Tuesday, June 30, 2009

120. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway

History: Published in 1926, the title is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5: "The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." Hemingway's original title for the work was Fiesta, which was used in the British, German and Spanish editions of the novel.
Plot: The novel explores the lives and values of the so-called "Lost Generation,". Jake, a World War I veteran, is unable to consummate a sexual relationship with Brett Ashley because of a severe wound suffered when his fighter plane crashed on the Italian Front, leaving him emasculated. However, he is still attracted to and in love with her. The story follows Jake and his various companions across France and Spain.
As the novel opens, we meet our expatriate friends in their adopted home of Paris. They all have different feelings about the city; Jake clearly relishes his life there, despite his general sense of dissatisfaction. He seems to know, like, everyone in the city of Paris (or possibly in France), and it an expert at everything from picking the right restaurant to schmoozing with Parisian hookers. We get the feeling that Jake could fit in wherever he goes. Robert Cohn, on the other hand, isn’t comfortable anywhere. Jake wants Brett. Brett wants Jake. Brett and Jake can’t be together because Jake is unable to be sexual because of a war injury..
This is a totally classic set-up. The relationship between Jake and Brett presents itself as the primary source of tension and anxiety in the novel. Although both Jake and Brett have romantic feelings for one another, Jake’s impotence is an insurmountable barrier for Brett. Throughout the rest of the novel, we are consistently reminded of the impossibility of their relationship.
Cohn has an affair with Brett in San Sebastian. Cohn, Mike, Bill, Jake, and Brett spend a week together in Pamplona. Jake’s discovery of Cohn’s affair with Brett frustrates his already difficult relationship with her. Because Mike, Cohn, and Jake each have strong feelings for Brett, their mutual presence in Pamplona intensifies everyone’s anxieties. Brett doesn’t help matters by failing to acknowledge the havoc she is wreaking – she doesn’t take responsibility for her actions (kind of a theme with this bunch of people). In a fit of rage, Cohn beats up Jake, Mike, and Romero, then leaves Pamplona. Cohn’s attack of Jake, Mike, and Romero reflects the culmination of his anger about Brett and her liaisons. It embodies in a very physical manner the frustration and disillusionment experienced by all of the novel’s main characters. His departure from Pamplona signals the beginning of the end for everyone. When the fiesta’s officially over, it’s a relief to all of them – and, frankly, to us. Jake’s gang leaves Pamplona with no resolution regarding the relationship between Brett and any of the men in the novel. Jake heads to San Sebastian to rest and recuperate.
When the gang departs from Pamplona, nearly everyone is dissatisfied. Cohn has disappeared, Mike is bankrupt and in emotional disarray, Jake is in need of some major alone time, and Brett has left with Pedro Romero, leaving us to question the nature of the novel’s central relationships. Things are even less certain at this point than ever before, and in their last couple of days together, Bill, Jake, and Mike have the sense that a whole lot of people are missing.
After only a brief respite, Jake learns that Brett has sent Romero; she telegraphs him urgently in San Sebastian to come and help her. The incident renews the question of a potential relationship between Brett and Jake. We hope against hope that something can work out, but by this point in the novel, we should really know better. Jake himself is cynical and resigned to his guilt and unhappiness with regards to Brett.
Brett is left at a crossroads – she has made the right decision in letting Romero go, but now has nowhere to go herself. She eventually decides to go back to Mike, who is "so damned nice and… so awful," and is the kind of guy she can handle. In a final resolution to the central conflict of the novel, it is decided that Brett and Jake could never be together. While this was Brett’s decision earlier in the novel, Jake is the one who finally decides that they never really had a chance
Review: My favorite Hemmingway novel. It is about people overcoming fears and facing the truth. It is about people accepting themselves and learning how to deal with their problems. However, these obstacles are not so easy to overcome. Because of war experiences and personal weaknesses, the characters in this story feel as though their lives have been ruined. Some can accept the way they are, but others have a more difficult time doing so.
Opening Line: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.”
Closing Line: “Yes.” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
Quotes: "You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see. You hang around cafés."
Rating: Very good.

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