Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Robert Cohn, a Jewish writer living in Paris in the 1920’s. He and Jacob Barnes are friends, though Barnes delights in needling him. Cohn seems to mean well, but he has a talent for irritating all of his acquaintances. When Cohn meets Lady Brett Ashley, he immediately brushes off Frances Clyne, his mistress, and spends a few days at San Sebastian with Brett. He now feels that she is his property, though she plans to marry Michael Campbell. Cohn has the temerity to join a group from Paris (including Brett and Michael) going to the fiesta in Pamplona, Spain. Brett is smitten by a young bullfighter and sleeps with him. Cohn, reputedly once a middleweight boxing champion at Princeton, gives the bullfighter a pummeling. Cohn’s personality has many contradictions: In general, he is conceited but is unsure of himself as a writer; he seems both obtuse and sensitive; and he evokes pity from his acquaintances, yet they all thoroughly dislike him.
Jacob (Jake) Barnes
Jacob (Jake) Barnes, the narrator, an American expatriate also living in Paris, where he works as a correspondent for a newspaper. In World War I, he was wounded in the groin and as a result is sexually impotent. This injury negates the love he has for Brett and her love for him. Seeming to work very little, Barnes spends a great deal of time in cafés, drinking and talking. His greatest problems in life are trying to adjust himself to the nature of...
(The entire section is 638 words.)
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Themes and Characters
As the story begins, Jake Barnes, an American journalist and war veteran, is leading a somewhat bohemian life in Paris. He is in love with a young English war widow, Lady Brett Ashley, but their relationship is complicated by Jake's having sustained a war injury that has left him sexually incapacitated. Brett has become engaged, as a matter of convenience, to Michael Campbell, an Englishman. Robert Cohn, a young American writer who was once a boxing champion at Princeton University, is also attracted to Brett. The expatriates journey to Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermin and there meet the young matador Pedro Romero, who performs "without falsity" and thus upholds the pure standards of the bullfight. Sexual intrigue, most of it centered on Brett, provides the catalyst for Jake's reevaluation of his generation's moral standing.
Hemingway chooses two contrasting epigraphs—that is, opening quotations— for The Sun Also Rises and, through their juxtaposition, establishes a clear, simple theme. Gertrude Stein, herself a writer and the mentor of many young artists in Paris during the 1920s, once said of the American expatriates: "You are all a lost generation." Stein's observation suggests the transience of humankind; Hemingway took her statement to mean that his generation no longer had recourse to the ideals and structural order of pre-World War I civilization.
She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made...
(The entire section is 789 words.)
The Sun Also Rises is as much an extended character study as it is a novel—the story being told is no more important than the characters being examined. The five central characters are expatriates living in Paris and are members of the “lost generation,” caught up in the sense of despair and disenchantment which followed the First World War. There is no real hero amongst the five—each possesses a flaw which prevents this status being reached.
The novel begins in Paris, where we meet the five characters—Jake Barnes, an American war veteran and newspaper reporter; Robert Cohn, a fellow writer and American Jew; Lady Brett Ashley, an English woman soon to be divorced from the English Lord who gave her her title; her fiancé, Scotsman Mike Campbell; and Bill Gorton, Jake’s cynical friend from America. What unites these characters is their lack of a purpose in life—they are all foreigners who, throughout the book, are constantly travelling and changing, as if searching for some purpose which they never find.
The central character is Jake, who narrates the story. Despite the conflicts and differences between the five friends, Jake interacts easily with the others and regularly acts as confidant and confessor. Although he is involved in the events, he is often partially removed—a reflection, or even a consequence, of his impotence. As a soldier, Jake has suffered an injury which has...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)
The narrator of the story is Jake Barnes. Like his Biblical namesake Jacob, Jake has trouble sleeping because he wrestles nightly with his fate. He is an American living in Paris as a newspaper correspondent. He was rendered impotent by a World War I wound and is thus unable to consummate his love with Brett. Both his physical condition and his terse manner embody the sterility of the age. Jake forgets the war by immersing himself in the meticulous details of life. He has a calculated view of the events in the story and is sure to relate minutiae, such as how much things cost, who owes whom, how to bait the hook, and what is in the packed lunch. His method for living and being at ease with the world is not unlike the Count’s. He states his philosophy, which is the new moral for a world disillusioned by war, as “you paid some way for everything that was any good. I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time. Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it.”
Jake Barnes is Hemingway’s first and best attempt to explain to others the mannerisms which enable constructive living with an accompanying disillusionment. Exaggerating this position, Jake is a man to whom things happen. Through no fault of his own, he was a victim of war; he suffers a...
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The novel opens with Robert Cohn, a mediocre writer and middleweight boxing champion at Princeton with a “hard, Jewish, stubborn streak.” He is the representation of all that was supposedly destroyed in the war. Therefore, he must be exiled from the group that is busily reshaping the world.
He is a friend and tennis partner to Jake. Born rich and married rich, he was unhappy until his wife left him. Now free, he decides to pursue happiness in the form of editing a magazine. But when that fails, he moves to Paris with his assistant, Frances, and writes. The success of his first novel goes straight to his head as he lives out his dreams of chivalry and romance; Frances becomes his mistress. From this point, his role is one of decline in the eyes of his associates for, as Brett says, he is not “one of us.” From the moment of Brett’s judgment, the other men seek ways of being rid of him. Jake succeeds by letting Cohn exile himself.
Cohn’s love for Brett and his expression of that love is meant as criticism of the romantic. He represents the American values of love, idealism, and naive bliss that were soundly exploded in World War I. Therefore, Cohn is Hemingway’s satirical portrait of the last knight who would defend the old faith and ideals. This knight absurdly undergoes overt humiliation under the guise of a love for a lady and brings upon himself verbal wrath and abuse. Cohn’s actions are the last gasp of those values yet his...
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Lady Brett Ashley
Lady Brett Ashley best encapsulates the beauty of being “lost.” She represents the dead aristocracy and constantly fends off the long-dead notions of romance best captured in the melancholy of Robert Cohn. Yet she also represents the future and the new feminism of the 1920s; she is an amoral socialite who lost her first love and husband to dysentery in the War, divorced her second because he was abusive but gave her a title, and is working on a third. She is the interesting woman of intelligence from the nineteenth century that Henry James would want to make into a portrait. Lastly, she is an inspiration to otherwise impotent writers because she “was damned good-looking . . . [and] built like the hull of a racing yacht.” Consequent to all these ingredients and the fact that she is in love with Jake, Brett is the moving force of the novel’s action. She is also Hemingway’s denunciation of all bohemians.
An historical figure, Belmonte was one of the greatest matadors of all time. He is shown in the story as aging and past his prime. This is ironic in the extreme since it is the matador who fulfills the ideal of the hero. Yet, showing a hero in decline makes him all the more human. Belmonte, despite his pain, maintains his dignified poise and provides yet another example of the novel’s moral: no matter how you choose...
(The entire section is 687 words.)