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The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

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What are some themes in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises that reflect Hemingway's thinking?

Disillusionment and the search for meaning are two of the central themes in The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The main characters are members of the Lost Generation, a group of American expatriates living abroad, making art and trying to find meaning in life. Each character has their own way of doing that: Jake obsesses about money, for instance, and tries to distract himself from his impotence. In Jake's disillusionment, however, there is the faint hope of rebirth or transformation.

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The characters in The Sun Also Rises express several aspects of idealism that is in contrast to their near-constant alienation. In searching for something meaningful in their lives, all the characters are restlessly moving around Europe, especially Spain, and trying to establish deep connections with the others. The ideals of pursuing romantic love and creative fulfillment, which motivated Ernest Hemingway in his personal life, are apparent in both the men and the women.

The difficulties Jake, Robert, and Brett all experience in staying in one place, however, move them physically as well as spiritually away from any chance of the fulfillment they so desperately need. This alienation stems not only from their unique personal experiences but from the widespread devastation that Europe experienced due to the Great War. One reason they chose Spain is that it had not seen as many battles. Unwilling to admit that their objectives are unattainable, they move on to different locations, as did the author himself. Only Brett, who decides to marry for security, accepts that she must compromise.

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The title itself conveys one of the themes of "The Sun Also Rises."  Taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the passage is believed to have been written by King Solomon, who himself was disillusioned with life and found it meaningless at the end:

The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The characters in Hemingway's novel are ones whom Gertrude Stein names "the lost generation": those who died in the war lost their lives, those who lived lost their purpose.  After the disillusionment of World War I life has become meaningless; the sun rises and sets and nothing meaningful changes.  Thus, Hemingway's novel challenges the American Dream in this disillusionment with progress and regeneration.

A prevalent theme, then, is The Meaning of Life.  The characters must reject the heroic life as they have seen that it mainly leads to death.  The romantic life, as embraced by Cohn is rejected, too, as Brett says, "He is not one of us."  Others feel that the essence of life is mangaing one's money.  Unfortunately, several of the characters are not able to do this, either.  To keep his mind off his impotence, Jakes tabulates everything in life:  "You could get your money's worth."  Another thing Jack has paid for is the literature of Turgenieff that he reads; from this literature he gleans from the effort of reading, an effort that he can utilize to recover from the war.  In the nihilist philosophy of Hemingway himself, his characters must find their own meaning in life; they must create their own existences and not rely upon any promises that the rising sun may hold.

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Much like in T.S. Eliot's long poem The Waste Land, which also was written in the modernist period and reflects the lingering cultural influence of the massive deaths of World War I, one of the major themes in Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises  is disillusionment and...

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the faint hope for transformation and rebirth.

Many of the symbols in the novel -- from the fizzling firecrackers that fail to launch in the air at the Spanish fiesta to the raised police baton in Paris at the novel's end -- are connected to the idea of sexual potency. The main character, Jake Barnes, is suffering from a war wound that prevents him from having sexual relations with woman, and these consequences of his wound are probably the source of much of the conflict in the novel. One of the most pastoral scenes in the novel (Ch. 12) involves men spending time together and alone in nature, away from the bustle of the city.

The novel's themes also include religion and the meaning of life, gender roles and relations, expatriates and tourists, work and recreation, passion (aficion), and many others.

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What is one major theme of Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises?

If you’re doing a project on the novel, you might consider it as a chronicle of what has been called “the lost generation,” or the generation traumatized by the first World War.  This generation has been characterized as alienated, and the languorous behavior of the American protagonist in Hemingway’s novel has been interpreted as a classic example of that zeitgeist. 

At one point, a friend describes Jake Barnes to himself: 

You’re an expatriate [Bill explains]. One of the worst type. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes. 

Like many famous authors of this period, including Hemingway himself, Jake has left America in order to find a better way of life in another country.  His obsession with the Spanish bull fights, to the extent that even native Spaniards acknowledge that he is an aficionado, is one example of Jake trying to involve himself in a greater interest.  Similarly, he (and his friends) try to immerse themselves in rural Spanish past times, like fishing in the country, in an attempt, perhaps, to get in “touch with the soil,” as Bill says.  You might consider reading the novel as Hemingway’s answer to the malaise of the “lost generation”; a message of a more vital way of life that might be salvation for an alienated generation.

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What is one possible theme from the novel The Sun Also Rises?

Most of the characters in Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises find themselves searching for the true meaning of life. The various American (and British) ex-patriots who have remained in Paris following the end of the war are seeking a place which they have determined does not await them back home. But instead of finding their niche in the world, most of the characters pursue a drunken pursuit of romance and riches. Virtually none of them are successful or happy: Jake is a decent writer but his impotence prevents him from romantic happiness. Cohn is incompetent in both his literary and romantic pursuits, and he can never escape his Jewish ethnicity. Brett is surrounded by men who love her, but she is never capable of returning it herself. They all seek financial riches that will forever elude them, and their future sense of failure and unhappiness appears set in stone.

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