The Sun Also Rises Book summary
“The Sun Also Rises” is the first book by American novelist Ernest Hemingway. First published in 1926, it is set in 1924, beginning in Paris, France, and concluding in Madrid, Spain.
Throughout the book, drinking takes center stage. All social events, all interactions among people, and all activities that Jake and his friends participate in the center around, or are at least heavily influenced by, the consumption of great quantities of alcohol. Hemingway effectively describes the fog of alcohol, which becomes more than a simple metaphor in regards to how many of these young people deal with the fog of war that haunts many of them. The one notable exception is Robert Cohn, who is not a veteran, and consequently, does not drink to excess, as he presumably has no war memories to bury.
Closely tied to the excessive indulgence in alcohol is the theme of trivial friendships and their lack of depth. The social bonds shared by this group of friends are tenuous, and loyalties are thin, at best. Insulting and belittling comments are frequent, and rarely done in the spirit of bonding and jest. Outright hostility among them occurs often, and any friendship that is alluded to remains superficial and fragile. One exception, however, is the love shared by Jake and Brett, although it remains unfulfilled. This platonic relationship is the only one that remains deep and powerful, even if it is doomed to remain incomplete and flawed forever.
The sexual inadequacy that Jake feels is a theme that the book explores not only with metaphors but with bold examples of the destructive abilities of sex in relationships. We see Robert Cohn develop into an utterly despised villain, due to his misguided belief that Brett will become his sexual partner, after a brief fling that he mistook for something more serious. We see the emotional damage done by Brett, as she finds sex to be more of an entertaining pastime than a meaningful relationship. These confusing signals baffle the many men she leaves in her destructive wake, each hoping for more from her than she is willing to give.
The destructive nature of sex that Hemingway relentlessly expresses leads to broken friendships, and even to Jake’s reputation being damaged. In Spain, he is well-liked among the Spaniards who know him as a true fan of the sport of bull-fighting, but when Brett seduces a young matador, a series of events leads to Jake being shunned by the community, thanks to his association with Brett.
The book consists of three sections (called “books”), which are divided into 19 chapters.
It is written from the first-person perspective of the protagonist and narrator Jake Barnes.
Because of war injuries acquired while fighting as an American soldier in World War I, Jake has been rendered unable to have sex. He is in love with Lady Brett Ashley, and while she deeply enjoys Jake’s company, and is likewise in love with him, rejects his wish for a relationship due to her need for sexual satisfaction. Throughout the book, her promiscuity leads to frustration, anger, and jealousy within Jake, and is the cause of many broken friendships and even physical altercations among the men in the story. Brett is a very desirable woman, and very few men can resist her charms.
Jake is friends with several people in Paris, most of whom are members of the “Lost Generation.” This refers to young men and women who fought in World War I but became disillusioned with the lifestyles of their parents. Many of these people left their home countries to become expatriates in Paris, France, where much of the story takes place (before moving on to Spain). Many in Jake’s circle of friends are journalists and writers, and all are hard drinkers.
A trip to Spain is planned. Jake, Brett, Mike (her fiance), Robert Cohn (Jake’s friend in Paris), and Bill Gordon (an American journalist visiting Jake) all make plans to attend the bullfights in Pamplona.
It is revealed that Robert has had an affair with Brett. As the group arrives in Pamplona over the course of a few days, there is jealousy and fighting among them. Robert has become possessive of Brett, although she has now shunned him, in favor of her fiance. Others in the group are annoyed and disgusted at Robert’s behavior, and he lashes out, bringing his boxing skills into play against his friends. He then savagely beats a young bullfighter whom he has discovered that Brett is having yet another affair with.
Towards the end of the story, all part ways at the end of the exhausting, week-long bullfighting fiesta in Pamplona. Each is going to different parts of Europe. Jake plans to continue vacationing for a few more days but then receives an urgent message from Brett, begging him to rescue her from trouble. He drops all of his plans to run to her, where she reveals that she has terminated her affair with the bullfighter, and hopes to reunite with her fiance, Mike. The closing scene is charged with unrequited sexual tension, one in which Brett suggests that they— Jake and Brett— could have been a happy couple, to which Jake replies that it is pleasant to imagine what could have been at one time.
Travelogue, Disillusionment, Lost Generation
Charles Scribner’s Sons