Jake Barnes and his pals are eternally poised on the brink of destruction in Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises. They drink, sleep around, drink some more, talk about drinking, and drink again. Amid the generous flow of libations are visceral depictions of 1920s Left Bank Paris, fishing holidays, and the brutality and stink of Spanish bullfights. Barnes' detached narration becomes the universal voice of the disillusioned American expatriate artists living in Paris between the World Wars.
The story centers around the sexually liberated Lady Brett Ashley, a girl Barnes likes a lot. Barnes, however, suffered an emasculating injury in World War I, and knows he'll never know Brett that way. A number of other men want Brett (they even fistfight over her once), but they always lose her. That's the whole plot, but there's a lot more going on than just jilted lovers and an unattainable woman—The Sun Also Rises is Hemingway's apology for and indictment of the Lost Generation.
It's about the loss of identity experienced by young nihilists who traded tradition for angst. The ensuing search for a new identity centers around man's need to express his masculinity, which Barnes et. al. do primarily through violence. They kill and fight animals, fight each other, and seduce women. In the end they've gained nothing, all show of manhood lost in an increasingly feminized society symbolized by Brett, whose faux-masculinity (her hair is short, she initiates most of her sexual encounters) dominates and controls the men in her circle.
A fine example of Hemingway's brilliant and entirely unique style, The Sun Also Rises contributed to the beginning of a revival among American literary artists and heralded the beginning of his own remarkable career. Less thematically complex than his later masterpieces, this is nonetheless a must-read for anyone wanting a complete picture of American literature in the 20th century, and of the current state of American culture in the middle stages of decline.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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