hurt his society, and then returns to restore order.
Jake Barnes' Paris is a truly flawed society. Relationships on every level are out of order. He goes out of Paris to Burguete, Spain, where he gets back in touch with the earth and the order that he finds in fishing.
After this brief reprieve from the life-denying society, he goes to the fiesta in Pamplona to experience the communal festivities where all are one and to experience the bullfights, a spectacle which displays the ritual encounter with death. However, this hero makes a terrible mistake when he betrays what he highly values.
He makes the choice to be true to Brett, a woman who embodies broken ties and self-involvement, and he is repudiated by the patriarch of the wholesome society of men in Spain. At the novel's end, he has not yet made it back to Paris, has not finished the circle. He seems to have realized his mistake, but it is unclear whether he will act on that knowledge or sink further into destructiveness.
Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, only a few years after the close of World War I. Much of the disease of the society in Paris results from the dislocations and wounds of the war. Jake Barnes is wounded in the war, but all the other characters with the exception of Robert Cohn, trace some affliction to the war. Hemingway uses Gertrude Stein's statement, "You are all a lost generation," as the epigraph for his novel. These expatriates indeed seem lost, unwilling to return home to lives of conventional morality and unable to erect an alternative standard of value in Paris. Heavy drinking and the easy spending of money seem to be the only pursuits the characters can find and they complain of their boredom often. With such a flawed society, Hemingway begins his novel and his solutions to these flaws come out of the same kind of mix of cynicism and nostalgia that the characters exhibit.
The alternative to Paris is found in the French and Spanish countryside with the barely defined peasants whose values on sharing and communality provide a sharp contrast to the competitive and money-oriented relationships of the expatriate set. However, Hemingway can only sustain the idyllic pastoral scene for a brief while. It proves to be only a brief respite from the realities that Jake must face.
His other alternative to the Parisian scene is in the code of bull fighting. Jake seems to have been a long-time visitor to the bullfights in Pamplona, but he seems to have been able previously to separate that connection from his connections in Paris. He seems to be bringing his expatriate friends for the first time to Spain. Perhaps he wants to reconcile the two parts of his life. Perhaps he has found the order and the values of bullfighting to be life giving for himself and wants to share it with his friends to heal them from their various wounds. His strong connection with Montoya is presented in a sort of father-son admiration. Jake is the dutiful son who returns year after year and shows his homage to the bullfights. Montoya plays the role of beneficent father who provides stability for a lost son. The bullfights are however, a world of men only (as was the fishing camaraderie). When Jake brings Brett and Romero together, he spoils the purity of the brotherhood and he is expelled.
Hemingway seems not to have been able to imagine an alternative to the lost generation that could be sustained and that could include women as well as men. Jake remains lost at the end of the novel largely because he remains attached to a woman.