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.
Although The Sun Also Rises opens in Paris and is informed by the sensibility of the American and British community there, its venue ranges across the European countryside. Jake and his friend Bill Gorton leave Paris by train to go fishing in the Basque country of Spain; then they join the other members of their party. The symbolic focus of the festival in Pamplona is the bullfight; ordinary citizens risk their lives every morning to “run with the bulls” through the streets of the city. Jake and his friends are expatriates and wanderers all, unable to call any one place home. Even Jake, who considers himself a true “aficionado”-one who understands and believes passionately in the bullfight-has his convictions shaken by the events that unfold over the course of the week; by the time he leaves Pamplona, he is a changed man. The novel ends in Madrid, where Jake and Brett ponder the changes they have undergone at the festival.