book review, bull-fighting, classic literature, Death in the Afternoon, Lost Generation, Modernism, Nobel Prize Winner, Pamplona, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Semi-Autobiographical, The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, Time 100 Best English-Language Novels
30 Day Book Challenge: Book I’d Like To Live In
It is hard to imagine a time when Americans meandered aimlessly through the streets of Paris without considering how absolutely lucky they were for the privilege. Thanks to inflation after WWI, Americans were able to travel around Europe on a whim. They did not need to work, drank and smoked heavily, lived carelessly. This was the Lost Generation.
In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway’s narrator, Jake Barnes, describes the unfulfilled wanderings of himself and his friends around Paris and Spain. Part of what makes the novel great is its ability to cause the reader feel as if they too are crossing the Boulevard Montparnasse, or catching a taxi at the Parthenon. The author’s experiences living and traveling in the cities he describes make them come to life on the page.
Near the start of the novel, Jake and Lady Brett Ashley, the vixen of the tale meet in a taxi. The two drive around discussing their directionless relationship, a symbol of Brett’s relations with the other male characters in the text and all of their lives. The reader soon learns that both Jake and Brett have been crippled by loss in the past. The love of Brett’s life died of dysentery during the Great War, essentially disabling her ability to give love to another. Jake’s wartime injury has rendered him impotent, reducing his self-confidence and notions of masculinity. In each of these people, it is easy to infer they seek something to replace the loss they have suffered.
Stemming from the relationship of Jake and Brett, Hemingway creates an intricate and entertaining love quarrel of sorts which involves their circle of friends and travels along with them from Paris to Pamplona. In typical fashion of the author, the themes of men versus women are dense within the work. Jake’s feminine side is exposed due to his accident whereas the first description of Brett in the text is one of an independent woman referring to herself as ‘chap’ with a short boy’s haircut. When Jake’s tennis companion Robert Cohn falls for Brett’s charms, it becomes obvious that the two have one thing in common; neither one of them will ever possess the woman they long for in the way that they hope. These two are not the only men who fall into Lady Ashley’s clutches. Her latest finance, Michael Campbell joins the group. By the time they are in Pamplona the men are reduced to begging, crying, groveling and catty fighting for her attentions. They have become the emasculated, while Brett behaves as the stereotypical male in charge of them all.
The trip to Pamplona is the ultimate display of pageantry in the novel. Even the bitter and listless Jake cannot help but become revived by the multihued spectacle that is the Festival of San Fermin. Jake and his friend Bill Gorton end a peaceful fishing trip in the Basque region of Spain to meet up with Robert Cohn, Brett and Michael in Pamplona for the fighting of the bulls. Illustrated beautifully are the whitewashed walls of the Spanish town juxtaposed by corrals filled with steers ready to kill. In the streets people crazily wave red handkerchiefs, play flutes, lutes, and drums. Excitable drunken crowds pass around bottles and bottles of wine as wine shops open cask after cask of sheraz for seven days straight. ‘Doesn’t this thing ever stop?’ This is the definition of a FIESTA!
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the trip to Pamplona is that of the bull-fighting itself. The concept of the bull and the bull-fight is steeped in metaphor within the context of the novel. The bull, with its ‘crest of muscle’ and brute force, is the epitome of masculinity. It is all that the male pursuers of Brett are not. As an aficionado with a ‘true passion for bull-fights’, Jake regains his manliness through the steer. In this way he is able to communicate a special knowledge of the tradition and artistry to Brett. Lady Ashley has an instant attraction to the masculine energy of the bull. ‘My God, isn’t he beautiful?’
In the moment Brett sees the bull, her suitors know for a fact what they have sensed all along; she is lost to them. The cynicism and sarcasm Hemingway utilizes in conversations among the men as they attempt to blame each other for the loss of the woman is utter brilliance. From the constant anti-Semitic slurs shot at Cohn to the accusation of Jake for being Brett’s pimp- no one is safe from the author’s clever insults. There is a definite sense that the reader is experiencing the words of a Hemingway personality in Jake’s narration.
The pointless arguments continue over Brett, but Jake finally realizes she will never be his. Then, Pedro Romero takes the stage. The bull-fighter of bull-fighters, Romero is 19 years old and ‘the best looking boy’ Jake has ever seen. For Brett, it is lust at first sight. Jake agrees to help her earn Pedro’s affection, and of course she does. But Pedro is perfection in the ring, he is graceful and pure. The Spanish don’t want him associating with American’s. Brett taints him.
As with all the other men in her life, Brett takes Pedro and destroys what is good in him. After they have been together he is different. ‘It was not brilliant bull-fighting. It was only perfect bull-fighting.’ His flawlessness is gone. Brett then decides she can’t be with Pedro. She won’t destroy a child,she claims. Yet, she already has. She leaves Pedro another victim searching for what he’s lost.
Back to Jake she runs. Into a taxi they both climb to drive around aimlessly once more. As always, Brett leads Jake to believe their ending will be a happy one. I feel certain he knows she’ll only let him down again. He will always be there when she needs him, and although she’ll only let him down for another man-one day she will come calling again. The sun goes down and some nights Jake is alone. But, the sun also rises. Isn’t that the way it is for us all…
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
For more information:
Read: Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway (about bull-fighting)
A Moveable Feast by Hemingway( autobiographical short stories based upon time spent in Europe, mostly Paris)
Does anyone love Hemingway as much as I do and know of a reputable biography I could read?? What are other people’s opinion’s of the ending?