Sun Also Rises

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Of the segments of American society scarred by the anguish of the First World
War, the damage was most severe amongst the younger generation of that time.


Youthful and impressionable, these people were immersed headlong into the
furious medley of death and devastation. By the time the war had ended, many
found that they could no longer accept what now seemed to be pretentious and
contradictory moral standards of nations that could be capable of such
atrocities. Some were able to brush off the pain and confusion enough to get on
with their lives. Others simply found themselves incapable of existing under
their countrys thin faade of virtuousness and went abroad, searching for
some sense of identity or meaning. These self-exiled expatriates were popularly
known as the “Lost Generation” a term credited to Gertrude Stein, who once
told Hemingway: “Thats what you all are. All you young people who served in
the war. You are a lost generation… You have no respect for anything. You
drink yourself to death.”1 Many of these individuals tended to settle in
Paris, a suitable conduit through which to pursue their new lifestyle. Content
to drift through life, desperately seeking some sort of personal redemption
through various forms of indulgence, these people had abandoned their old value
system and heroes, only to find difficulty in finding new ones. A great deal of
new literature was spawned in an effort to capture the attitudes and feelings of
such individuals to reinvent a model of sorts for a people sorely lacking any
satisfactory standard to follow. At the forefront of these writers was Ernest
Hemingway, whose Novel, The Sun Also Rises, became just such a model, complete
with Hemingways own definition of heroism. Many of the characters in the
novel represented the popular stereotype of the post WWI expatriate Parisian:
wanton and wild, with no real goals or ambitions. Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn,
and Lady Brett Ashley, and even the protagonist Jake Barnes all demonstrate some
or all of the aforementioned qualities throughout the novel. All seem perfectly
content to exist in their own oblivious microcosm, complete with their own
unique set of moral values. While the qualities of these characters
dominate, to an extent, the flow of the novel, it is important to acknowledge
their contrast to Jake and the bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Unlike the others,
these two characters serve as heroic figures, albeit each in a very different
way. Jake is a truly realistic protagonist. Like his friends, Jake is a victim
of many of the same circumstances. The difference is that Jake does not let his
emotional turmoil corrupt his life to the same extent as the others. Unlike the
other expatriates, he has not completely rejected all of the old values of the
pre-WWI era. For example: While Jake seems to be having difficulty in completely
accepting his religion, he still tries to grasp on to it, though perhaps a
little fearful that his handhold will break if he grasps too tightly: “Listen,
Jake,” he said, “are you really a Catholic?” “Technically.” “What
does that mean?” “I dont know.” (128-129) Along with this emotional
baggage, Jake also has a physical defect in the form of a wound he suffered in
the war, which has rendered him sexually impotent. Despite the way in which his
injury thwarts his relationship with Brett, Jake accepts his situation with a
great deal of integrity, despite the scathing pain of his unfulfilled love. As
is consistent with the realistically human portrayal of Jakes character, his
role as a heroic figure is stifled somewhat by the constraints of society.


Rather than exhibiting gallant feats of bravery consistent with the romantic
definition of a hero, Jakes valiance is displayed in a subtler, less tangible
manner. By displaying the virtues of tolerance, honesty, patience and
understanding, Jake proves himself to be as much of an heroic figure as can
reasonably be expected in the real world under conventional circumstances.


Jakes maturity and understanding of the limitations of modern society is
shown particularly in his remark that: “Nobody ever lives their life all the
way up except bull-fighters.” (18) Pedro Romero truly is set apart
significantly from the others. Virtually flawless, this young man lives in the
world of the matador: a world immune from the constraints of civilization. When
Romero is in the bullring, he is able to transcend the confines of the modern
world. He truly becomes the closest approximation to the classic definition of a
romance hero, perhaps even to mythical proportions. To the crowd, he is not just
a man; he is Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Romero demonstrates all the ideal
qualities of masculinity. He is youthful, handsome, skilled, courageous and
passionate. Even outside the boundaries of the bullring that provide a stage for
such daring feats, Romero seems to still carry something with him that sets him
above a normal man. When Jake is introduced to the young bull-fighter, he sees
this immediately: The boy stood very straight and unsmiling in his bull-fighting
clothes. His jacket hung over the back of a chair. They were just finishing
winding his sash. His black hair shone under the electric light. He wore a white
linen shirt and stepped back. Pedro Romero nodded, seeming very far away and
dignified when we shook hands. Montoya said something about what great
aficionados we were… Romero listened very seriously. Then he turned to me. He
was the best-looking boy I have ever seen. (167) It is evident that Romeros
qualities are not just mere illusions induced by his occupation. The boy seems
also to reflect Jakes best characteristics. He is not arrogant or pompous; he
is dignified, courteous, and gracious. Truly, Romero is the epitome of the
missing icon of this Lost Generation. Seemingly immaculate in all aspects, both
physical and spiritual, the bullfighter certainly makes an impression on the
group. While Jake is impressed with the young Pedro, Brett is completely
enraptured. Her fascination goes deeper than the mans looks, though. In
Romero, Brett envisions a possible solution to her hopeless search. From the
stands of the arena, she sees her Holy Grail glistening in full splendor in the
Pamplona sun. The illusion does not last long for Brett. After finally obtaining
her prize, she finds it sorely lacking in that Romero turns out to be a mere
mortal after all. An interesting parallel can be drawn between Romaros
failure to live up to Bretts impossible expectations and his predecessor,
Belmontes failure to live up to the crowds: When he retired the legend
grew up about how his bull-fighting had been, and when he came out of retirement
the public were disappointed because no real man could work as close to the
bulls as Belmonte was supposed to have done, not, of course, even Belmonte.

(218) The others are not oblivious to the power of Romeros presence nor to
its effect on Brett. Mike is quick to recognize the threat that Romero presents
and he shows it, but only through a veil of humorous intent: “I believe, you
know, that shes falling in love with this bullfighter chap,” Mike said.


“I wouldnt be surprised.” “Be a good chap, Jake. Dont tell her
anything more about him. Tell her how they beat their poor old mothers.” (172)
Just as Jake finds his ability to be heroic limited by the standards of the
civilized world, Mike knows that these subtle protestations are about the extent
of what he can do to keep Brett. As painful as it is for him, Mike gracefully
steps back as Brett pursues her new love. Robert Cohn also sees Romero in much
the same way as the others. The bullfighter represents to Cohn, perhaps more
than anyone else, the ideal man. Cohn sees in Romero all the things that he
finds lacking in himself, and consequently becomes extremely jealous, especially
when he sees Bretts fascination with the young man. While Romeros heroic
feats continually produce adulation, Cohns own attempts at chivalry and
courage end up in his making a fool of himself: (Jake) “Oh, go to hell.” He
stood up from the table his face white, and stood there white and angry behind
the little plates of hors doervres. “Sit down,” I said. “Dont be a
fool.” “Youve got to take that back.” “Oh, cut out the prep-school
stuff.” “Take it back”… “Oh, dont go to hell,” I said. “Stick
around. Were just starting lunch.” “Cohn smiled again and sat down. He
seemed glad to sit down.” (47) Even Cohns final desperate attempt at
proving himself completely backfires. While pummeling Romero repeatedly in a
jealous rage, he unwittingly provides the bull-fighter with an opportunity to
prove himself to be even more courageous in everyones eyes, especially
Bretts. It is only after this final humiliation that Cohn desists in his
pathetic, pseudo-chivalrous pursuit of Brett and retreats back to Paris, an
utterly defeated man. Despite the grandeur of the bull-fight, it is important to
recognize that it is little more than an escape from the trappings of real life.


Just like Belmonte before him, Romero is eventually destined to deteriorate, and
to be faced with an outside world that has no room for chivalry (as Robert Cohn
found out). While this happens, we can assume that Jake Barnes will continue as
before: confident and self-assured, with a clear understanding and acceptance of
his limitations. Jake is Hemingways hero for a new age in which the old
standards of chivalry and romanticism are quite dead. Brett understands this
partially, and demonstrates so by her inability to completely fall out of love
with him, but she is still driven on by a promise of something more. Something
that she saw, if only fleetingly, in the young Pedro Romero. Something that only
exists in legends, storybooks and bull-rings.


Bibliography
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Ed. Simon & Schuster Inc. New
York. 1926. Author Unknown. The Kaplan Calander of Events.

http://www1.kaplan.com/view/calendar/event/preview/1,270,715-3,00.html 1999.


Monahan, Kerrin, Ross. Dramatica Storytelling Output Report . “The Sun Also
Rises.” http://www.dramatica.com/dCritiques_folder/dAnalyses_folder/the_sun_also_rises.html
1998

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