The Sun Also Rises is an impressive document of the people who came to be known, in Gertrude Stein's words (which form half the novel's epigraph), as the "Lost Generation." The young generation she speaks of had their dreams and innocence smashed by World War I, emerged from the war bitter and aimless, and spent much of the prosperous 1920s drinking and partying away their frustrations. Jake epitomizes the Lost Generation; physically and emotionally wounded from the war, he is disillusioned, cares little about conventional sources of hope -- family, friends, religion, work -- and apathetically drinks his way through his expatriate life. Even travel, a rich source of potential experience, mostly becomes an excuse to drink in exotic locales. Irresponsibility also marks the Lost Generation; Jake rarely intervenes in other's affairs, even when he could help (as with Cohn), and Brett carelessly hurts men and considers herself powerless to stop doing so. While Hemingway critiques the superficial, empty attitudes of the Lost Generation, the other quote in the epigraph from Ecclesiastes expresses the hope that future generations may rediscover themselves.
Emasculation and impotence
One of the key changes Hemingway observes in the Lost Generation is that of the new male psyche, battered by the war and newly domesticated. Jake embodies this new emasculation; most likely physically impotent, he cannot have sex and, therefore, can never have the insatiable Brett. Instead, he is dominated by her (see "Sexuality and bull-fighting," below), as is Cohn, who is also abused by the other women in his life. Jake is even threatened by the homosexual men who dance with Brett in Paris; while not sexually interested in her, they have more "manhood" than Jake, physically speaking. Though a veteran, Jake now works in an office and fritters away his time with superficial socializing; he admires bull-fighters so much, and Romero in particular, because they are far more heroic than he is or ever was. Though Romero's appearance is more feminine than Jake's, he fulfills the code of the Hemingway hero, commandingly confronting death as a man of action with what Hemingway has called "grace under pressure." Jake, on the other hand, has returned from his confrontation with death feeling like less of a man, physically and emotionally.
Sexuality and bull-fighting
Hemingway draws numerous parallels between bull-fighting and Brett's sexuality. Early in the novel, Brett tells Jake she cannot commit to him, as she will "tromper" him; while this means "to be unfaithful to," it also means "to elude," and it makes sense why she is attracted to Romero: as a great bull-fighter, he is the consummate eluder, deceiving the bulls into thinking they are close to him, then pulling away, much as Brett does with men. Romero also penetrates with his phallic sword both the bull and, as Jake metaphorically describes it, the audience; he begins as the coy, elusive female, then metamorphoses into the violent, dominant male. In one episode, Jake and Cohn also resemble steers (Mike even calls Cohn a steer), young oxen castrated before sexual maturity. Jake resembles the steer that joins the herd of bulls (much as he, as a castrated male, manages to belong to his group of virile friends), while Cohn is like the steer excluded from the group, the pariah who follows around Brett.
Nature and regeneration
Hemingway depicts nature as a pastoral paradise uncorrupted by the city or women. Each time Jake ventures into nature, especially on his fishing trip, he is rejuvenated. While fishing with Bill, they bond and are unafraid to be intimate with each other; Jake does not mind that the fish he has caught are smaller than Bill's, in what sounds like an admission of lesser sexual virility, while Bill tells Jake he is fond of him and says that he would be called a "'faggot'" in the city for saying that. They also enjoy camaraderie with the Englishman Harris there, in a departure from the competitive relationships with women that develop when women -- especially Brett -- are present. In San Sebastian, Jake undergoes a symbolic baptism while diving in the water. Even the characters' excessive drinking is given greater significance during the fiesta; they return to a spiritual sense of ritual and generosity while partying, a distinct comparison to the spiritually bankrupt, competitive rituals of city life.
Hemingway's journalistic style
Hemingway's spare, laconic prose was influenced by his early work as a journalist, and he has probably had the greatest stylistic influence over 20th-century American writers of anyone. The key to Hemingway's style is omission; we usually learn less about Jake through his direct interior narration, but more through what he leaves out and how he reacts to others. For instance, we understand him much better through his thoughts on Cohn, who shares many of Jake's traits. As an example of how much Hemingway omits, Jake never even fully describes his war injury, leaving it somewhat open to interpretation. Hemingway provides a good outline of his own style when Jake describes Romero's bull-fighting style: "There were no tricks and no mystifications." Like Romero, Hemingway moves close to his subject, but eschews flashiness in favor of honest, authentic writing.
The Sun Also Rises Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Sun Also Rises is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.