The Sun Also Rises Summary

The Sun Also Rises is a novel by Ernest Hemingway in which Robert and Jake  both fall in love with the beautiful Brett.

  • War veteran Jake is impotent, and therefore unable consummate his relationship with Brett, an engaged woman. Jake's friend Robert, an insecure Jewish man, falls for and has an affair with Brett.
  • Brett falls for a bullfighter named Romero. Jealous, Robert fights with Romero.
  • Brett and Romero run away together. Brett telegrams Jake, asking for his help. He meets with her, and she laments that they can't be together. She announces that she has decided to marry her fiancé, Michael.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1234

First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises concerns a group of Americans living in Europe during the 1920s. The narrator and principal character is Jake Barnes, a newspaper correspondent. The leading female character is Lady Brett Ashley. In the course of the novel, we learn that her husband, a British officer, was killed in World War I and that she was a nurse in the hospital where Jake Barnes was sent after he suffered a disabling injury in combat. Serving as the narrative voice throughout, Jake begins the story by talking about his past and current relationship to another character, Robert Cohn, who will subsequently figure in the plot but who is not the novel’s protagonist. Jake tells us that Cohn comes from a wealthy Jewish family and that he attended college at Princeton where he distinguished himself on the boxing team. When Cohn’s first wife left him, he took up with a young woman named Frances Clyne, and she went with him to Paris where he wrote his first novel. Although Jake speaks of Cohn as a “friend,” there is a certain antagonism beneath the surface. Jake characterizes Cohn’s book as “poor” and admits that he lied to his friend to get out of a proposed trip to South America.

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It is in the book’s second chapter that Jake fills us in on himself. It is there that we learn the narrator is currently a foreign correspondent working in Paris for an American newspaper. Jake also tells us that he was wounded in World War I and that his injury has left him in the supremely frustrating condition of being impotent without diminishing his sexual desire. Jake brings the tale into the present night at the Café Napolitan, a popular haunt of the “lost generation” and the avant garde in the Left Bank district of Paris. He meets and buys a drink for a local prostitute, Georgette, and when they go to another trendy spot, the Café Select, they encounter Robert Cohn and his fiancée, Frances. The high point of the scene comes with the arrival of Lady Brett Ashley accompanied by a group of extraordinarily handsome (and possibly gay) young men. Brett exudes sexuality and sophistication. Cohn is enthralled by her, but she refuses his request to dance and leaves the night club with Jake. The two take a cab ride through the streets of Paris, but when he tries to kiss her, Brett turns away, explaining that she cannot go through “that hell again.” Brett and Jake are clearly kindred, world-weary spirits; there is a powerful affinity (and a past history) between them. Yet they both know that a romantic affair is impossible given Jake’s disability and Brett’s pattern of destroying the men in her life.

On the next day, Cohn interrogates Jake about Brett and about their taxi-cab ride. When Cohn says that he is in love with Brett, Jake tells him that she is a drunk and that she is already engaged to another British nobleman, Mike Campbell. At the Café Select that evening, Frances bitterly declares that Cohn is sending her off to London. She knows that he is now done with her, and she scornfully taunts him about his inferiority complex. Brett announces her own plan to go to San Sebastian (it is only later that we learn that she is accompanied there by Cohn). Jake receives a welcome telegram from an old American friend, Bill Gorton. Gorton will soon be arriving in France and they will then go on a fishing expedition to the Basque country before attending the annual festival and bullfights in Pamplona, Spain. Brett’s fiancée, Michael Campbell, arrives in Paris. There is a dilemma in the offing. If the smitten Cohn joins Jake in Bayonne as planned, an awkward situation is bound to arise because Brett and her fiancée will be there at the same time. To Jake’s chagrin, Cohn announces that he will be in Bayonne as scheduled and that he will go to Pamplona as well.

Cohn is already in Bayonne when Jake and Campbell arrive, and the three drive to Pamplona where they take rooms at a hotel where Jake has stayed is the past. The owner is an older man named Montoya who takes pride in the patronage of real matadors at his establishment. He acknowledges that Jake is a genuine bull-fighting aficionado, one who shares his passion for the sport. Montoya tells Jake that he has a promising protégé, the daring and handsome young bullfighter Pedro Romero. He shows his trust in Jake by asking the American’s advice on how best to shield Romero from corrupting forces.

An interlude occurs as Jake and Bill go to Burgette for their planned trout fishing expedition. The side-trip allows them to mix with the local Basque peasants and provides them with a secluded chance to compare worldviews and to assess the “heroic” integrity of the other characters and of themselves. When they return to Pamplona, Jake and Bill find that all of the novel’s major characters have gathered for the festival of San Fermin and its premier bullfighting sessions. The mood is joyous, and the streets are filled with music, dances, and parades. The only immediate cloud is the presence of Robert Cohn in pursuit of Brett.

On the first day of the bull fights, Brett sees the dashing Romero perform with exquisite grace in the ring and is predictably inflamed by him. She tells Jake that she must meet the young bullfighter. He first tells her to stay away from what can only end as a ruinous affair and the innocent Romero’s downfall. But moved by his contempt for Cohn, Jake agrees to introduce Brett to the young matador. By doing so, he betrays Romero, Montoya, and his own express code of conduct. Jake compounds this betrayal when he tells Cohn that Brett is with Romero in his room at Montoya’s hotel. Cohen’s immediate reaction is to call Jake a pimp and then box both Jake and Brett’s fiancée to the ground. He will later apologize to Jake, seeking sympathy for his own mistreatment by Brett. The next day, Jake finds out that Cohn went to Romero’s room, where he found the matador with Brett. Using his amateur boxing skills, Cohn beat Romero so badly that there is concern that he will be killed in the bullring because of his injured condition. Showing himself to be a “real” one, Romero appears in the ring despite his wound, and he expertly slays a bull that had recently gored another matador to death. After the match, he and Brett leave Pamplona together.

The festival now comes to an end, and the main characters go their separate ways, Jake travelling to San Sebastian. There he receives a telegram from Brett asking him to come to Madrid. When he arrives in Madrid, Jake is surprised to find Brett alone. She explains that she has sent Romero away because she does not want to be “one of these bitches that ruins children.” She plans to resume her engagement with Mike Campbell. That night, Brett and Jake take a tour of Madrid. They both know that this is the end of the line for them, and that each will spend the years ahead drifting without purpose.

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