Before I start my review I thought I’d take a journey back to see what other Hemingway works I have read:
A Farewell to Arms (1929)
The Complete Short Stories (The First Forty-Nine: 1938)
For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)
The Old Man and the Sea (1952)
True at First Light [posthumously 1999]
This list seems like a pretty good one, but it’s very evident that I missed the start of it all with “The Sun Also Rises”, which was written in 1926.
The meat of the novel was written utilizing one of Hemingway’s favourite backdrops, the bull fighting in Pamplona, Spain (Note: The first half of the novel is set in Paris, a common haven for writers at the time). In particular, this novel is set during a week-long fiesta some time after World War I ends. The book is narrated by Jake Barnes, a war veteran and writer who copes with life, like a majority of Hemingway characters, through excessive partying and alcohol.
The object of his fancy is a woman named Brett Ashley, but war wounds have left Jake sexually incapacitated, making him unable to physically be with her. Brett is engaged to Mike Campbell but is being pursued by uninteresting Jewish boxer Robert Cohn, who was involved with Brett for a weekend during her engagement. When Brett runs off with a young, Spanish bull fighter named Pedro Romero, Cohn shows his jealousy which takes us to the climax of the novel. Brett seduces every man to fall in love with her, and is somehow a tragic character despite being dislikeable and having the incapacity of staying faithful to anyone.
“The Sun Also Rises” is a portrayal of a beautiful woman’s effect on men and friendships and is my least favourite Hemingway work thus far. While the author does an amazing job of painting the landscape and shows us subtlety’s that only the vision of Hemingway could portray, the lack of sympathy and compassion he gives us for his Jake is uncharacteristic of his other protagonists. While his love and kinship with nature is expressed, the emotions of the main character are only briefly touched on, as are the deeper emotions of his other characters.
There’s just one more thing I wanted to document: the utilization of a beautiful metaphor. Robert Cohn was emotionally isolated from group of friends [Mike, Bill, Jake & Brett] and was being heavily ridiculed and chastised by Mike Campbell - he swooped in to deliver some painful blows. After the brutalization occurred, the group went to witness a bull fight where all the bulls isolated a particular steer while one bull went in for the kill and gorged the poor animal. Both events were painful to witness, and showed a piece of just how disgusting humanity can be.
"You paid some way for everything that was any good. I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time. Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money's worth and knowing when you had it. You could get your money's worth. The world was a good place to buy in. It seemed like a fine philosophy. In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I've had.
Perhaps that wasn't true, though. Perhaps as you went along you did learn something. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about." 153