Illustration of a bull and a bullfighter

The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises Characters

The main characters in The Sun Also Rises are Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, Romero, Michael Campbell, Bill Gorton, and Montoya.

  • Jake Barnes is a World War I veteran whose war injuries have left him impotent.
  • Lady Brett Ashley is an Englishwoman who laments that she and Jake can't be together.
  • Robert Cohn is Jake's tennis partner, who has a disastrous affair with Brett after selling his novel.
  • Romero is a skilled bullfighter Brett has an affair with in Pamplona.
  • Michael Campbell is Brett's fiancé.
  • Bill Gorton is Jake's witty American friend.
  • Montoya is the proprietor of the hotel in Pamplona. 

Characters Discussed

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Robert Cohn

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 his injury and trying to work out some sort of personal philosophy; two of his thoughts almost solve the latter problem: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another” and “Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it.” Barnes is a lover of good food and drink, an expert trout fisherman, and an aficionado of the bullfight. Although he drinks as much as the other characters, some of whom are given to passing out, he has the happy faculty of remaining keen and alert.

Lady Brett Ashley

Lady Brett Ashley, an English woman separated from her husband. Her first lover died of dysentery during the war, and she is getting a divorce from Lord Ashley. She plans to marry Michael Campbell, but she is in love with Barnes, perhaps because she knows he is unattainable, because they can never sexually consummate their love. She is a drunkard and is wildly promiscuous, as is shown by her affairs with Cohn and the young bullfighter, Pedro Romero. She seems as lost in life as Barnes, and she is an appealing woman, one whose successive affairs remind the reader of a little girl trying game after game to keep herself from being bored. In the end, she is determined to settle down with Campbell, even though he is nastily talkative when drunk. In spite of her resolutions, Lady Brett seems destined to work her way through life from bed to bed.

Bill Gorton

Bill Gorton, a witty American friend of Barnes. With Barnes, he fishes for trout in Spain and attends the fiesta in Pamplona.

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell, Lady Brett’s fiancé. He is pleasant when sober but very frank and blunt when drunk.

Pedro Romero

Pedro Romero, a young bullfighter of great promise who has an affair with Brett but who is jilted when he says he wants to marry her and when she realizes she is not good for him.

Count Mippipopolous

Count Mippipopolous, a friend of Brett who would like always to drink champagne from magnums. He is kind...

(This entire section contains 638 words.)

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to Brett and Jake in Paris.

Montoya

Montoya, the proprietor of the hotel in Pamplona where the established, truly good bullfighters stay; the hotel thus becomes the headquarters of Barnes’s wild vacationers.

Themes and Characters

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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 you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes.
Hemingway draws the book's second epigraph from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes: "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever...The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down." This prophecy suggests a cosmic order: in God's scheme of the world there is no "lost generation," and the self-centered, fragile human ego appears insignificant next to the cycles of the sun and the passing of time. Until Jake, Brett, and the others realize that they are indeed lost, but lost only because they lack the moral fortitude to subordinate individual desires to universal truths, their lives will lack meaning. Hemingway said that he did not intend for The Sun Also Rises to be "a hollow or bitter satire, but a damn tragedy with the earth abiding forever as the hero."

Against the backdrop of tragedy, Hemingway strings scenes of happiness and celebration: the gaiety of Paris nightlife; the splendor of Pamplona at festival time, with its bustling crowds and noble matadors; and the serenity of the Basque countryside where Jake and Bill Gorton hike and fish. Behind the nightlife stands the alcoholism, behind the bullfights the tragic realities, and behind the fishing a generation's unconscious quest for simplicity. The fishing scenes, far from being a mere pastoral interlude in an otherwise frenzied novel, serve to reinforce Hemingway's primary theme; Jake recognizes that he is missing some element crucial to his happiness, and he undertakes a quest to discover his generation's lost values.

Jake is most content fishing, observing the bullfight, or riding atop a dilapidated bus, drinking wine, and practicing his Spanish on the locals; the proprietor of the Hotel Montoya in Pamplona understands Jake better than do any of his "friends" because of the camaraderie the two share as aficionados. He ultimately sacrifices his most precious possession, his status as an aficionado, by exposing young Romero to Brett's seduction. As such, Jake is emblematic of a generation that has come of age only to find individual peace more elusive than world peace.

An idea that gives form to much of Hemingway's fiction is the notion of "grace under pressure," a code by which individuals might bring honor upon themselves. Simply put, this code requires that, no matter what the circumstances, a person must not break. The grace referred to is a physical, aesthetic, moral, and spiritual matter; the circumstances to be withstood include the complexity of moral choice, the chaos of violence, and, above all, the presence of death that gnaws at every human being. The primary incarnation of death in The San Also Rises is the bullfight; exemplary behavior—rooted in courage, honor, and passion—is demonstrated by the matadors. In the ritual of the fight, the bull and the matador face uncertainty with equal dignity, and death with equal courage.

Hemingway once remarked that The Sun Also Rises was the most moral book he had ever written; that it was a kind of "tract against promiscuity." Although at first it seems that Brett will sleep with anyone, in the end she realizes that she must not corrupt Romero. By recognizing the importance of setting standards, Brett echoes the novel's principal theme—the necessity of discovering, or rediscovering, those values that define a morally satisfying life.