“The Sun Also Rises” is THE essential Hemingway, in fame second probably only to “The Old Man and the Sea” (which I haven’t read yet, to be honest with you).
What is the novel about? It’s essentially a description of Jake Barnes’s trip through post-WWI Europe. From partying in Paris to bull-fighting in Pamplona and fishing in the woods, the books encapsulates Hemingway’s image of male life. How much of this image is just art, I can’t say at this moment. As many of you, I know only his image and am thusly inclined to think that this image represents his honest view, but on the other hand I don’t want to make this assertion without being more acquainted with him. As I intend to become. So let’s just let this stand for now.
Jake Barnes and his acquaintances from the States, including Lady Ashley, travel between France and Spain, drink, party and don’t bother with money. They get in fights with each other. They are jealous of each other. They borrow each other money. They are free. But free can also mean: cut loose, and not in a good way. The generation of the WWI soldiers has been named, famously, by Gertrude Stein the “lost generation”, and one of the quotes anteceding the novel contains the phrase. What we, the readers, witness in the book is a group of people who have lost their purpose, if they were ever given one. It’s as if we were tagging along with the wolf pack from the Hangover films, if these guys didn’t in fact have jobs and homes to return to.
I’m not a big fan of analyzing Hemingway characters. I think his prose gives less weight to characters than to tone. The tone of the narrator’s voice, what it omits, expresses more than the actions of the characters. Reading Hemingway is like listening to a macho who is forced, at gunpoint, to talk about his inner feelings and still tries to keep back as much as possible. It’s awesome and kind of a refreshing departure from the usual exaggerated sensibilities. It is what it is, seems to be what Hemingway is saying, what good is it to cry about it?
It’s especially illuminating to read “Sun” parallel to”The Great Gatsby”. These are THE two books about hedonism, youth and despair in the 1920s. And they are both timeless. I heavily recommend doing it.
This was a very superficial review, I apologize, but I plan on delving deeper into the cosmos that is Hemingway, so there will be more detailled posts in the future. For now, let’s end with a quote:
“Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it.”