The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway’s first novel is about young, American and British expatriates living in Paris after WWI. Jake Barnes is the protagonist and narrator, and he’s impotent (means he can’t get it up) because of a war wound. Jake is an American newspaperman who stayed in Paris after the War as did many Americans, what with Prohibition in full swing. Jake’s a drunk and so are all of the other characters. The Sun Also Rises centers on the "Lost Generation," and Hemingway chose to quote this phrase of Gertrude Stein’s in one of the book’s two epigraphs. The impact of WWI on that generation is lost on most of us, but the war seems to have killed all the romantics by destroying the Old World order. When you think of the Lost Generation, think Gen X and everything associated with it: aimlessness, lack of "ambition," wasted potential. The people in this novel share with Gen X a sense that they live in a post-everything world.
Jake Barnes: The narrator. Jake is an American newspaperman living in Paris. He was wounded in WWI and suffers from impotence due to his wound.
Robert Cohn: Friend of Jake’s; he has an affair with Brett and falls in love with her. Cohn is Jewish, went to Princeton, where he was a boxing champion. Cohn married "the first girl who was nice to him," divorced her, and is (at the start of the book) separated from his mistress. Simply put, Cohn is a loser who never gets the hint and won’t go away. He’s the guy on your freshman hall you don’t exactly dislike, but you don’t quite like him either. You can’t hate him all the time because he does have redeeming qualities, but you can’t really like him because he’s too damned obnoxious.
Bill Gorton: American writer, friend of Jake’s, raging drunk. Bill and Jake complement each other well and have adapted to the post-war world more successfully than Cohn.
Brett, Lady Ashley: American, married to and in the process of divorcing an English husband. She got her title, Lady Ashley, by marrying the Englishman. He’s not in the book, except that people sometimes talk about him. Brett is engaged to marry Mike Campbell. Brett and Jake are in love but unable to be together because of Jake's lack of ability in the sack.
Mike Campbell: A drunken Scottish guy. He used to be rich and now he’s broke. His hobbies seem to be getting drunk and belligerent, borrowing money and avoiding his creditors.
Pedro Romero: Young Spanish bullfighter, Brett seduces him. Pedro is too young to have been affected by the War. He’s the only manly man of the bunch, that is, not wounded and/or neurotic.
Montoya: The innkeeper in Pamplona, a long-time acquaintance of Jake’s, a true aficionado. Montoya and Jake respect each other, but Montoya loses respect for Jake because Jake brings his non-aficionado friends and (this is important) Brett corrupts Pedro Romero.
Cohn shows up, starts bothering Jake to go to South America with him. Jake says no. Jake suggests Spain for the bullfights. Brett Ashley shows up and she, Jake and others (what we’d call jet setters, but they didn’t have jets then) go drink in Paris and pretend to be happy. Bill Gorton and Jake go fishing in Spain. Brett, Mike Campbell and Cohn are supposed to meet them there, but they don’t show. Between Paris and fishing in Spain, Cohn has had an affair with Brett and sees himself as some sort of white knight who’s going to sweep her off her feet. This will never happen, and everyone but Cohn knows it and tells him and tells him and tells him but he just won’t believe it. (Told ya he’s a loser.)
After a nice fishing trip, Bill and Jake meet up with the others in Pamplona. The bullfights haven’t started yet, so they all drink and argue and pretend to be happy. Finally the fights start, Brett meets Pedro Romero, and starts an affair with Pedro Romero, while everyone else drinks and pretends to be happy. Cohn gets all out of shape about it, punches Mike, punches Bill, punches Jake, and beats all hell out of Romero. After his fighting spree, he breaks down crying and apologizes (or tries to apologize) to everyone. Jake accepts his apology. Cohn not only shows his weakness, he advertises it, which violates every code of honor and masculinity in this book. Cohn and Romero are opposites in this respect: Cohn cries and is pathetic in almost every way; Romero gets the job done, doesn’t brag about it, doesn’t fear (or at least doesn’t let his fear dominate him). The fights end, and Jake, Bill and Mike leave together. Cohn’s already gone. Brett stays with Romero. The book ends with Jake in Madrid; Brett’s just shown up, she’s all a wreck because she chose to leave Romero. The last page is a heart breaker.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
- This chapter is about Cohn, how he was a boxing champ at Princeton, how he’s divorced now and p-whipped by his mistress. Cohn’s in Paris with Francis, his mistress.
- Cohn shows up at Jake’s office, Jake tries to get rid of him, Cohn won’t go.
- Cohn wants Jake to go to South America with him. Jake says no way in hell am I going to South America with you, don’t be stupid.
- They have a drink in a café, Jake tries to get rid of Cohn. Cohn follows Jake back to Jake’s office, where he falls asleep on the couch.
- Jake’s in a café, a prostitute walks by, and he takes her to dinner with him.
- On the way to dinner, she starts to give him a hand job, but he won’t let her get started. Why? Because he’s impotent and can't get a woody. This is important.
- They sit down to dinner and pretend to be happy. A friend of Jake’s comes by and gets them to go to a bar with him.
- They go to the club and Brett shows up with her gay friends.
- Jake ditches the hooker.
- Cohn show up and falls in love with Brett.
- Jake and Brett get a cab and leave.
- Jake and Brett have been driving around in a horse-drawn cab for a while, talking.
- Jake tries to kiss her but she says no, it’s too painful. They’re in love but can’t be together.
- They decide to get together the next day, and Jake goes home. He’s pissed at himself, at Brett, and at the world.
- He can’t sleep. He talks about how he slept with a night-light for six months after the wound.
- Basically, he’s all screwed up inside, and he can’t do a damned thing about it.
- He doesn’t whine about it during the day or in public, but when he’s alone at night, everything comes out. Finally, he falls asleep. At 4.30, Brett wakes him up. She’s been drinking all night with a friend.
- She comes up, then a few minutes later he comes up. They pour some drinks and pretend to be happy. They ask Jake to party with them but Jake says no.
- They leave and Jake goes back to bed.
- Jake wakes up feeling better and goes to his office.
- Lo and behold, Cohn is waiting for him.
- They go to lunch, Cohn asks about Brett.
- Jake tells him the truth, that Brett was once a romantic, but her love died and now she’s bitter.
- Cohn refuses to believe the truth and gets pissy with Jake for suggesting the Brett is anything but ideal. Cohn gets a hold of himself and starts sucking up to Jake.
- Jake feels sorry for him. It’s apparent here that Cohn’s going to go after Brett.
- Jake shows up at the bar where he’s supposed to meet Brett.
- She’s not there (surprise, surprise) so he writes some letters.
- She never shows up and Jake heads to a café. He runs into another American writer, and Cohn shows up. Cohn and the other writer talk, then argue, then almost fight.
- Then Frances (Cohn’s dominatrix) comes over and takes Jake across the street to talk to him about Cohn. She tells Jake that Cohn’s leaving her, and Jake changes the subject.
- They go back to the table with Cohn and the other writer.
- Frances insults Cohn and Jake can’t believe Cohn just takes it.
- Jake gets fed up and goes home.
- Jake’s all alone and Brett and her friend from Chapter 4 come up.
- Brett sends her friend out for champagne.
- She and Jake are alone for a while, Jake tries to get her to live with him but she says she can’t (because she’d sleep around and flaunt it in his face and he couldn’t stand it).
- She says she’s going to San Sebastian. She doesn’t tell him that she’s going with Cohn.
- Her friend arrives with good bubbly. They all go to dinner.
- Jake gets pissy and leaves.
- Book I ends after chapter seven. Book I takes place all in Paris; Book II starts in Paris, but then moves to Spain.
- Bill Gorton comes to Paris from Austria. Bill tells a story about the injustice suffered by an American "nigger" boxer in Austria.
- They hang out, and Jake catches up on news from America. They wander around Paris drinking.
- They run into Brett. She just got back from San Sebastian (with Cohn).
- She takes a bath and Bill starts to fall for her.
- Jake tells him she’s engaged. Bill accepts this and doesn’t pursue her. (Unlike Cohn, Bill understands the rules of the game.)
- Bill, Jake, and Brett meet for dinner at a restaurant that’s full of obnoxious American tourists.
- Eventually, Jake and Bill wander around Paris, later they meet up with Brett at another bar.
- Here they meet Mike Campbell, Brett’s fiancé. They drink and chat and pretend to be happy.
- The trip to Spain is discussed. Jake and Bill are to go fishing in the mountains before going to Pamplona for the bullfights. Cohn is going to go with them.
- Mike wants he and Brett to go. Jake says that’s cool, and Bill and Mike leave.
- Now the shit hits the fan: Brett tells Jake that she was in San Sebastian with Cohn.
- Naturally, Jake feels like he got a swift kick in the groin. But, because he doesn’t display his emotions and he keeps his poker face.
- Brett isn’t sure about the trip, being with Mike and Cohn and Jake all together. Do you blame her?
- Anyway, she offers Cohn a way out, he’s too stupid to catch on, so everyone goes to Spain.
- First, Bill and Jake hop a train out of Paris. They talk to some Americans on the train (typical mom-and-pop small-town, middle-class couple) and pretend to be happy.
- Jake, Bill and Cohn travel to Pamplona by rented car. They meet Montoya and have lunch.
- They talk about Brett and Mike. Cohn says they won’t arrive on time; Bill says they will.
- They place a wager.
- After lunch, Jake goes for a walk and ends up in a cathedral. He tries to pray, but after rambling for a while, his mind wanders and he starts thinking about what a shitty Catholic he is.
- He’s trying to reconnect to the person he was before the war by doing some of the things he used to do. But, since that person no longer exists and the old traditions were (perhaps) always meaningless, he gives up.
- He wants to believe in something, in anything, but he can’t.
- He has dinner with Cohn and Bill. Cohn obsesses about Brett (though he tries to sound nonchalant). Cohn and Jake go to the train station and wait while the evening train arrives. Guess what? Brett and Mike aren’t on it.
- They’ve sent a cable saying that they’re staying in San Sebastian for a few days and won’t make the fishing trip.
- Jake gets pissed at Cohn when he hears about San Sebastian. Cohn decides, the next day, that he’ll go up to San Sebastian (thinking that Brett has sent him a coded message and that she’s in love with him (I mean, they did sleep together, so of course she must love him.), and skip the fishing trip.
- Needless to say, neither Jake nor Bill is too upset that the whiny bastard won’t be tagging along with them on while they’re fishing.
- Jake and Bill catch a bus to Burgruete (the village where they’ll stay while they fish).
- The bus is crowded, and they have to sit on top of it. During the bumpy hot dusty ride, they drink wine with peasants, and everybody seems happy.
- For once, they just might be happy.
- Hemmingway describes a lot of scenery and makes you want to board a crowded bus in Spain and drink wine with peasants.
- The countryside is good for Jake. He is relaxed here.
- He and Bill check in to their hotel (actually, it’s an inn).
- The woman who runs it tells them how much it’ll cost. At first, they think they’re being overcharged but then they find out that wine is included in the bill.
- They have dinner, drink and go to bed.
- They get up early the next morning. It’s still very cold. Jake goes worm digging for bait, but doesn’t wake up Bill.
- When Jake gets back, Bill is up. After some discussion, Bill teases Jake about being an expatriate (someone who gives up their citizenship and leaves their country) and about how, since he’s an expatriate, he’s been ruined by false European standards and he needs to go back to America every once in a while.
- They hike for what seems like a million miles before getting to the stream. They separate to fish, Jake catches a lot of fish, reads for a while, then falls asleep. Bill also falls asleep.
- Bill and Jake talk about William Jennings Bryan (who argued for the prosecution against teaching evolution in the Scopes Trial). Bill makes fun of Bryan.
- Jake and Bill return to Pamplona. While in Burgruete, they met an Englishman who fought in the war. They chat with him and get along well. Just before they leave, he gives them a present of several handmade flies. (Handmade flies are for fly-fishing and are very difficult to make and require quite a bit of time. This is not a gift you have laying around your hotel room. It takes time and effort and know-how to do right.)
- Cohn, Mike and Brett are there already. Jake and Montoya, the innkeeper, chat. This is a ritual. Their talk is never deep or personal, but always about the bulls (How do they look this year? Any bullfighters with potential?) and aficion (passion).
- They talk about aficionados and how not even all the bullfighters are aficionados.
Montoya is old, and many bullfighters have given him pictures of themselves over the years.
- The ones with aficion, Montoya frames their pictures and displays them, but the ones without it, he puts their pictures in his desk drawer.
- Montoya’s inn is the place to be if you’re their for the fights and not for the crap surrounding the fights. (Think Super Bowl: some people show up because they love the game, because they hope to see a well-executed, well-played game and don’t care much who wins or loses.)
- Jake tells Bill a little about what to expect at the fights; he talks about the steers (horses without balls) and that they are used to distract the bulls and keep the bulls from killing each other. (Guess what: there's some symbolism here…who is lacking the use of some hardware…Jake)
- Everyone (Bill, Jake, Cohn, Brett, Mike) has lunch together.
- Mike tells a story about borrowing war medals from his tailor so he can impress the Prince of Wales at a shindig. When the Prince no-showed, Mike got drunk with friends and gave them medals. Later, his tailor wanted the medals back, to return to their owner who had "earned" them during the War.
- Bill, Jake, Brett and Mike all get a kick out of this. Why? Because no one "earns" medals.
- No one is a hero, no actions are heroic.
- After lunch, everyone moves on to watch the unloading of the bulls. Brett tells Mike about Cohn.
- Mike gets pissed. No surprise. What is surprising: Mike doesn’t care so much that Brett’s been banging someone else. He’s used to that.
- Cohn pisses him off because Cohn doesn’t understand the rules of the game and keeps sticking around, following Brett, thinking that she loves him.
- Mike mocks Cohn and calls him a steer. But, by dinner, all arguments are forgotten (temporarily) and they all eat and drink and pretend to be happy.
- Jake says that this dinner reminds him of dinners during the War.
- Jake goes to bed piss drunk.
- Brett is laughing with someone else in another room, and Jake can hear her. This pisses him off.
- He thinks about Brett’s friend in Paris, who had a philosophy that "enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it."
- Jake considers this philosophy.
- Eventually, he decides that, while it might make him feel better right now, it’ll probably seem just as "silly" in five years as all of the other philosophies now do that once made sense to him.
- The Fiesta begins. Fireworks, drinking, dancing. (Mardi Gras, anyone?)
- Jake watches the running of the bulls from his balcony.
- Later in the day, everyone goes to the first bullfight of the fiesta.
- Brett worries about the gore and Cohn (trying to be macho) worries that he’ll be "bored."
- Jake and Bill meet Pedro Romero (courtesy of Montoya).
- Turns out that Cohn almost throws up at the gore, while Brett loves the whole show.
- Cohn sits away from the others and they watch him through binoculars. They make fun of him and call him a "kike."
- Remember that this book was written in 1925 and that the real-life people, the actual expatriates, dropped racial slurs like dirty pennies.
- Obviously, Cohn isn’t well liked. Is it because he’s Jewish? Maybe that’s part of it, but also, he’s an over-emoting wannabe who doesn’t get it.
- Bullfights, day two: Romero fights, steals the show.
- Jake explains to Brett that Romero is good because when he looks like he’s close to the bull, it’s because he’s actually close to the bull.
- The other fighters fake it. They wave their arms and snap their capes, but they never put themselves in any real danger.
- Brett falls for Romero.
- Fiesta, day three: no fights, rain.
- The party continues and everyone gets tanked.
- Montoya and Jake talk. Monoya tells Jake that the American ambassador wants to meet Romero.
- Jake says don’t give him the invitation.
- Later, Romero invites Jake to his table. Brett comes over too and gets Jake to introduce her.
- Montoya sees this and won’t smile at Jake anymore since Jake is introducing Romero to Brett, who will corrupt him.
- Meanwhile, Cohn, Bill and Mike are drinking and Mike attacks Cohn again (with words) calling him names and insulting his mother, etc.
- Mike and Cohn almost fight. Some fireworks go off. Bill meets an American girl and they go off together.
- Brett ditches Cohn so she can talk to Jake. She complains about what an ass Cohn is being and Jake agrees.
- They talk about Romero. Brett says she knows she shouldn’t, but she just can’t help herself and asks Jake to help her get Romero.
- Though he loves her, he agrees.
- Jake and Brett go to Romero’s table and they sit down.
- Brett makes it obvious that she’s interested. Romero plays it cool and looks to Jake for assurance.
- Jake nods, and Romero leaves with Brett for a night of wall-banging sex.
- Jake is reminded of his inability to get it up and feels like hell.
- Brett and Romero are still going at it.
- Jake meets up with Mike and Bill and the American girl Bill found.
- Cohn shows up asking about Brett. Jake says he hasn’t seen her.
- Jake’s lying, in part to protect Cohn and in part because he doesn’t want even to consider what Brett’s doing at the moment.
- Mike, however, hates Cohn so much, he tells him where she is. Cohn goes off on Jake for pimping Brett. Jake can’t stomach any more of Cohn and he swings at him. Remember that
- Cohn was a boxing champ? Well, he ducks Jake’s punch then knocks him down with one of his own. Jake gets up, and Cohn clocks him again, this time knocking him out.
- After that, Cohn goes after Mike and bloodies him too.
- Jake wakes up, feels like all hell, goes to take a bath.
- Jake’s experienced some kind of a transformation. He’s humiliated, bleeding, hurting like nobody’s business because of Brett.
- No water is in the faucet, so he goes to sleep.
- Cohn shows up bawling and wakes Jake.
- Cohn blathers an apology and rambles about how he knows that nothing matters.
- Jake accepts Cohn’s apology.
- Next day a man is killed during the running of the bulls.
- This probably has symbolic meaning. The guy who dies gets a hero’s funeral, his coffin dragged through the street. Romero kills the bull that killed the guy. Part of the ritual,
- Romero cuts off the ear of the bull and gives it to Brett.
- After the bullfights, Mike and Bill visit Jake, who didn’t make it to the ring that day.
- They tell him all about the guy dying and Romero the hero, yada yada yada.
- Mike tells the rest of the story about the night before:
- After beating up Jake and Mike, Cohn went to Romero’s room and beat all hell out of Romero.
- Romero’s face was all messed up, like Rodney King’s after L. A. P. D. finished with him, but
- Romero wouldn’t stop fighting.
- Cohn wanted to take Brett with him and "make an honest woman of her." (What a moron)
- Cohn finally came down from his adrenaline high and started crying and tried to apologize to Romero.
- Romero, and this is where Romero gets cool, picks his beat-up ass up off the floor, goes over to Cohn and punches him in the face.
- It was after all this that Cohn came crying to Jake.
- Mike also tells us more about Brett’s past: her second husband (Lord Ashley) threatened to kill her, abused her, etc.
- Last day of the fights. Romero feels like hell but fights anyway.
- Brett is almost happy today. She’s been nursing Romero all night and Cohn’s out of town.
- He left early in the morning, most likely to run home crying to Frances, whom he sent to England early in the book to get rid of her while he went after Brett.
- Brett and Jake go for a walk and they step in a church. Brett makes them leave. Symbolism, symbolism, symbolism.
- After the walk, Jake goes off looking for Mike and finds him in bed looking like a zombie.
So he tucks him in, goes downstairs, eats dinner, and then goes off to the last fight of the fiesta. This one is the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the Final Four rolled into one.
- Three matadors are featured, Romero, Belmonte, and one other whose name isn’t important.
- Belmonte used to be the big man, but now he’s past his prime and he’s scared in the ring and he fakes it. Romero is the new hero because he’s the real deal. Romero gives his cape to Brett, which is a big deal. Romero kills his first bull in a way that only real aficionados appreciate.
- The second bull Romero kills is the one that killed the guy in the street. Romero rules this one, the crowd goes ape-shit, Romero’s brother cuts off the bull’s ear, and Romero gives it to Brett.
- Then the crowd carries Romero off on its shoulders. Now it’s over, Jake and Bill go for a drink.
- Jake takes the Concord at warp nine to planet shitty and they go to Mike and Brett’s room.
- Like you might have guessed already, Brett’s not there, she’s run off with Romero.
- Everyone (Mike, Bill, and Jake, that is) fell like hell and don’t even pretend to be happy.
Only one chapter. It’s an epilogue.
- Fiesta over, everyone leaves. Bill to Paris, Mike to a French resort town, Jake to San Sebastian.
- They take a car together, then get a drink. They gamble to see who pays, Mike loses, then has to admit he’s flat broke and Jake spots him.
- Jake chills in San Sebastian for a while after the other two leave, hangs out at cafes, read newspapers, etc. Next day, Jake gets two telegrams from Brett saying that she’s in trouble.
- Jake wallows in self-pity for a bit, then goes to Madrid and finds Brett.
- Brett had been with Romero in Madrid; he proposed, she said no, told him to go away because she’s "not going to be one of these bitches that ruins children."
- She and Jake have a feast of a dinner then go for a cab ride. They talk about how great it would be if they could be together.
- Jake’s last line: "Isn’t it pretty to think so?" Both know it can’t, won’t work, both want it to work. Unlike Cohn, they accept reality, but that doesn’t stop them from wishing their reality were different.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- Talk about the role of women in the book and how they effect so much. Bring up Brett, Bill’s American girl at the fiesta, and the prostitute in Paris
- Brett and Jake are made for each other, truly love each other, and cannot be together (mostly) because of Jake’s wound.
- Maybe it’s a response to Jake’s impotence, maybe it’s not, but regardless of why, Brett bangs anything capable of an erection.
- Jake and Brett's relationship is what this book is really about, and it is the most interesting strand of the novel.
- "The Hemingway hero": Think of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood, and you’ll start to get the picture. The "strong, silent type" epitomizes Hem’s type of hero. Hemmingway takes a bad rap from PC critics and many feminist theorists because he doesn’t (at least in his writing) believe that men should cry at Kodak commercials and that there is something noble about suffering in silence and still getting the job done without twice-a-week therapy sessions and Prozac.
- Point out the sensitivity with which Hemingway makes Jake to disagree with the idea that "Hemingway was macho bullshit and nothing else".
- Talk about racism and anti-Semitism and their impact on the characters.
- Compare the Lost Generation with Gen X: aimlessness, feeling of isolation, how their priorities differ from their parents’ generations…
"You are all a lost generation." - Gertrude Stein, in conversation
"One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again."