The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

December 10, 2012
As World War I comes to an end, many assumed the life from there would be better; however, author Ernest Hemingway disproves this theory through the story The Sun Also Rises. In this short but emotionally packed novel, protagonist Jake Barnes narrates the great impact WWI had on his life. Hemingway also emphasizes the importance of religion, love and friendship through his characters, which each have an interesting story to tell. Ultimately, the plot brings out the hardly noticeable injustices of life after the war, and the everyday context that Barnes narrates the story only makes it more credible.

The narrator, Barnes, embodies the typical victim of war: serving as a veteran in WWI, his whole lower body was permanently damaged, and this had many significant effects on his life. Brett, the lady he loved, couldn't marry him, because of his invalidity. Although she loves him emotionally, Brett really is a woman characterized by desire – in other words, she wants love physically, not emotionally. In part, this explains why she is attracted to Jake yet doesn't hang out with him. Jake cannot give her love. However, Jake is aware of his only difficulties, and so he doesn't force Brett to keep close to him. More importantly, though, Jake knows and even occasionally blames the war for crippling him such as he is now. Because of the war, Jake has turned into an invalid who loses his chance at marriage, and thus it is not surprising when the two decide not to be near each other: it would only ruin both of their lives.

Mentally, WWI also affects Jake's life. Before, he could have lived normally with his family and friends, yet during the post-war period, Barnes wastes most of his nights drinking at bars and dining with prostitutes. Partially, this is due to his inability to be with Brett, but the war also significantly impacts most of Jake's current behavior. For one, his friends are limited to Robert Cohn, a devoted Jew, and some other Americans, such as Bill. Although Jake travels to many countries and meets new people, he is never truly socially attached to any one or group of people. While it is true that he is friends with Cohn, Barnes soon antagonizes the relationship when Cohn develops an affair with Brett. At that point, Barnes develops a sense of jealousy toward Cohn for being with the woman he loves. Similarly, Barnes tries to drown all his sorrows with alcohol and liquor, although that doesn't necessarily get him into a better state. The war only turns Jake toward all of his despicable emotions, including jealousy and drunkenness.

Barnes' Jewish friend, Cohn, is another important figure in the novel: he displays all of the religious values of Jews, yet one single incident causes him to lose faith in everything he has believed in thus far. Cohn is a very isolated figure, lacking a common circle of friends or relatives. Barnes is one of Cohn's only friends because of his easy-going personality and readiness to apologize. In one incident at a café during lunch, Barnes casually makes a remark about Cohn going to hell for his incessant irritation; Cohn takes Jake seriously, becomes deeply offended, and demands a withdrawal of the statement. The situation becomes extremely tense, and had not Barnes apologized for his insult, Cohn would have literally left. This shows Cohn's devotion to his religion, how intolerant he is to the slightest assertion.

What occurs during the end of the story not only ruins Cohn's life, but also his religion. Cohn is attracted to Brett the first time he sees her at the bar, and Brett, who is used to having affairs with many men, sleeps with him (naturally, right?). After the affair, however, Cohn begins to follow Brett wherever she goes, and both Brett and her husband-to-be, Mike, become increasingly annoyed. Mike is used to Brett having affairs with men, but every time, the men just left Brett alone afterwards. Cohn pushed the straw even further, and this ruined his relations with not only Brett and Mike, but also Jake, who also deeply loved Brett. Eventually, the situation among the three men becomes so tense that Cohn is led to physically harm Mike and Jake, thus ending their friendship. Metaphorically, this also ends Cohn's belief in his religion, for he has both committed adultery and violently harmed perfectly innocent people. During all this turmoil, Brett seems to be the only person unharmed by the conflict.

The enticing ways of Brett are somewhat a contradiction to the fact that she has an emotional love, Barnes. In a way, she is able to find a balance between friendship and love with men, and when conflicts occur, she is left out of all the violence. Brett can be described as the cause of destruction among good relationships, such as was between Cohn and Jake. She is so influential that men fight over her, but when they do, Brett has no biased feelings toward anybody. All Brett cares about is her own sex life, and during the time this novel was written, that was both unacceptable and unpardonable. Her only care in all of society, other than her pleasure in men, is Jake, and had not Jake been so crucially injured during the war, the two could have led a happy life.

However, all hope of that life is gone now, and Jake can only, as I have said before, “drown his sorrows with alcohol and liquor.” Brett, on the other hand, continues having her affairs with other men without another care in the world. Her love for Jake doesn't diminish, but neither does her desire. I think what Hemingway is trying to display here is the introduction of the new mindset of the woman of the century, and the explanation of how physical love is distinct from emotional love.

The ending of The Sun Also Rises does not have a happy ending, but it does convey meaningful messages to the reader. Through the actions of Cohn and Brett, Hemingway indicates the changing concepts of love, and how it can immensely change fate. Similarly, the experience of Jake disproves the common theory that life after war is better. To sum it all up, although the plot is a bit common, the themes are definitely useful in lesson and life.

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