The Sun Also Rises
There are quite a few reasons to go on a trip. Sometimes it is an attractive solution as a means to escape ones own mundane life. Sometimes it appears to be a good way to escape (or forget) something a person has done, seen, or experienced…But is traveling a legitimate solution of any of these problems? I would side with Jake, the protagonist in Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises who theorizes: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another” (19). As we explore the themes of the novel, it is important to consider the larger meaning of this work; many of the themes and motifs in the book illuminate many of the realities of travel as a means of escape, especially as applied to the Lost Generation.
After reading some background information on Ernest Hemmingway it is quite obvious that he was drawing off his own experiences while constructing the plot of the novel. For many years, Hemmingway was part of the Lost Generation, a group of well-known American writers who lived in Paris and Europe after World War 1. He, along with the other writers of his time, was grappling with the many negative affects of war on a person’s psychology – especially the idea of life as meaningless. This is part of the reason that the Lost Generation came to Paris in the first place, to escape America in hopes of finding some deeper meaning to life. The reality of the situations is that many of them spent the majority of their time in Paris simply drinking their worries away. The characters in The Sun Also Rises entertain themselves in the same manner: with drinking, dancing, and lechery. It becomes pretty clear that the only reason they are all in Europe in the first place is to escape and no character in the novel seems to have much drive (with the exception of the bullfighters). As the plot unfolds, the problems remain intact (such as Brett’s inability to give up her sex life for true love), and no resolution or epiphany ever really occurs. It was this stagnancy that made life so hard for these expatriates. Perhaps the only epiphanic moment occurs at the very end when Jake seems to come to terms with the fact that the thought that Brett and him could live happily ever after was nothing more than a “pretty” thought (251). In the end nobody really finds what they are looking for. This unhappy ending was the reality most of the Lost Generation, many of whom led complicated lives involving alcohol-induced illness (see F. Scott Fitzgerald), convoluted love lives, and in many cases suicide (Hemmingway himself committed suicide in 1961).
This particular examination of travel seems to infer that it is ideal to make the best of what’s around at home, rather than search for missing pieces of the puzzle in strange places.
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the characters use travel as means to escape from their empty and unsatisfying lives—as if frequently changing their location would offer fulfillment. Additionally, each character uses alcohol as an escape tool, for it takes one on a mental sort of journey out of the mundane.
Firstly, in order to understand why the characters need to travel and to use alcohol as an escape, we must understand their initial discontent. Jake Barnes is dissatisfied due to his unrequited love for Brett, as well as his impotence and frequent (arguably) homosexual tendencies. Brett, on the other hand, is unhappy due to her acknowledgement of herself as “a bitch,” as well as her abusive past with her husband. Cohn has had a rough life in general, starting with his unhappy college experience, during which anti-Semitism plagued him. Another character, Georgette, fears that she will never be married or loved by a man. All of these discomforts and insecurities cause the characters to stay traveling constantly, as well as to drink excessively.
In general, the book raises awareness of the human tendency toward escapism. In a mere 250 pages or so, many of the characters move from America to Paris, to San Sebastian (Spain), to the Parisian suburbs, then to Pamplona (back in Spain), then to Bayonne, etc. Even when the characters have been in one area for a credible amount of time, they are longing to leave, such as when Cohn tries to persuade Jake to leave Paris and go to South America. Evidently, the characters struggle to stay in one spot, for this would force them to focus too heavily on their miserable lives. Instead, they escape as a means to cope.
Hemingway makes the abuse of alcohol in the novel as another form of escapism blatantly obvious. The fiesta they attend toward the end of the novel revolves mostly around the act of reckless and uninhibited drinking. Even later in the book, when Brett calls Jake to Madrid and tells him that she has ended things with Romero but wants to be with Mike, Jake drinks three bottles of wine and orders two to go, so he can drink himself asleep back at the hotel. Clearly, the characters use alcohol to go on a “mental trip,” so to speak, in order to escape their problems and feel nothing, instead of depression.
Damn it. I should have just stolen it. I could probably fend off Contra Costa County Library late fees until I’m dead. It was a great little book called Hemingway: Writers on Writing or something like that which I rented last summer. It’s actually just a bunch of excerpts from letters he wrote to family and big names: Charles Scribner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein. As luck would have it, the last quote in the book says something like “For God’s sake, do NOT publish any of these letters!”
The tone of that last quote sums up a great deal of the book (which I have introduced as explanation and apology for the nonexistent citation, bibliography, quotation marks, and things which Ernest Hemingway actually said) which I regrettably no longer have. Here’s where I wanted to start:
The greatest thing anyone has said on the topic of writing came from him. A good writer, Hemingway said, is someone who is great at detecting bullshit. He can sniff it out of others’ books and he can sniff it out in his own. The man had very little tolerance for the stuff. How do I know? Because he said he would probably fail a college course on Hemingway. That’s a joke for the Lit. Department but he was a self-proclaimed anti-intellectual. What do the sharks symbolize in The Old Man and the Sea? What does Jake’s war wound represent? What is the significance of bullfighting in the context of an emasculated postwar generation? In what way does Cohn’s religious identity parallel the plight of the other characters? I believe he would not tolerate such questions as an appropriate response to his work. If you don’t believe me, go out and find the book. The man was a grouch.
So, in honor of Mr. Hemingway, I will forego critical analysis and Latinate words and those terms we were told to be the bread and butter of collegiate parlance - terms like “juxtapose”, “symbolize” and “foil”. Jake represents Jake, Brett is a metaphor for herself, and Cohn is a tautologically instantaneous and permanent ramification of the fictionally extant character Robert Cohn. The sun also rises. Sure, good things happen after bad things if that’s how you want to interpret it. Now, onto what is and what is not bullshit.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s make a pertinent segue; let’s talk about me. Last summer I went to Europe with a couple of friends. I started The Sun Also Rises on the plane and finished it the day we left Paris. The book made the rounds with 3/5 of us. We emulated it unsuccessfully. We drank and drank and wandered and said little but spoke with understated import and had flings and wandered aimless and tried to be jaded and drank more and communicated on unspoken understandings and friendships and were nasty to each other and things were “fine” and things were “nice” and wrote in long run-on sentences and ate a great deal of expensive food. They make it look easy. It’s hard work and not very much fun. Why were we unsuccessful? Well for one thing, we weren’t in WWI. Or WWII for that matter. We weren’t even in ‘Nam so we were obviously unprepared for disillusioned, resigned and aimless Euro-tripping. It’s not a virtue now matter how tactfully and artfully executed; it’s harrowing and pathetic. We had nothing to escape, nothing to forget. We were bullshiting. Hemingway’s characters are not.
I should end it there, but there is something I cannot let go. I have one charge of bullshit I would like to level against Mr. Hemingway. I’ve never been to Pamplona. I’ve never been to Spain. I’ve never seen a bullfight in person. Having read the book a second time, I was struck by the grace, beauty and poetic nature of the passages on bullfighting. That last sentence is bullshit. Being “struck” by any of those things is a tired way of saying “I think it’s pretty” without sounding like Forrest Gump. But is that what bullfighting is really like? I YouTube’d (apostrophe?) it and found somewhat less romanticized versions. I’m not particularly squeamish or a PETA member, I just dislike men being lauded for behaving like idiots. It must be a cultural thing or some deficiency in my testosterone levels but I found myself put off by someone who takes pride in outsmarting an animal that chases primary colors and capes. It’s bullshit. I’m rooting for the bull.
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.” Ecclesiastes
I found myself drinking a lot of wine this week while reading The Sun Also Rises. In fact, anytime I mentioned the novel to a friend, they usually responded with something to the extent of, “that book is nothing but drinking.” I laughed, while noting how tragic and true it is. But how fitting, in post-World War I Europe, for American expatriates especially to want to sink away from their nightmares. Hemingway makes decadence and excesses a staple in the work, artfully noting their obvious dangers.
The most apparent and striking use of drinking in the novel comes in Chapter XV, when the fiesta at San Fermin begins. Preluding to this chapter in the final sentences of the previous, Hemingway notes, “You could not be upset about anything on a day like that. That was the last day before the fiesta” (155). We know something serious is up already, as he then begins the description of the fiesta with aggressive, war-like diction and imagery. Hemingway marks the fiesta’s beginning as an “explosion” (157), and the quaint Spanish cafés have been stripped of their “white whicker chairs” and “marble-topped tables” in exchange for “cast-iron” tables and “severe folding chairs” (157). Indeed Hemingway describes, “the café was like a battleship stripped for action” (157). Within a few sentences, a literal explosion occurs when rockets begin to explode in the sky, leaving balls of smoke like “shrapnel burst[s]”. Then, the “pipes and fifes and drums” enter, pulling together the scene as a full-out battle. Of course, the narrator knows what battle is like from first-hand experience, key to understanding his disillusioned, tragic attitude.
But, as Hemingway describes this explosive scene, he is sure not to leave out mentions of drinking. In fact, we must not forget that what is going on is the Fiesta, a giant party, which Hemingway of course uses as a metaphor. In the first paragraph of the chapter he notes, “The peasants were in the outlying wine-shops. They were drinking, getting ready for the fiesta” (156). From here on, the next sixty pages or so all describe this raging party, one that results in the deaths of quite a few, ranging from bulls to horses to people trampled in the streets, maddened like bulls themselves. The drinking is excessive, and is undoubtedly related to this pulsating, unstoppable metaphor that takes on the role of a beast itself. “But all day and all night the fiesta kept on,” Hemingway concludes chapter XV (173), marking its permanence and prevalence.
A terrific choice of setting, the running of the bulls at San Fermin is an excellent tool in supporting one of Hemingway’s main themes: the idea of a cyclical, deathly, almost ritualistic “celebration” we, as human beings, engage in. Here, in this microcosm, is his tragedy. The fiesta will go on again next year, and for years to come, as it has for many before.
But, the sun also rises. It is our privilege to learn from Hemingway’s drunken, “lost” characters and his beautifully fatal use of the bull ring, to reject decadence of any kind, from drinking to gambling to consenting with (and thus participating in) war, in our own daily lives. Don't forget that San Fernin is also a religious festival - Hemingway notes it on 156 - and his introductory quote is from the Bible; there is always a need to question the prevailing doctrines and customs we accept as standard. Though Bill describes the experience as a "wonderful nightmare" (226), Jake says he'd believe it, and we should believe Hemingway, whose own death was profound in its tragedy. Though we may travel to a foreign "land", literally or symbolically, seeking to avoid our realities, there we will still find those same universal realities, and we can either face or succumb to them.
“Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights.” (136) Ernest Hemingway, as well as his main character Jake Barnes, are both aficionados. Hemingway first attended the festival of San Fermin in 1923 with his first wife Hadley, and “it became one of the reigning passions of his life.” He participated in a few amateur bull-fighting competitions, but ultimately decided he was best served as a writer. In 1932 he published the non-fiction Death in the Afternoon, about the ceremony and traditions of Spanish bullfighting. It is also “a deeper contemplation on the nature of fear and courage.”
The fiesta of San Fermin was originally in October (the saint’s feast day is 10 October), but in 1591 it was officially changed, from 7 July to 14 July, beginning at noon the day before with the chupinazo-the shooting off of rockets that signaled the beginning of the fiesta. “At noon on Sunday, the 6th of July, the fiesta exploded. There is no other way to describe it.” (156) Hemingway doesn't really involve the moral issues of bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises, other than Jake's concern for Brett: he tells her not to watch the horse after it has been gored by the bull. Bill also decides, with a sense of tragedy and irony, that it "Must be swell being a steer." (138) In bullfighting, if the torero succeeds, the bull is killed. If the bull defeats or injures the torero, he is studded and new bulls are bred from him. It is an archaic, cruel practice to many, but the tradition remains in Spain and Mexico.
“The fiesta was really started. It kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta you had the feeling, even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling about any action. It was a fiesta and it went on for seven days.” (158)
The Sun Also Rises brought a great deal of attention to the festival in Pamplona, and Death in the Afternoon is considered the utmost authority on Spanish bullfighting extant. Hemingway’s style is very sparse, but when he writes about the fights, the toreros, the preparations for the festival and everything that goes with it, his sentences are filled with passion and adjectives-it might even be called flowery. Hemingway was a true aficionado: “after his suicide in 1961, two tickets to the upcoming Pamplona bullfights were discovered in his desk drawer.”
The Sun Also Rises is a tale of great inspiration reached by ugly circumstances. Jake is a tragic soul who “lost” his love when he lost his potency in the war. Brett is a confused woman who wants everything she can’t have. Robert is a crushed spirit because of his disfigurement from boxing. He thinks he is ugly but wants to think otherwise and so falls in love far too easily and gets heartbroken often. Mike has no money and is a phenomenal debtor. Bill is the comic relief for when the tragedies of all the other characters become too melodramatic. If that isn’t enough, all these sad creatures decide to go on a vacation together. Furthermore, throughout the entire story it becomes apparent that all the main characters are shit-faced drunk.
At a glance, this seems a recipe for disaster and for a while it is just that. Jake is in constant turmoil that Brett does not stay with him because he is impotent. Even though Brett says she loves Jake, she sleeps with an assortment of men and then comes back to Jake to tell him how awful she feels. But Jake lets this happen because he’s happy to have anytime at all with her; she reminds him of a time when he liked his life. Brett is also engaged to Mike who is too drunk and belligerent to care or notice that Brett sleeps around. The only time Mike seems to have any knowledge of Brett’s being unfaithful is in his interactions with Robert. Brett lays Robert once, and Robert becomes convinced that they are in love, but Brett harbors no such feelings. Mike then spends a great deal of the vacation getting “tight” and rubbing Robert’s crushed nose in the fact that Brett doesn’t like Robert.
Though most of the apparent conflict happens between Mike, Robert, and Brett, the story is told from the eyes of Jake. From this the reader comes to understand that the true conflict of the story is that Jake is not happy with his life because of his injury from the war, so he copes by getting drunk with people that have worse problems than he does. In this way he makes an effort to distract himself from the pain he holds internally. This makes Jake a very relatable character under very specific circumstances, for we all have things in our lives that bring us discomfort and many of us deal with them by finding ways to distract ourselves from the truth; to entertain ourselves. Though most of us do not have problems like Jake we can see why his problems would drive him to drink heavily. But in his tragedy, Jake is inspiring because he does not give up. Though he seems to have no reason for living, though he cries himself to sleep at night, though he has lost his potency, his love, his identity with his home country, his friends, and his family he does not give up. He carries on because in spite of all the woes he has, he still has hope for the future. Though even the darkest nights come to him, the sun also rises.
What does it mean to be lost? Is it being unsure of where you are physically? Obviously not, it’s the absence of a direction, whether that’s physical or about a life direction. In The Sun Also Rises, the characters are symbolic of the lost generation. The generation of young people affected by a harsh economic reality. Those struck by unemployment, disillusionment, and a general loss of purpose. The characters in The Sun Also Rises fit the title, they wander aimlessly through Paris, Spain, and back. One could argue the book is quite static, the characters don’t all have too much development, and they don’t have too much direction. Tall argues “we doubt our place in the world, in part, because we are not adequately rooted in it, physically.” This fits perfectly Jake, Brett, all of them actually. There is nothing holding them in one place, they pointlessly roam around Europe trying to find something to hold onto. This idea of being “lost” is especially interesting when thinking about traveling. Whenever I travel, one thing I always try to avoid is getting lost, I don’t want to be somewhere unfamiliar in an unfamiliar country, I make a plan and try my best to stick with it. But maybe we travel in order to get lost? To escape the problems that would tie us down to one place, we desperately try to get out, to break from our normal scene, case in point, the groups decision to go to Spain. The life of Paris was getting predictable, the same problems prevailed, fake friends, failed relationships, directionless traveling. Some believe that traveling will help you find yourself, in this day and age; we are the newest lost generation. We are the youth disaffected by the economic downturn, it is our generation who will struggle with the economic crisis and will have to fight for the turn around. Something to keep in mind while traveling, what is it that we’re searching for? Is it okay to get lost? When giving advice about New York, I’ve heard many times, just let yourself get lost. But Shepard argues, “knowing who you are is impossible without knowing where you are.” Can we get lost physically and still have a purpose? If we try to answer this question from the experiences of the characters in The Sun Also Rises, the answer is no. The characters had no idea who they were because they were constantly traveling, nowhere was really home to them. As the newest lost generation, maybe we too must try answer this question for ourselves. Are we too lost when we wander? Or can we get lost and still find our way?
("Photo credit Destination360 Paris")
In Earnest Hemingway’s celebrated novel, The Sun Also Rises, he depicts the lives of a group of expatriates living and working in Paris while traveling around Europe as well. Hemingway brings his reader along on a journey around France and Spain that brings in many actual destinations and landmarks of these two countries. By using places that actually exist outside of the literary world, Hemingway brings a sense of authenticity to his novel. The multiple references to the different “Rues” and “Boulevards” in Paris and the hotels and cafes in Spain bring the reader inside this seemingly exclusive circle of expat writers in the 1920’s.
On page 82 of the novel, Jake Barnes and his friend Bill go out to dinner at a restaurant “on the far side of the island”. The two men note that the restaurant is crowded with American people. Jake explains that the reason for the crowd is that “someone had put it in the American Women’s Club list as a quaint restaurant on the Paris quais as yet untouched by Americans”. This quote is somewhat ironic. Since someone declared that this restaurant was authentic Parisian and had a somewhat old world charm the American tourists flooded it, thus making it no longer an authentic French restaurant but rather another tourist attraction. Many people who travel abroad search for what they think is an authentic experience. People long for these types of encounters for diverse reasons. They can either be truly interested in the culture they are visiting and wish to learn different customs and traditions of the culture. Or, they could be in search of authenticity as a way to brag to their friends back home that they have “eaten a genuine French meal at an authentic French restaurant”. If the former is true it is probably necessary to leave a tourist driven city and visit a lesser-known locale in order to get a really authentic experience.
The experience at this restaurant led me to many questions about Barnes’ sentiments towards his fellow compatriots. In this particular scene it seems as though Barnes feels that he is above the other Americans in Paris because of his permanent residence in the city. He is annoyed that other Americans have ruined a “quaint” Parisian restaurant. I think that Barnes has successfully assimilated into the Parisian culture but at what cost? He seems to have forgotten his roots and become an implanted native Parisian who finds American tourists a nuisance to their own lives.
I think that while traveling or living in a foreign country it is important to explore your location and learn about its culture. These expeditions simply add to each of our unique perspectives on life. But, I also believe that it is important to know where you come from and embrace that background while mixing in new ideals from your current surroundings.
“That’s what you want to do. Travel while you’re young. Mother and I always wanted to get over, but we had to wait a while” (91).
A man speaks the above words to Bill and Jake while on the train from Gare d’Orsay to Pamplona, Spain. The Sun Also Rises follows members of the Lost Generation of the 1920s. The passenger’s advice to protagonist Jake and his friend Bill is ironic: are Jake and Bill really taking advantage of all life’s opportunities, or trying to escape the pain of past experience? Indeed, Jake, Brett, Bill and Robert appear to be living glamorous, adventurous lives, but are they discovering themselves, or merely new lands? Are the two synonymous? Is it possible to travel everywhere but inside?
In class we have discussed the various motives people have for travelling: for social approval, to gain new perspective through observing different lifestyles, and to find a deeper meaning or purpose by dealing with uncomfortable or unfamiliar circumstances. As a young person myself, I know the hunger for self-discovery and awareness, and I have been told that this hunger is much more acute during the teens and twenties than later in life. One would hope that by the time one makes a commitment to a steady job, a family, and other such responsibilities, one knows who one is (though this is not always the case). But as young people, we can afford to get lost, to explore, to waste time and energy. In “Only the Young,” one of my favorite Journey songs, Steve Perry sings,
“Only the young can say
They’re free to fly away
Sharing the same desires
Burnin’ like wildfire”
So is traveling best experienced as a young person? Or are we too busy trying to figure ourselves out to appreciate and experience the beauty of the new place we are in? Do those who travel to enrich themselves rather than find themselves have a more valuable, authentic experience of a place? I think not. I don’t believe that we ever stop learning, about the world or ourselves. Travelers need not be of a certain age, but of a certain open mindset and a willingness to learn. I know a good many adults who wish that they had traveled more in their youth. I hope to take advantage of every travel opportunity I have. I see no reason to put off the opportunities one wants most to grasp. Indeed, “travel while you’re young” is sound advice. But let us not travel now out of fear of future regret. Let us travel because we are small and the world is big.
“The point of the book to me was that the earth abideth forever--having a great deal of fondness and admiration for the earth and not a hell of a lot for my generation," Hemingway remarked in a 1926 letter to Maxwell Perkins. "I didn't mean the book to be a hollow or bitter satire but a damn tragedy with the earth abiding forever as the hero" (SL 229).”
The Sun Also Rises is considered the quintessential novel of the Lost Generation for its depiction of characters who, without aim, wander around France and Spain. With this quote, Hemingway suggests that the earth’s rhythm is a model of order for the Lost Generation, that the natural world can ground us and provide us with a sense of place. He introduces this idea in the passage where Jake and Bill go fishing, in which Bill tells Jake that, as an expatriate, he’s “lost touch with the soil” (120). Though Bill uses soil as a synecdoche for one’s homeland, there’s also an allusion to nature and the importance of maintaining one’s ties to it. Bill continues to tell Jake the downsides of losing “touch with the soil,” naming alcoholism, an obsession with sex, and time spent “talking, not working” (120). These are Jake’s problems, but also those of expatriates and anyone without a sense of place.
Central to the expatriate world are cafes, which almost function as replacements for home, a place for the placeless. In fact, Bill tells Jake that “you are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes,” defining an expatriate not as someone who lives in another country but as someone who lives at cafes. The café, though, is not a home but a liminal space, a place that Alastair Reid described as “a stage set for an Absolute Nowhere, a pure parethesis in the swim of time.” It’s a spot where one waits, drinking and talking, because there is nothing else to do. Expatriates, the café-frequenters, are then those without purpose, the wanderers who lack a connection to a locale. Even nowadays, that paradigm is still true, with the cafes in Europe serving as tourist hotspots. Guidebooks often include sitting in a café in a pretty piazza or plaza as a “must do” and encourage tourists to slow down and watch the world go by, to observe the local culture. In this way, tourists function like expatriates; both are people temporarily disconnected from their homes who try to find a connection to the local culture, a form of searching to find one’s place in a foreign country.
This search for place seems to be connected to nature and the process of gaining “touch with the soil,” finding a home through nature. Hemingway explores this idea by creating a parallel between the rhythm of the café and that of nature. Both the sun and a cafe move constantly but slowly, with small changes such as a group of customers getting up to leave or a shadow getting longer. Such shifts over the course of the day indicate the progression of time and the flow of the day, a constant circular movement and rhythm. As the sun rises, travels across the sky, and then sets, cafés fill with people wandering in, sitting down, and then leaving. Both also have a beginning and an end to each day, with the sunrise paralleling the café’s opening and the sunset the closing. Day after day, the pattern stays the same. It’s this constant rhythm that the characters in The Sun Also Rises lack. They don’t have a job that enforces a natural routine upon them and thus wander, going from place to place without any sort of anchor or purpose. When traveling, tourists adapt a similar pattern, breaking from their routines at home and wandering like Jake and the other expatriates. A fundamental part of travel seems to be straying from one’s place, an inherent part of travel, and then trying to find it in a new city or town: the act of getting lost and trying to find a way back home.