Jake Barnes, like nearly every other Hemingway hero, suffers from a terrible wound. His wound--he has suffered emasculation as a combatant in World War I--is emblematic of the sterility and impotence of modern man. Modern woman fares little better, as Hemingway shows in Brett Ashley, whose sexual excess is merely another form of sterility. These characters and their joyless friends live in a moral and cultural Waste Land, and indeed critics have discovered in this novel a prose analogue to T.S. Eliot’s poem of that title.
Hemingway is particularly harsh in his indictment of those who pretend that the old truths remain operative. Hence the stupidly romantic Robert Cohn, who makes trouble for himself and others by embracing an obsolete ethic of chivalry, becomes the book’s least attractive character.
Barnes salvages some dignity by his stoicism, but the only character who seems wholly admirable is the bullfighter, Pedro Romero, who has ordered his life by mastering a sport that ritualizes and thereby orders the world’s violence. As Barnes remarks, “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.”
Hemingway celebrates sports, especially blood sports, because they provide a welcome fiction of order. They also teach the adept to function with “grace under pressure"--as existential humanity must function if it is to survive.
When Romero has an affair with Brett Ashley, he jeopardizes his simple integrity. In an unselfish gesture, Brett breaks off with him, hoping she has not done too much damage. She cannot, however, save herself. The novel ends where it began, the expatriates locked into their meaningless round of dipsomania, erotic frustration, and creeping anomie.
Aldridge, John W. “The Sun Also Rises: Sixty Years Later.” Sewanee Review 94, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 337-345. Abundant criticism on Hemingway’s most analyzed novel may overpower rather than enlighten nonspecialist readers. Aldridge, however, succeeds in blending accessibility and scholarship. Discussion of Hemingway’s meticulous language usage, based on the strong presence of things unsaid, is particularly interesting.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Contains ten essays that Bloom considers to represent the most helpful criticism published on the novel. Authors include Hemingway scholars such as Carlos Baker (Hemingway’s prime biographer), Scott Donaldson, and Linda Wagner-Martin.
The Hemingway Review 6, no. 1 (Fall, 1986): 2-111. This special issue celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of The Sun Also Rises. The nine articles deal with topics as diverse as the original manuscript, Hemingway’s presentation of women and war, the moral axis of the novel, and the word “sun” as title and metaphor.
Reynolds, Michael S. “The Sun Also Rises”: A Novel of the Twenties. Boston: Twayne, 1988. An excellent overall reference accessible to the general reader. Reynolds discusses the novel’s importance and critical reception and considers it from analytic, structural, historical, and thematic perspectives.
Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. New Essays on “The Sun Also Rises.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Designed as a critical guide for students of American history and culture, this volume of five commissioned essays is thought-provoking yet accessible to nonspecialist readers.