Illustration of a bull and a bullfighter

The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

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In Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, what elements of realism, naturalism, and modernism are present?

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The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's novel of the "lost generation," combines elements of realism, naturalism and modernism. In Hemingway'

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The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's novel of the "lost generation," combines elements of realism , naturalism and modernism. Hemingway was certainly following in the footsteps of American writers of the late 19th century who were practitioners of realism and naturalism such as Mark Twain and Stephen Crane, as well...

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as being in the same league as the great 20th century American writer John Steinbeck who virtually perfected these styles. Hemingway is also considered a forerunner of the modernist style in literature although he would be overshadowed by the genius of contemporaries T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Some may argue that Hemingway's depiction of expatriates cavorting at a Spanish festival is far from realism, which often focused on ordinary people suffering the harsh realities of everyday life. Hemingway's  characters seem far from ordinary. They are in most cases an elite group of individuals who suffer because of their own manipulations of life. Hemingway, however, does employ realism in his close representation of reality, avoiding subjective observations, such as might be found in Victorian novels where the narrator often passes moral judgement on a character or situation. Indeed, situations are simply presented without comment or analysis. Moreover, in realism, characters are rendered as complicated and hard to figure out. Their motivations often defy explanation, just as though they were truly flesh and blood human beings and not heroic representations of humanity such as those found in romantic literature. Twain's Huck Finn is precisely such a character who is realistically portrayed, especially in his decision over letting the slave Jim go free, even though it would get him into trouble. In his famous essay "Paleface and Redskin," Philip Rahv argued that certain characters in American literature, the redskins, were spontaneous, emotional and rebellious. While Huck certainly fits this description, so too does Hemingway's character of Lady Brett Ashley, who is maddeningly spontaneous and rebellious.

Hemingway's scenes of the bullfights in Pamplona are classical realism. He describes the situations objectively with journalistic integrity, including the bloodiest sections of the fights where the horses ridden by the picadors are gored by the bulls or in the descriptions of the steers who are placed in the ring to have a calming effect on the bulls but are often victims:

The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. Suddenly the bull left off and made for the other steer which had been standing at the far end, his head swinging, watching it all. The steer ran awkwardly and the bull caught him, hooked him lightly in the flank, and then turned away and looked up at the crowd on the walls, his crest of muscle rising.

Several of Hemingway's characters are also portrayed realistically, especially Lady Brett Ashley whose motivation is difficult to figure out. She obviously loves Jake (and they wind up together in the end), but because of his war wound she goes off with other men such as Robert Cohn and the young bullfighter Pedro Romero. These two men are at polar opposites in Hemingway's world of masculinity and heroism. Cohn is a foil to Jake, demonstrating all of the attributes which Jake finds reprehensible. He is a bore and seems to get all of his ideas out of books. Cohn clings to traditional values such as the idea that if a woman sleeps with a man then it means something. For Lady Brett, it is simply not true. She uses men and then throws them away. The bullfighter Romero is more in line with Jake's idea of the hero. He is a brilliant toreador and shows his bravery in the ring even after he has been beaten up by Cohn who loses control of his jealousy when he discovers Lady Brett and Romero together.

Literary naturalism often suggested that environment, heredity, and chance determined people's fates. Steinbeck's novella Of Mice and Men is a perfect example of this genre. In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway has created two opposing characters who seem to be controlled by their environment and upbringing. Robert Cohn is very much a product of his traditional views of life with preconceived notions about love and honor. After he and Lady Brett go off for a weekend to San Sebastian, he believes that they have a monogamous relationship. He expects her to give up her life and pledge loyalty only to him. When he shows up in Pamplona, Lady Brett all but ignores him. She is now with Jake and her supposed fiancé Mike Campbell. In response, Cohn seeks to challenge Jake, Mike and the bullfighter Romero, who has become Brett's new fling. Even after he has beaten up these men, his idea of honor forces him to apologize and offer to shake hands. Romero too is a product of his Spanish heredity. He has been groomed in a particular code of honor as a bullfighter. In the fight with Cohn, Romero refuses to be beaten. He continually gets up after being knocked down by Cohn, a former boxer. Mike Campbell describes the action:

"It seems the bullfighter fellow was sitting on the bed. He'd been knocked down about fifteen times, and he wanted to fight some more. Brett held him and wouldn't let him get up. He was weak, but Brett couldn't hold him, and he got up. Then Cohn said he wouldn't him again. Said he couldn't do it. Said it would be wicked. So the bullfighter chap sort of rather staggered over to him. Cohn went back against the wall.

"'So you won't hit me?'"

"'No,' said Cohn. 'I'd be ashamed to.'

"So the bullfighter fellow hit him just as hard as he could in the face, and then sat down on the floor. He couldn't get up, Brett said. Cohn wanted to pick him up and carry him to the bed. He said if Cohn helped him he'd kill him, and he'd kill him anyway this morning if Cohn wasn't out of town. Cohn was crying, and Brett told him off, and he wanted to shake hands."

Cohn and Romero are programmed by their rigid views of life and allegiance to a past code of ethics which seems to be nonexistent in Hemingway's modern world. Ultimately their fates are also similar. Since they represent a stiff traditional outlook on life they are finally tossed away by Lady Brett, who is the epitome of the modern woman.

There are also several ways in which the novel is modernistic. In the eNotes link below, four examples of how the novel is modern are discussed. One of the things which makes Hemingway's novel modern is simply the style in which it was written, especially the dialogue. The dialogue is often fragmented, focusing on short, choppy sentences as in an early conversation between Brett and Jake:

"What possessed you to bring her?"

"I don't know, I just brought her."

"You're getting damned romantic."

"No, bored."


"No, not now."

"Let's get out of here. She's well taken care of."

"Do you want to?"

"Would I ask if I didn't want to?"

This type of dialogue seems more in line with how people really speak but at the time was new, original and indeed modernist. Hemingway would perfect this perfunctory conversational style in his brilliant short story, "Hills Like White Elephants." Part of this style was most certainly influenced by modern art of the time, especially cubism where the world is broken up into small chunks of image and meaning.

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Discuss the elements of Modernism, Realism, and Naturalism in Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises.

Ernest Hemingway's first major novel, published in 1925, The Sun Also Rises, is a novel from the Modernist period. However, it incorporates elements from previous literary movements.

Realism is the predecessor to Naturalism. Jake Barnes's reluctance to consummate his relationship with Lady Brett Ashley is due to a war injury. Prior to the Realist movement, in both literature and visual art, such unpleasant aspects of life were not discussed. Hemingway's willingness to address war's ravages on one's sex life and self-esteem is an aspect of realism.

Naturalism, which came into vogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, borrowed from Social Darwinism. Naturalism accepted a determinist's view of nature -- that is, one's behavior or character were ingrained due to genetic inheritance and the circumstances of one's upbringing. The attitude that some of the characters express toward Robert Cohn is anti-Semitic. They deride his character, not on an individual basis, but on the basis of his being Jewish. At the beginning of the novel, when he and Jake are talking about travel, Cohn insists on going to South America, while Jake thinks that East Africa would be a better choice. When Cohn still insists on South America, Jake narrates: "He had a hard, Jewish, stubborn streak." 

Supposedly, Cohn is based on the publisher Harold Loeb who, like Cohn, was very wealthy and in love with a noblewoman, Lady Duff Twysden -- the inspiration for Brett Ashley. While we must not confuse Barnes's attitude with that of Hemingway, the author does illustrate the anti-Semitism that was prevalent during this time. The connection he makes between Jewishness and character, as something fixed, or "stubborn," is a Naturalist motif.

Two things make the novel strikingly modern. Firstly, it is clearly exploring the disillusionment of American and British expatriates, still reeling from the trauma of the First World War. That trauma is physically evident in Jake. In a fundamental way, his life is stalled due to a war injury: he cannot make love. Moreover, the characters spend most of their time drinking, which is a method of desensitizing themselves from their realities.

The second aspect of the novel's modernity is the prose style. Hemingway differed from his contemporaries -- and certainly from his predecessors -- with his use of spare, journalistic prose. While this might have been a habit that he maintained from his years as a newsman, it is also possible that he realized that more could be understood about his characters from what he did not write, as opposed to what he did write.

Moreover, the dialogue is very fluid. The narrator seldom comes in to remind the reader of who is speaking. Finally, the incorporation of language that is deemed vulgar -- and is used for that purpose -- is another aspect of Modernist literature.

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