The Sun Also Rises Summary

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

     The Sun Also Rises is the debut novel by Ernest Hemingway published in 1926. Written in a modernist style, it is characterized by brief, understated language, and lack of description in terms of what characters are thinking or the meaning behind their actions; the reader is shown the story rather than having it explained to them. The Sun Also Rises is considered a roman √† clef, meaning it has a basis in real life events and characters, and was inspired by trips to Pamplona that Hemingway took with friends through 1923-1925.

     The novel's first person narrator and protagonist, Jake Barnes is an American expatriate living in Paris and working as a journalist. In the opening chapters, we see Jake living a party lifestyle in Paris, and interacting with his friend, Robert Cohn, who has recently had a novel published and is feeling restless in an unhappy relationship with a woman named Frances. Among the other friends Jake interacts with in Paris are Lady Brett Ashley, a British socialite who Jake met and fell in love with after he was injured in the war. One night when Jake, Robert, and Brett are all at the same dance club, Robert becomes infatuated with Brett, although she still chooses to leave with Jake. Brett and Jake often discuss their love for one another, but to her his impotency - which is never explicitly stated - makes her unable to commit to a relationship with him.

     After meeting Brett, Robert ends his several year relationship with Frances, who had been convinced Robert would marry her, and Brett goes away on a trip to San Sebastian. An American friend of Jake's from the war, Bill Gorton, comes to visit as they have plans to meet Robert in Spain to go fishing and attend a fiesta in Pamplona. Before they leave Paris, Jake and Bill run into Brett and her Scottish fianc√© Mike, who drunkenly asks to join their trip. Once Brett is alone with Jake, she confides in him that she was in San Sebastian with Robert, and doesn't think it would be a good idea for she and Mike to join the trip. Upon correspondence, Robert says he would be happy to see her, and Brett and Mike plan to go to Spain as well.

     Jake and Bill travel to meet Robert. When all three are set to travel by bus to Burguete, Spain, where they will fish, Robert says he has made arrangements to meet Brett in San Sebastian, and that he will catch up with Jake and Bill. Jake is angered by Robert's attachment to Brett, but he and Bill travel to Burguete alone and have a wonderful time fishing, returning to Pamplona several days later to meet with Brett, Mike and Robert.

     In Pamplona, preparations for the fiesta have begun, and there are tensions between the men, as Mike drunkenly accuses Robert of following Brett around pitifully, and not being wanted by the group. Jake enjoys seeing Robert verbally attacked by Mike, but has feelings of guilt over the pleasure he takes in it. Once the fiesta begins, drunken debauchery ensues, and the group take in the first bull fight, where Brett becomes taken with the young bull fighter, Pedro Romero. Mike continues to say cruel things to Robert, Robert continues to pine after Brett, while Brett asks Jake to fix her up with Pedro, who he has met several times. Jake agrees, and instigates a conversation between Brett and Pedro which results in them going to his hotel room together. When Robert finds out about Brett and Pedro, he fights both Jake and Mike, knocking them down easily thanks to his college boxing career. Robert then goes to Pedro's hotel room, and beats Pedro badly, but leaves in tears after Brett continues to feel only disdain for him. A sobbing Robert tries to make amends to Jake later that night, and leaves Pamplona the next morning under threat from Pedro.

     The following day, Mike is also upset by Brett's relationship with Pedro, and drunkenly causes a scene at a restaurant, tipping a table over. At Pedro's final bull fight of the fiesta, his face bears signs from Robert's beating, but he performs perfectly, and is hailed as a hero. Brett leaves town with Pedro that night, and Jake, Bill and Mike leave town the following day, each going their separate ways. Planning to spend a week in San Sebastian, Jake is interrupted during his stay there by a telegram from Brett asking for his help in Madrid. Jake immediately books a train to the city, and finds Brett distraught and alone, after ending things with Pedro. Brett says she will go back to Mike, and she and Jake spend the day together in Madrid, with the novel closing on them together in a taxi, discussing the relationship that they may have had together.

     Although the first world war is rarely elaborated upon, it is mentioned frequently in the novel, and it's impact on the characters' lives is a central theme. From Jake's impotence to Brett's ex-husband's behaviour upon returning from war, most of their behaviours are marked in some way by the events that left in their wake the Lost Generation referred to in one of the novel's two epigraphs. Most of the characters drink heavily throughout the novel, which almost always has a negative impact on their interactions with one another. Having no direct experience of the war, Robert Cohn is rarely drunk, and the other characters all feel a level of disdain for him that they can't seem to define. Their dislike is often expressed in antisemitic terms, but it seems that Robert is more of an outsider because he doesn't act like a member of the Lost Generation.

     Another central theme is that of masculinity and gender. Jake views his impotence as the loss of his physical masculinity, and we see his self-hatred reflected when he lashes out at men he deems to be not masculine enough, like Brett's homosexual friends, or Robert when he doesn't stand up to Frances. In Pamplona, the clash between aggressive bulls and castrated steers mirror the clashes between Jake, Mike, Robert, and Pedro, who are all fighting in some way for Brett's affections. Meanwhile, Brett defies the stereotypical role of a subservient woman. She drinks heavily, has short hair, and engages in sexual relationships based on her desires rather than societal convention. Brett is written as neither a villain or a hero, but a complicated character who struggles against the rules and limitations placed on her gender.

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