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The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Catherine Riccio-Berry

Catherine is a college instructor. She has an M.A. in Comparative Literature and is currently completing her Ph.D.

In this lesson, we'll be looking at Ernest Hemingway's famous first work, The Sun Also Rises. We'll summarize the plot, provide some analysis, and then you can test your knowledge with a quiz!

Plot

The Sun Also Rises is comprised of three books that are narrated by Jake Barnes, an American expatriate and journalist. (An expatriate is a person who leaves his or her native country to live somewhere else.) Book One takes place in Paris, France. Book Two follows Jake as he travels around Spain and primarily occurs in the town of Pamplona. Book Three also takes place in Spain.

Book One follows Jake as he interacts with a number of other American expatriates. They spend almost all of their time together going to restaurants, drinking, and talking. First we meet Robert Cohn, a Jewish writer. Cohn is staying in Paris with his fiancée Frances, a woman in her thirties who's afraid that her looks are going and that Cohn is going to leave her. Sadly for Frances, Cohn does end up leaving her at the end of Book One. The other major character we meet is Lady Ashley, a.k.a. 'Brett', an old flame of Jake's. Jake wants to get back together with Brett, but she refuses. She says that she loves him but can't stand being with him due to the injury he received in World War I. Jake's genitals were badly injured and he's been rendered impotent. Instead, Brett is going to marry a wealthy man named Mike Campbell.

During the interval between Books One and Two, Frances goes back to England, and Brett goes to San Sebastian to have an affair with Cohn. Most of Book Two takes place in Pamplona, Spain, where the friends all gather to watch the festival of San Fermin and the bullfights. There is more heavy drinking and partying. Mike and Cohn get into a number of arguments over Brett. In the meantime, Brett falls in love with a nineteen-year-old bullfighter named Pedro Romero and begins an affair with him. Cohn, upset that he is losing Brett, gets into a physical fight with Jake and knocks him out. Then Cohn gets into a fight with Pedro and beats him up badly. Book Two ends with Cohn leaving town, Brett running away with Pedro, and Mike drinking himself into a stupor.

When Book Three opens, the fiesta is over. Jake travels to San Sebastian, where he gets a telegram from Brett saying that she's in trouble in Madrid. When he gets to Madrid, Brett explains that she broke up with Pedro because he wanted to marry her and she didn't want to ruin him. She also says that she can't marry Mike any more. The story ends with Jake and Brett going out to explore Madrid together, but we're left with uncertainty of where life might take them next.

Analysis

Although this novel is fiction, it includes a number of autobiographical elements from Hemingway's own life and experiences in Paris and Pamplona. During the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway began to live in Paris, mingling with a group of fellow American expatriate writers and artists. This group of expatriates was called 'The Lost Generation', a title given to American expatriates who came of age during World War I. 'The Lost Generation' were defined by the sense of disillusionment that the Great War had brought about.

Like the protagonist Jake, Hemingway also served during World War I (although he didn't receive an injury like Jake's) and was an American expatriated journalist. The character Brett is similarly based on a real-life person named Lady Duff. Hemingway mirrored Robert Cohn after fellow expatriate Harold Loeb, who vied with Hemingway for Lady Duff's attention and ultimately left Pamplona on bad terms with both of them.

Hemingway and friends during the summer of 1925 in Pamplona. Hemingway is on the far left. Lady Duff sits next to him. Harold Loeb is in the background between Hemingway and Lady Duff.
Hemingway and Friends in Pamplona, Spain

The negative portrayal of Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises has led to accusations of antisemitism against Hemingway. In the novel, Cohn isn't just shown as an unpleasant and unattractive character; he's shown as unpleasant and unattractive because he's Jewish. Jake even describes him in chapter 2 as having a 'hard, Jewish, stubborn streak.' Also, Mike isn't angry at Brett simply for having an affair; he's angry at her for having an affair with a Jew. Numerous other examples of negativity toward Cohn's Jewishness exist throughout the novel.

One major theme of The Sun Also Rises is masculinity and the ritual of manhood. Events in the novel circle around stereotypically masculine activities, including drinking, fighting, sex, and bullfighting. The running of the bulls and the bull fights that occur in Pamplona are presented as a ritual of manhood. This is exemplified by the nineteen-year-old bullfighter Pedro Romero, whose exploits in the bullring are idolized by all who watch him. The men in the novel who are portrayed as the epitome of masculinity are Pedro, Mike, and Bill. Jake's war injury and impotence inhibit a key aspect of masculinity, namely his sexuality. Cohn is presented as decidedly unmasculine due to his sentimentality and tendency to cry, despite the fact that Cohn is the most adept fighter among the group.

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