Can’t Escape Conflict

If you have read The Sun Also Rises then you know that the plot revolves around a web of conflicts. These struggles between characters are what make the novel so dynamic. I don’t know about you, but when I read this book I was so drawn in that I couldn’t put it down! According to Cliffs Notes, a novel without conflict is like listening to a song with no melody. It can’t be done!

Jake Barnes vs. Lady Brett Ashley

One of the most prominent conflicts in this Hemingway masterpiece is Jake’s struggle with Brett. This would be considered a man vs. man conflict. The war left both of these characters with emotional and physical wounds beyond the point of repair. Jake is hopelessly in love with Lady Brett Ashley, but since the war left him impotent, there is no way they could ever be together. This leaves Jake emotionally damaged because even though he would do anything to be with Brett, that just isn’t how his cards were dealt. Brett loves Jake equally as much as he loves her; however, she is not willing to give up the physical aspect of a relationship to be with him. Unfortunately, their love isn’t strong enough to overcome the harsh reality that they are not meant to be together. An internal conflict, also known as a man vs. self conflict,  is sparked within Jake when he becomes frustrated with himself for not being able to have the power to make Brett stay.

Jake Barnes & Lady Brett Ashley during WWI in the 1957 movie adaptation
Jake Barnes & Lady Brett Ashley during WWI in the 1957 movie adaptation

Jake Barnes vs. The Other Guys 

Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, and Pedro Romero all have one thing in common: their undying love for Brett. All of these men have their hearts set on winning over Brett, but only one can claim her. Jake is envied by the other men because he already has Brett’s love, however they aren’t threatened by him because they all know why Brett doesn’t want to be with him. Robert and Mike become even more enraged with Jake when he sets Brett up with Pedro Romero, a young and attractive bullfighter. The fight over Brett Ashley causes enormous amounts of tension between these men, who somehow manage to remain friends even after the Brett debacle is over and done with. This would also be considered a man vs. man conflict.

The Men vs. Lady Brett Ashley

This adds to the ongoing list of man vs. man conflicts within this novel. The conflict between Brett’s suitors and herself is one that that can be compared to a cat and mouse chase. Brett constantly tempts the men, and when they think they’ve finally won her over, she runs off to the next guy waiting in line. Jake is tortured by this relationship with Brett because he knows that if he hadn’t gone off to war, he would never have suffered his injury that is keeping him from Brett. On the other hand, Jake would not have had the privilege to know Brett since she nursed him back to health during the war. No matter how you slice it, there is no happy ending for Jake. Poor kid. Brett at one point was also engaged to marry Mike Campbell whom she soon leaves for Pedro Romero. Mike Campbell is hurt by this and joins his friends, who have also been left in Brett’s dust. However, once Romero kicks Brett to the curb, she runs to Jake to console her. This leaves Jake wondering if she finally made up her mind to be with him, but he soon realizes that Brett wishes to marry Mike like she had previously planned. Even if the tensions lessen between characters, something always comes along to rock the boat.

Cartoon of Lady Brett Ashley and her suitors
Cartoon of Lady Brett Ashley and her suitors

Answer the poll below to vote who you think Brett should have married!

Symbolism & Imagery in The Sun Also Rises

Although Hemingway’s writing style may be succinct, this doesn’t mean that he sacrifices imagery and symbolism in his novels. The Sun Also Rises is chock-full of these literary devices. Hemingway uses these to enhance his writing and make it more interesting. In my opinion, symbolism and imagery are the hidden gems of literature. At first glance they don’t jump right out at you, but taking a step back to analyze the writing can open your eyes to the clever things that are right in front of you.

Symbolism: Bullfighting 

This is probably the most obvious symbol in the entire novel. As mentioned in a previous post of mine, the bullfighting in Pamplona, Spain represents how Jake Barnes and his friends are like the bulls and quarrel with each other over Lady Brett Ashley. I would like to expand further on this topic by drawing a connection between Brett and a matador. In bullfighting a matador’s purpose is to fight a bull until it dies, or comes close to it. They sometimes will tease the bulls to make it entertaining to the observing crowd.

Modern day matador in Pamplona, Spain
Modern day matador in Pamplona, Spain

Since Jake Barnes, Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, and Romero symbolize the bulls, Brett teases them just as a matador would. She leads them on to think that she really loves them and then pushes them away again. This is similar to how a matador would taunt a bull with his red cape.

Symbolism: Water

Whenever water appears in this novel it represents cleansing and relief. When Bill Gorton and Jake Barnes go fishing in Burguete, Spain, Jake is calmed by the water. It makes him feel peaceful and it cleanses him of the craziness that bothers him when he is in a big city. Also when Jake goes to San Sebastian, he swims in the ocean to make himself feel pure. Many times throughout the novel Lady Brett Ashley goes to take baths. The water is meant to make her feel peaceful as opposed to how she normally feels since she is associated with so many men.

Modern day San Sebastian
Modern day San Sebastian

Imagery

The Sun Also Rises is bursting with imagery. At each new setting, Hemingway takes the time to vividly explain each place. The reader can picture the surroundings with the help of his descriptions. Also, the description of peaceful places like Burguete are much more colorful as opposed to how Paris is described. Hemingway uses phrases like “green fields” and “red tiled roofs” to paint an accurate picture of what the characters see around them. Most of the descriptions include colors of some sort to enhance the depiction of the scene. Places like Paris, however, give the reader the idea that it is a very bland place. There aren’t many expressive words used to illustrate the setting and there aren’t any colors mentioned. Without the use of imagery, this novel would be very wishy-washy, at least in my opinion. Part of what makes this story so great is how beautifully the cities are described that it makes you feel as if you really are there next to the characters. Hemingway does a fabulous job describing the cities that he wants the reader to see as beautiful.

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Living Aimlessly

How wonderful would it be to be able to travel the world? To be able to pick up and leave in a moment’s notice without any worry about what the consequences might be? A common theme in The Sun Also Rises is that the characters, as well as other people living after World War I, aimlessly go through life. In the novel the characters don’t have any prior commitments or things holding them back to stop them from traveling all over Europe. This novel fully embodies the idea of “the lost generation.” During the 1920′s, the generation of young people who had their hopes crushed by Word War I spent their days drinking and socializing to try to seek a newfound purpose in life.  This is the exact kind of behavior that we see within Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, and their fellow comrades.

Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley in the 1957 movie adaptation of The Sun Also Rises
Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley in the 1957 movie adaptation of The Sun Also Rises

The characters in this novel are able to travel to beautiful cities, as mentioned in my previous post.  I explained that they were using the constant traveling as an escape from the harsh reality of the real world. To elaborate on those thoughts, these “escapes” only offer temporary relief. Similar to today where people will drink their problems away, Jake and his friends often went to bars and clubs. Since they are part of “the lost generation” they represent Hemingway’s “code of behavior.” According to PBS: The American Novel, this code is to give in to your weakness on your own or in the company of those you trust, to not make trouble, and to try to find your own meaning in a meaningless universe. In other words the young people of this post-war era were expected to act like they had everything in their lives under control even if they were struggling with what they wanted to do with their lives.

Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Mike Campbell, and Bill Gorton all try to find meaning in their lives by traveling. At each new city they visit, they hope to find some sort of ambition that would bring an end to them feeling “lost.” Robert Cohn’s character offers contrast to the other characters because he is the only one that has found his purpose. Robert did not fight in the war, but instead became a successful writer in Paris. He doesn’t understand what the others are going through because he didn’t have the same experiences as them.

Lady Brett Ashley, Jake Barnes, and others in the 1957 movie adaptation of The Sun Also Rises
Lady Brett Ashley, Jake Barnes, and others in the 1957 movie adaptation of The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway wanted to convey what he saw in the people around him in the 1920′s through the characters in The Sun Also Rises. People struggling to figure out their purpose was not an uncommon thing to find. To this day there are people well into their adult years who still don’t know what they want to do with their lives. There are many challenges that these characters face that are similar to ones that modern day Americans face and that is why I believe this novel is still relevant. Sometimes I will read a book and wonder why I am being forced to study it, but this novel I feel has an important message to send. A message that assures young people that your life will not always be as simple as black and white; that the experiences that shape you as a person are the ones in the gray space between right and wrong.

For a further explanation of the ideas in this blog post feel free to watch this video done by AbeBooks!

Setting: Exploring Europe

Jake Barnes’ point of view is used to tell the story in The Sun Also Rises. Throughout the course of the novel, Jake takes the reader on a journey through some of the finest cities Europe has to offer. After reading the book I realized that setting was everything. After the war was over, Hemingway shows that it left its mark on the characters, whether it be emotional or physical. Jake and his companions on this journey are all in search of something new to lift their spirits after World War I. Each new city they visited brought new challenges and forced some characters to make changes within themselves.  New settings act as an escape for the characters when they feel that situations become too tense.

We begin this journey through Europe in Paris, France. Jake Barnes is a writer in the novel which makes sense considering Paris was a very popular place for literature at the time. Connections between Hemingway and Jake Barnes can be drawn because they are living in parallel universes. Now I don’t mean they are actually in different universes, but Hemingway is in real life and Jake is brought to life through literature. Most of the activities that Jake Barnes took part in are similar to those that Hemingway might have done. These include going to bars, cafés, and nightclubs. The city of Paris is so upbeat and that is exactly how the characters are at this point in the novel. They are upbeat, positive, and eager to explore. There is never a dull moment in Paris!

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France during the 1920's
Eiffel Tower in Paris, France during the 1920′s

Next, Jake Barnes is joined by his good friend Bill Gorton to the city of Burguete, Spain. This city is almost the opposite of Paris because it is very calm and serene. There isn’t all the hustle and bustle that is found in France. Here, Jake and Bill relax and go fishing. They are able to “escape” from their lives, if only for a while, and take a moment to collect their thoughts. Continuing with the idea that Hemingway incorporated himself in the character of Jake Barnes, Burguete is thought to have been included because Hemingway often stayed in a small inn there.

Modern day Burguete, Spain
Modern day Burguete, Spain

Jake is accompanied by Robert Cohn, Lady Brett Ashley, Mike Campbell, and Bill Gorton when he travels to Pamplona, Spain. This city is most well-known for its bullfighting and is home to the running of the bulls. In this setting, most of the conflict becomes apparent within the characters. Lady Brett Ashley runs off with Romero, the Spanish bullfighter, even though she is already surrounded by men who love her. This causes conflict between the men because they are all fighting for Brett’s love. I drew a connection between the men fighting and the fighting of the bulls that takes place while they are there. This could be why Hemingway chose to include Pamplona as a major setting for this novel.

Running of the Bulls taking place in modern day Pamplona, Spain
Running of the Bulls taking place in modern day Pamplona, Spain

The Sun Also Rises includes many famous European cities that are each unique in their own way. When reading the book, we are never given a thorough description of these beautiful cities because Hemingway’s style was very straightforward and to the point. I would have liked more details about how the cities were back then because I am sure that the cities in the 21st century are much different from how they were in the 1920′s. However, a part of me enjoys the fact that Hemingway’s lack of detail allows readers to paint their own picture of what the cities could have looked like. It makes us feel like we really were a part of Jake Barnes’ journey through Europe!

Lady Brett Ashley: Her Stereotyped Portrayal

When picturing a young woman living in Europe post-World War I, one would envision someone who is powerful, alluring, and seductive. Someone who goes out to party to her heart’s content and attracts every handsome man within a 15 mile radius. A woman who takes orders from no one. Within the character Lady Brett Ashley, that is exactly what we see. No really, exactly. To a T.

Lady Brett Ashley is a full blown stereotype.

Lady Brett Ashley
Lady Brett Ashley

The way Hemingway portrays Brett in The Sun Also Rises is, in my opinion, completely sexist. To be blatant, yes Brett’s character does have connections with a number of men throughout the novel. There’s Jake Barnes whom she loves, but she is not willing to be with him because the war left him impotent. Then there’s her fiance Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn whom she had an affair with, and Romero who is the Spanish bullfighter she runs off with. All these clues point to one cliché assumption: women of this time period are only after one thing, and I think we can all agree upon what that one thing is. Through my eyes, to portray a woman through that negative light is insulting. Why shame a character for her choices?

While Brett wasn’t meant to symbolize the average European woman, Hemingway does hint that women at this time were all similar to Brett in one way or another.  At one point, Mike draws a connection between Brett and the goddess Circe who is known for luring men in and then turning them to animals. While Brett doesn’t literally turn men into animals, she puts them in a sort of frenzy where they are all obsessed with her. In chapter 17, the anger between the men is so great that Robert Cohn knocks out both Mike and Jake. The men are so attracted to this woman that they don’t know what to do with themselves.

Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

At no point in the story do you hear one of the men say, “Oh, Brett is so intelligent. That must be why I love her.” Or, “I really only want to be with Brett because she is really nice to have a conversation with.” Hemingway suggests that Brett is only good for one thing: sex. No matter what the decade, to label a woman like that is unacceptable. At some points in the story I will give Hemingway credit for explaining that Lady Brett Ashley was emotionally damaged from the war and that this is her motive for some of her actions. However I wish he would have made that the main focus of her character rather than how enchanting her beauty is. I think it would offer a nice contrast to get a woman’s perspective of the time period rather than it being completely from Jake Barnes’ point of view. I personally feel that women especially have so much to offer emotionally and to rob someone of that is disappointing. It’s almost as if Hemingway feels that a woman who speaks her mind is something to be afraid of. Maybe this is just my inner feminist talking, but it really is true. All the reader knows at first glance is that Brett is seductive and enchanting. We never get a look into her thoughts or a sneak peek at how she really feels. The only description of Brett that we get is through a male perspective. Why isn’t Brett given the chance to speak for herself? Where’s the girl power? Am I right ladies?