How does Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises explore themes of drinking, love, and identity?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question, because alcohol use, love, and identity are all major themes in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Below, you'll find an explanation for how each of these themes works in the novel:

  1. Alcohol Use: Alcohol is almost always present in Hemingway's novel, as most of the narrative focuses on the main characters' experiences at a raucous festival in Spain. During the course of the novel, Jake and his friends party their way across Europe, guzzling liquor in Parisian clubs and in Spanish cafes. The more drinking we see, the more apparent it is that alcohol is a coping mechanism. Most of the main characters in the book are harboring secret fears, disappointments, and doomed hopes, and alcohol is a tool that allows them to avoid thinking about or dealing with the many problems they're facing.
  2. Love: Most of the characters in the novel are looking for love in one way or another, but few of them find it. Much of the narrative focuses on the unrequited love between Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes. Though both characters love each other, they cannot enjoy a physical relationship, as it's suggested that Jake has been wounded in his groin and is impotent. As such, he's forced to watch Brett cycle through men and is unable to act on his desires for love. In that case, Hemingway primarily explores the ways in which love can emotionally hurt an individual.
  3. Identity: Hemingway wrote the novel during a period of great social change, and much of his narrative focuses on men struggling to find a sense of identity in a time when traditional definitions of masculinity were undergoing rapid transformation. Indeed, Jake's struggle to find an identity in spite of his damaged sexual organs can therefore be read as analogous to the search for a masculine identity after the loss of traditional male vitality. Overall, the search for male identity becomes a despairing one, as Jake cannot fulfill his sexual urges and is unable to find a meaningful way of defining his masculinity.

Overall, we can see that the themes of alcohol use, love, and identity contribute to a generally despairing tone. All in all, this tone illustrates the hopelessness of the "Lost Generation," the nickname for the generation that matured during and directly after the first World War.

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The Sun Also Rises

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