Everyone behaves badly . . . Give them the proper chance.
Warning: This post may contain politically incorrect language and expletives. They exist for the purpose of example and edification; they are not intended to disparage or defame any particular person, race, creed, color, or religion. If you feel you may be offended by such language, stop reading now. You have been warned.
From the Back Cover
An absorbing, beautifully and tenderly absurd, heartbreaking narrative….It is a truly gripping story, told in lean, hard athletic prose . . . magnificent writing, filled with that organic action which gives a compelling picture of character. ~ The New York Times
~ 1970 Scribner Edition
Sounds like a Mad-Lib, doesn’t it?
Why the Book was Banned
1. Language and profanity
2. Focus on sex and adultery
3. Overall hedonism
Jake Barnes (the narrator), Robert Cohn (a writer), and Brett Ashley (a nymphomaniac divorcée) live a hedonistic lifestyle in post-WWI Paris. Jake and Brett love each other, but aren’t together because Jake’s war wound rendered him impotent. Cohn falls for Brett and the two secretly travel to San Sebastian, Spain. When they return, the group – which now includes Jake’s friend Bill and Brett’s fiancé Mike – plan a trip to Spain, where they will fish and watch the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
The group separates due to illness, so only Bill and Jake fish. The group reunites in Pamplona for a week of alcohol-imbued celebrations. Of the group, only Jake cares about the bullfights, everyone else is there to party. Nevertheless, Brett falls for a bullfighter (shocker); and Cohn’s jealousy leads him to pummel the man to the point of death. Rather than rejuvenation, the excursion causes tension within the group.
Jake stops over in San Sebastian before returning to Paris. While there, Brett telegrams him; she is in trouble in Madrid and needs help. Jake agrees, but there is no hope. He and Brett agree that although they love each other, there is no future for them.
As I was reading, I felt I was reading someone’s diary. Therefore, I found a several repeated themes, such as
Dissatisfaction. Every character seems focused on immediate satisfaction. The constantly find “fun” things to do, but never find happiness. Jake wants Brett; it’s obvious that this will never happen. Cohn wants someone to love him rather than use him; good luck with that Mr. Semi-Famous Author. Brett wants security, but is generally unwilling to show her insecurities. Bill wants money; he’s always in debt to someone. Mike just wants another drink, but one more is never enough. In the world they inhabit, it is not just difficult, it is impossible for them to find true satisfaction.
Exile. Although the novel is set in France and Spain, none of the central characters are French or Spanish. Instead, they are American and British nationals living in self-imposed exile from their home countries. Defined by their upbringing, they attempt to make their way in a culture completely foreign to them. Never truly fitting in anywhere, we can add “fish out of water syndrome” to the reasons for their dissatisfaction.
Identity. Every character has a facade. As the novel progresses, we see the effort exerted in keeping the facade from crumbling.
Love. Every character desires love, but few realize what love actually is. Although set in Paris, the “City of Love,” there is little – if any – romance in the novel. Instead, the so-called “love” exhibited by the characters centers mainly around coercion.
Manliness. The men of the novel are constantly posturing to prove themselves men, especially when it comes to impressing Brett. However, each male character experiences insecurities causing each to doubt their own masculinity.
Substance Abuse. Everyone in the novel is an alcoholic. For Mike, it’s practically his job. Alcohol provides a short respite from fears and frustrations, but it is only temporary. Therefore, most characters spend their time talking about which bar to visit next.
It was a good story, but nothing really made sense for me until the last line. On their way back to Paris from Madrid, Brett remarks, “Jake, we could have had such a . . . good time together.” Jake replies, “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?” I wanted to scream “NO! It isn’t pretty, it’s stupid! You’re all a bunch of despondent alcoholics with manic-depressive tendencies. Continue this way and you’ll all end up dead.” But since that would have annoyed my wife at 2:30 in the morning, I thought the words in my head instead.
There is no real satisfying conclusion to the story. The characters have not changed since the beginning of the novel. We have seen their thoughts, their actions, their motives, their mistakes. At times, these flaws are visible to the other characters, but nobody actually learns anything. One reviewer called The Sun Also Rises a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. If that is, indeed, the case, the remake is far worse than the original. As least in the original play there was the chance for happiness; in Hemingway’s novel happiness isn’t even on the table.
Overall, The Sun Also Rises can be summed up with one line:
Oh, darling, I’ve been so miserable.