The United States in the 1920 s was a land of change. The recent end to a horrific war brought about a change in life, culture and perception. Those who returned from the war had their view on life shattered and changed completely. This change of awareness is evident in the literature following World War I. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway demonstrated what many were experiencing with the short sentences and tough prose found in his novels. His first and defining novel, The Sun Also Rises, was written in 1926.
Hemingway uses foils to develop flawed characters and convey a message of what the "Lost Generation" experiences in The Sun Also Rises. World War I was a war in which much new technology and innovation was used. This advancement made killing more effective and the horrors of war even greater. The trench warfare on the Eastern Front was horrendous. Poison gasses were used to flush soldiers out of trenches. When they emerged, they would be met by bullets from machine guns, which would mow men down.
Survivors of the ghastly battles had the images and memories scarred into their minds. Young men were sent to war, and what they saw changed them forever. One of these men was a certain ambulance driver on the Italian Front. He witnessed the effects of the new innovations on the human body, and the devastation they caused. That man was Ernest Hemingway, and after the war, he translated his memories and experiences into the literature that is now famous. Novels like The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms are examples of this defining literature ("The Sun Also Rises" 332).
Those soldiers that returned from the war were traumatized beyond belief. They were disillusioned and stunned by what they had gone through in World War I. They were a generation of people morally and spiritually lost, and dubbed the "Lost Generation" by Gertrude Stein ("The Sun Also Rises 332-334). One of Hemingway's talents was to create characters with flaws and obstacles that challenge them. The protagonist in The Sun Also Rises is Jake Barnes. He was emasculated in World War I.
Most of his obstacles involve his injury and the self-consciousness associated with it. The memories of the war traumatize him as well as the other veterans. Jake is insecure about his masculinity because of his insufficiency. His emasculation left him confused and feeling incapable and lacking (Elliott 338-339). To accompany his insecurities and feeling of inadequacy, Jake is faced with the issue of homosexuality. Early in the novel, Jake gets in a confrontation with "men in jerseys" at a Paris dance hall.
These men are presumably homosexual. Ira Elliot brings up the point that Jake is a heterosexual in desire and a homosexual as far as having relations with women go. He is bound by his injury, and can not take part in "masculine activities." Because of this, he feels distanced from the rest of society and his companions, adding to his dissolution (Elliott 340). What Jake experienced in the war, and the devastating injury he received had left him lost. He struggles to figure out how to live in the changing world and how to cope with the emasculation. What makes matters worse is that the woman he loves, Brett, can not deal with his injury.
In the following passage, Jake begs her to live with him and devote to him, but she replies that the way things are it would be impossible:" Couldn't we live together Brett? Couldn't we just live together?"I don't think so. I'd just t romper you with everybody. You couldn't stand it."I stand it now."That would be different. It's not my fault Jake. It's the way I'm made." (62) Brett's blatant statement that Jake can not satisfy her sexual desires only adds to Jake's feelings of insufficiency.
Both of the main obstacles to Jake and Brett are presented here also. Jake's obstacle, well-known by this point, is his emasculation. The obstacle for Lady Brett is her moral corruption. Her desire for sex is an example of being spiritually adrift, lacking the guidance needed in life. Brett serves as an example of this moral corruption and spiritual disillusionment of the Lost Generation.
Cochran explains why the characters, and conversely the people of the time period turned from religion. He states that traditional religions do not seem to suit the problems they face, and do not seem to provide answers. Because of this, they seem unable to find a role in society, and appear misplaced (Cochran 345). Jake and Brett are one of the most important relationships of the novel. Clues in the text suggest that both have strong feelings for each other, and the only hindrance is Jake's injury. He makes a pass at her early in the novel while riding in a carriage in Paris, but both abandon that notion.
Jake is very devoted to her, and at the end of the novel, he abandons his trip early to travel to Madrid and console her. In Madrid, the story ends with the two reminiscing and dreaming of what may have been:" Oh Jake," Brett said, "We could have had such a damned good time together." Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me." Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?" (251) This ending leaves the possibility of a relationship between Brett and Jake open. The trials through the course of the novel may have changed the way Brett feels, and she may be willing to commit to Jake.
Jeffrey Lilburn has the idea for an alternate interpretation to this. He says that Jake may finally be coming to terms with his life. Through out the whole novel, Jake struggles to find his niche in life. This conclusion to the novel suggests that he is realizing his role in the relationship with Brett, and his role in life (Lilburn 338). Brett has various relationships with men in the novel. Her promiscuity is attributed to this.
Her main relationship is with an Englishman, Mike. He is a veteran of the war and an expatriate. He and Brett seem serious and ready to be married, however, like Jake; Mike has insecurities that Brett is concerned about. Mike is lacking money, which is important to her. He is also jealous of her promiscuity and that is a point of anger for him.
While with Mike, Brett has two affairs. While in Pamplona for the festival, Brett is infatuated by a young bullfighter named Romero. He seems to have everything Jake and Mike do not. He has pride, dignity and money. For those reasons, he is a foil to the two.
His dignity and confidence are shown in the way he carries himself with pride. He is very charismatic, especially in the ring. Bullfighting is his passion, and he has meaning in his life. The contrasts with Jake who is insecure and feels as his life does not have a purpose. Romero also does not share Jake's negative view on life, and has not been corrupted (Lilburn 337). Brett's most surprising affair is with Jake's "friend" Robert Cohn.
Cohn is a Jew, and looked down upon by many. His religion has been persecuted through out history for many reasons. For the characters, Cohn is looked down because he has a religion when the rest are lacking spiritual direction. Cohn is one of the most insecure in the novel.
He has a need to fit in and be accepted. Many are hostile to him because of his ways of dealing with these insecurities. That hostility is exemplified by Mike, who when drunk got in various fights with Cohn. In one fight, he pokes fun at Cohn following Brett around like a "steer." Mike is livid when he learns of Brett's affair with Cohn and presumably leaves her. Mike and Cohn clashed from when they first met, and the presence of alcohol accelerated any conflict. Through out the novel, drinking is an apparent theme, and it is not merely social drinking, but rather excessive drinking on the part of the characters.
Both Mike and Jake drink in excess, and other characters also drink quite a bit with the exception of Cohn. The characters drink to escape their harsh realities. Both Mike and Jake are insecure and use alcohol to forget about the causes to their insecurities. Drinking is not just a way to feel better; problems frequently arise when the characters become drunk. Mike is the prime example, who becomes very belligerent when intoxicated, and directs his anger at the easy target of Cohn.
He loses his inhibitions and that provokes the fights. When Jake is drunk, he tends to say things he does not really mean or believe and regrets them later ("The Sun Also Rises" 329-331). Drinking was prevalent in the post war society-so prevalent that many urged the government to ban it with prohibition. Drinking was clearly portrayed as the way the characters escape. This was not only true for the characters, but for those who really lived in the time. Running away from problems is a common theme in The Sun Also Rises.
Drinking is one way the characters do this, but only the effects are only temporary. Jake and Mike are both expatriates, which means that they both have left their country after the war to live in Europe. They can not readjust to life back home. The biggest culprit, however, of running away is Cohn. Early in the novel he wants to leave Paris and travel to South America.
He feels he is not living life:" I can't stand to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it."Nobody ever lives their life all they way up except for bull-fighters." (18) Then, after many fights and drama in Pamplona he runs away and is not heard of again in the book. He is clearly confused and astray in life (Elliott 340). The "Lost Generation" was an era when much change occurred and those living it were unsure how to react. Veterans of the war were scarred. Morality seemed to be lost in the world as the "Roaring Twenties" started. Hemingway took the culture of the times and put them onto paper.
His characters in The Sun Also Rises demonstrate what many people experienced. The disillusionment many felt, the insecurity of others, and the desire to escape reality were all prominent at that time. Most of the people of the time and the characters in Hemingway's novels were a "Lost Generation" in every sense. Works Cited Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 2003.
Ira Elliott. "Performance Art: Jake Barnes and 'Masculine's igni fication in The Sun Also Rises." (American Literature, 1995); excerpted and reprinted in Novels for Students. Vol 5 (Detroit: Gale, 1999), pp. 338-342. Jeffery M.
Lilburn, in an essay for Novels for Students. Vol 5. Detroit: Gale, 1999, pp. 335-338. Robert W. Cochran.
"Circularity in The Sun Also Rises" (Modern Fiction Studies, 1968); reprinted in Novels for Students. Vol 5. (Detroit: Gale, 1999), pp. 342-347." The Sun Also Rises." Novels for Students. Vol 5.
Detroit: Gale, 1999.