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.
When the plot of The Sun Also Rises is summarized, the novel sounds more like a soap opera than a classic work of literature; what elevates the book is Hemingway’s keen portrayal of Characters adrift in a world that cannot satisfy their needs. In their relentless pursuit of pleasure, and in their quest to replace old, lost ideals with new ones, Hemingway’s Characters demonstrate a yearning to connect with some sort of universal order. For Hemingway and his protagonist, Jake Barnes, this higher order is symbolized by the honor and pageantry of bullfighting. Jake and his friends visit the city of Pamplona, Spain, for the annual Fiesta de San Fermin, and it is here-their dissipation set in sharp contrast to the purity of the bullfight-that they must confront the moral emptiness of their lives.