Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Clarence Edmonds and Grace Hemingway. Hemingway first published his writing while he was a student at Oak Park High School, and he began his journalistic apprenticeship as a teenage reporter for the Kansas City Star in 1917. Although his family expected him to attend college, Hemingway was drawn instead toward the excitement of World War I. In the spring of 1918 he volunteered with the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver on the front-line in Italy; in July 1918, two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday, he was severely wounded in battle.
The First World War, with its chemical weaponry and trench warfare, killed millions of soldiers and shattered the ideals of countless survivors. As the world prepared to enter a new decade, both those who had and those who had not seen combat shared a numbing sense of devastation. In The Sun Also Rises, his first published novel, Hemingway sketches the relationships among a group of young people in 1920s Europe who attempt to fill their empty lives with travel, whiskey, and love affairs.
The novel opens in Paris in the early 1920s. The Left Bank of the Seine River was a magnet for philosophers, artists, and writers during the decade following the First World War; this era and place inspired some of the greatest artistic works of the modern age. Hemingway himself lived in Paris as a young man, and mingled with such literary figures as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein.
As the story begins, Jake Barnes, an American journalist and war veteran, is leading a somewhat bohemian life in Paris. He is in love with a young English war widow, Lady Brett Ashley, but their relationship is complicated by Jake’s having sustained a war injury that has left him sexually incapacitated. Brett has become engaged, as a matter of convenience, to Michael Campbell, an Englishman. Robert Cohn, a young American writer who was once a boxing champion at Princeton University, is also attracted to Brett. The expatriates journey to Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermin and there meet the young matador Pedro Romero, who performs “without falsity” and thus upholds the pure standards of the bullfight. Sexual intrigue, most of it centered on Brett, provides the catalyst for Jake’s reevaluation of his generation’s moral standing.
Examined in the context of early 1920s literature, Hemingway’s writing in The Sun Also Rises displays a combination of conventional and ground-breaking techniques. The chronological, first-person narrative structure of the novel is relatively standard, whereas the intense, almost poetic style is unique. Hemingway eliminates ornamentation-such as excessive adjectives or adverbs-from his writing and employs rigorous word selection in an effort to unite action, emotion, and text.
From the start, The Sun Also Rises has stirred controversy. When the novel was first published, high society attempted to match Characters in the book with certain well-known celebrities from the expatriate world. The thrill of this guessing game soon subsided, however, leaving Hemingway’s Characters to be examined in their own right. Although promiscuity, apathy, and alcoholism figure prominently in the behavior of Brett and the other expatriates, most readers deemed their actions more chic than immoral. Thus, while The Sun Also Rises explicitly criticizes expatriate society for lacking a moral foundation, public reaction to the book over the years has pointed up the hypocrisy of society at large for refusing to cast harsh judgment on those people it considers sufficiently glamorous.
1. Describe Brett’s relationships with Jake, Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn, and Pedro Romero. Do you think she treats men badly?
1. The Fiesta de San Fermin is a real festival held every year from July 6 to July 14 in Pamplona. Research and report on the history of bullfighting in Spain and the traditions associated with this festival in particular.
In a general sense, all of Hemingway’s work is related, but the reader who wishes to gain a more thorough understanding of Hemingway’s love for Spain is referred to the author’s classic nonfiction study of the bullfight, Death in the Afternoon.