Pretty to Think So: The Sun Also Rises


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.


My Thoughts

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.

I imagine this played a major role in their misery.


3 thoughts on “Pretty to Think So: The Sun Also Rises

  1. Well, it seems to me, from what I know of Hemingway and that knowledge is admittedly limited, this lack of satisfaction in life could well be reflective of how he felt about his own life and why he ended up with such as sad end himself (suicide). I have to admit to not having read any Hemingway (yet), but what you present here, ironically, intrigues me. I think part of that is I’ve always had this theory that some of the best art (whether that be stories, music, paintings, or whatever) is almost always tragic and sad. There are great songs that are uplifting but some of the most well-written are depressing. It’s kind of funny I should feel that way because I tend to be optimistic haha. I suppose I’d be interested in how the writing goes.


  2. Listen, I would hate to come across as petty, but I have read this novel and other novels by Hemingway, and given your tag-line I honestly hope you’re teaching elementary students about the pilgrims. If you were remotely aware of world war one and the events thereafter, then it might register that A) to witness the events of (at the time) the most violent and horrendous conflict of the modern era was deeply scarring to the intended audience (literally called the “lost generation”), and B) that with the field of psychoanalysis still largely in the realm of theory the depression rates (as well as the rates of alcoholism and drug addiction) were enormous. Similarly, though you may not have an English degree, I would expect you to be at least somewhat aware of the birth of modern literature. notice, i said “modern”, not “Elizabethan”, which is why there are different characteristics to a set of novels written 600 years apart. If you don’t appreciate the literary merit of having a plot where the characters suffer (and read a plot synopsis if you have to, they’re generally taken to have not all been intended to be like-able), then perhaps you should forego books driven by character development and stick with novelizations of Michael Bay movies.


  3. Unfortunately, pettiness comes across loud and clear. You seem to forget that this is my opinion of a work of fiction.

    You seem to think that I cannot deal with characters suffering. You miss the point. The characters suffering has no value. You claim that I should forgo books with character development, but there is no character development in this novel. They remain static. The Sun Also Rises is tragedy at its worst.

    You seem to think I am unaware of the horrors of WWI. I am well aware of the tragedy and pointlessness of WWI, but the fact remains: drinking/sexing your way across Europe (or any other continent) won’t relieve the PTSD. If you want to have a relationship with someone, you really shouldn’t treat them as trash (and literally sleep with everyone except him). It’s something called personal responsibility.

    You seem to think I am unaware of the birth of modern literature. You confuse dislike with ignorance.

    You seem to think I should be relegated to teaching elementary students about history. How petty can you be to pass such judgment based on one critique (that you happen to disagree with) of one piece of literature? Based on your post, I might well infer that you lack tact, cannot handle opposing viewpoints, and spend most of your time on the internet trolling. You have the need to prove your own intellect but are incapable of doing so without belittling others. But, I could be wrong. Thankfully, I do not need your validation or vindication. My students’ accomplishments speak for me, of which you know absolutely nothing.


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