Sun Also Rises Of the segments of American society scarred by the anguish of the First World War, the damage was most severe amongst the younger generation of that time. Youthful and impressionable, these people were immersed headlong into the furious medley of death and devastation. By the time the war had ended, many found that they could no longer accept what now seemed to be pretentious and contradictory moral standards of nations that could be capable of such atrocities. Some were able to brush off the pain and confusion enough to get on with their lives. Others simply found themselves incapable of existing under their countrys thin faade of virtuousness and went abroad, searching for some sense of identity or meaning. These self-exiled expatriates were popularly known as the “Lost Generation” a term credited to Gertrude Stein, who once told Hemingway: “Thats what you all are.
All you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.. You have no respect for anything. You drink yourself to death.”1 Many of these individuals tended to settle in Paris, a suitable conduit through which to pursue their new lifestyle. Content to drift through life, desperately seeking some sort of personal redemption through various forms of indulgence, these people had abandoned their old value system and heroes, only to find difficulty in finding new ones.
A great deal of new literature was spawned in an effort to capture the attitudes and feelings of such individuals to reinvent a model of sorts for a people sorely lacking any satisfactory standard to follow. At the forefront of these writers was Ernest Hemingway, whose Novel, The Sun Also Rises, became just such a model, complete with Hemingways own definition of heroism. Many of the characters in the novel represented the popular stereotype of the post WWI expatriate Parisian: wanton and wild, with no real goals or ambitions. Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn, and Lady Brett Ashley, and even the protagonist Jake Barnes all demonstrate some or all of the aforementioned qualities throughout the novel. All seem perfectly content to exist in their own oblivious microcosm, complete with their own unique set of moral values.
While the qualities of these characters dominate, to an extent, the flow of the novel, it is important to acknowledge their contrast to Jake and the bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Unlike the others, these two characters serve as heroic figures, albeit each in a very different way. Jake is a truly realistic protagonist. Like his friends, Jake is a victim of many of the same circumstances. The difference is that Jake does not let his emotional turmoil corrupt his life to the same extent as the others.
Unlike the other expatriates, he has not completely rejected all of the old values of the pre-WWI era. For example: While Jake seems to be having difficulty in completely accepting his religion, he still tries to grasp on to it, though perhaps a little fearful that his handhold will break if he grasps too tightly: “Listen, Jake,” he said, “are you really a Catholic?” “Technically.” “What does that mean?” “I dont know.” (128-129) Along with this emotional baggage, Jake also has a physical defect in the form of a wound he suffered in the war, which has rendered him sexually impotent. Despite the way in which his injury thwarts his relationship with Brett, Jake accepts his situation with a great deal of integrity, despite the scathing pain of his unfulfilled love. As is consistent with the realistically human portrayal of Jakes character, his role as a heroic figure is stifled somewhat by the constraints of society. Rather than exhibiting gallant feats of bravery consistent with the romantic definition of a hero, Jakes valiance is displayed in a subtler, less tangible manner.
By displaying the virtues of tolerance, honesty, patience and understanding, Jake proves himself to be as much of an heroic figure as can reasonably be expected in the real world under conventional circumstances. Jakes maturity and understanding of the limitations of modern society is shown particularly in his remark that: “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.” (18) Pedro Romero truly is set apart significantly from the others. Virtually flawless, this young man lives in the world of the matador: a world immune from the constraints of civilization. When Romero is in the bullring, he is able to transcend the confines of the modern world. He truly becomes the closest approximation to the classic definition of a romance hero, perhaps even to mythical proportions.
To the crowd, he is not just a man; he is Theseus slaying the Minotaur. Romero demonstrates all the ideal qualities of masculinity. He is youthful, handsome, skilled, courageous and passionate. Even outside the boundaries of the bullring that provide a stage for such daring feats, Romero seems to still carry something with him that sets him above a normal man. When Jake is introduced to the young bull-fighter, he sees this immediately: The boy stood very straight and unsmiling in his bull-fighting clothes.
His jacket hung over the back of a chair. They were just finishing winding his sash. His black hair shone under the electric light. He wore a white linen shirt and stepped back. Pedro Romero nodded, seeming very far away and dignified when we shook hands.
Montoya said something about what great aficionados we were.. Romero listened very seriously. Then he turned to me. He was the best-looking boy I have ever seen. (167) It is evident that Romeros qualities are not just mere illusions induced by his occupation. The boy seems also to reflect Jakes best characteristics. He is not arrogant or pompous; he is dignified, courteous, and gracious.
Truly, Romero is the epitome of the missing icon of this Lost Generation. Seemingly immaculate in all aspects, both physical and spiritual, the bullfighter certainly makes an impression on the group. While Jake is impressed with the young Pedro, Brett is completely enraptured. Her fascination goes deeper than the mans looks, though. In Romero, Brett envisions a possible solution to her hopeless search.
From the stands of the arena, she sees her Holy Grail glistening in full splendor in the Pamplona sun. The illusion does not last long for Brett. After finally obtaining her prize, she finds it sorely lacking in that Romero turns out to be a mere mortal after all. An interesting parallel can be drawn between Romaros failure to live up to Bretts impossible expectations and his predecessor, Belmontes failure to live up to the crowds: When he retired the legend grew up about how his bull-fighting had been, and when he came out of retirement the public were disappointed because no real man could work as close to the bulls as Belmonte was supposed to have done, not, of course, even Belmonte. (218) The others are not oblivious to the power of Romeros presence nor to its effect on Brett.
Mike is quick to recognize the threat that Romero presents and he shows it, but only through a veil of humorous intent: “I believe, you know, that shes falling in love with this bullfighter chap,” Mike said. “I wouldnt be surprised.” “Be a good chap, Jake. Dont tell her anything more about him. Tell her how they beat their poor old mothers.” (172) Just as Jake finds his ability to be heroic limited by the standards of the civilized world, Mike knows that these subtle protestations are about the extent of what he can do to keep Brett. As painful as it is for him, Mike gracefully steps back as Brett pursues her new love.
Robert Cohn also sees Romero in much the same way as the others. The bullfighter represents to Cohn, perhaps more than anyone else, the ideal man. Cohn sees in Romero all the things that he finds lacking in himself, and consequently becomes extremely jealous, especially when he sees Bretts fascination with the young man. While Romeros heroic feats continually produce adulation, Cohns own attempts at chivalry and courage end up in his making a fool of himself: (Jake) “Oh, go to hell.” He stood up from the table his face white, and stood there white and angry behind the little plates of hors doervres. “Sit down,” I said.
“Dont be a fool.” “Youve got to take that back.” “Oh, cut out the prep-school stuff.” “Take it back”.. “Oh, dont go to hell,” I said. “Stick around. Were just starting lunch.” “Cohn smiled again and sat down. He seemed glad to sit down.” (47) Even Cohns final desperate attempt at proving himself completely backfires. While pummeling Romero repeatedly in a jealous rage, he unwittingly provides the bull-fighter with an opportunity to prove himself to be even more courageous in everyones eyes, especially Bretts.
It is only after this final humiliation that Cohn desists in his pathetic, pseudo-chivalrous pursuit of Brett and retreats back to Paris, an utterly defeated man. Despite the grandeur of the bull-fight, it is important to recognize that it is little more than an escape from the trappings of real life. Just like Belmonte before him, Romero is eventually destined to deteriorate, and to be faced with an outside world that has no room for chivalry (as Robert Cohn found out). While this happens, we can assume that Jake Barnes will continue as before: confident and self-assured, with a clear understanding and acceptance of his limitations. Jake is Hemingways hero for a new age in which the old standards of chivalry and romanticism are quite dead. Brett understands this partially, and demonstrates so by her inability to completely fall out of love with him, but she is still driven on by a promise of something more.
Something that she saw, if only fleetingly, in the young Pedro Romero. Something that only exists in legends, storybooks and bull-rings. Bibliography Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Ed.
Simon & Schuster Inc. New York. 1926. Author Unknown. The Kaplan Calander of Events. http://www1.kaplan.com/view/calendar/event/preview /1,270,715-3,00.html 1999.
Monahan, Kerrin, Ross. Dramatica Storytelling Output Report . “The Sun Also Rises.” http://www.dramatica.com/dCritiques folder/dAnalyses folder/the sun also rises.html 1998.