Monday, March 23, 2020

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway
Published 1926
American novel
Unread Shelf Project (longest unread), The Classics Club III, 

I'm so excited to have finished this book because it had been sitting on my shelf since before the turn of the century. My husband had to read it in college back in the late 90s, and this is his copy. He hated this book, but I'm not surprised that I enjoyed reading it. 

The Sun Also Rises is the story about a group of young Americans living in Paris, following WWI, who traveled to Spain to see the running of the bulls and a bullfight during the long siesta. They drank, smoked, and ate continuously. They rarely slept. They were literally lost, and maybe that was why they were referred to as the Lost Generation.

The running of the bulls in San Fermín

The plot was light and the writing simplistic or minimal; but the themes were numerous. For example, the theme of masculinity was significant, especially because it involved the main female character, Brett. She was assertive, racy, and promiscuous for her time. She fit in like one of the boys. She could drink liquor like a man drank, wore her hair short, and was sexually assertive the way men so wantonly were. She could not commit to anyone or anything. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the male characters struggled with their own masculinity. This affected the relationships with one another, as well as their connection with Brett, whom they were all in lust and had each been intimate with her. It made for uncomfortable moments, increased tension, and unbridled conflict.

Another theme was restlessness. There was the burden that life was flying by and the characters were not taking advantage of living. Maybe that was why they never slept and were always searching for adventures, afraid to miss something. There was a fear of having not lived enough. 

It helped to understand that the male characters were soldiers during WWI. After the War, they were left feeling dissatisfied and discontent. 


I also think there was something going on with the bull and steer motif because it seemed to mirror the male characters' relationships with Brett. Was she the steer that led the bulls into the ring? Or was she the matador who killed the bull at the end of the bullfight? I'm not sure, but maybe both ideas work.


This story was really effective because the reader is on this journey with the characters. You travel through Spain and see the sights and hear the sounds and feel the seasons change and experience the excitement of the crowds, the running of the bulls, and the tension of the bullfight. You may be tempted to think that there is no plot to the story due to its simplicity, but it is not true. 

Overall, my favorite part of reading The Sun Also Rises was the experience itself because the story or atmosphere felt similar to that of The Great Gatsby, by Fitzgerald, which was published in 1925. You truly get a feel for the time period by reading these two books.

If you have not read Hemingway, this is a good place to start, or you could begin with The Old Man and the Sea. Again, his writing style is minimalistic and light, but he incorporates themes and ideas to know and think about. Hemingway demands sympathy from his readers, and he doesn't write without purpose. 

And, if you want to visit Spain, well, this is one way to do it, and you won't regret the sights; but I apologize now for the company you will keep. Our characters are troubled.


George B. Edwards, Jr. said...

Your summary of The Sun Also Rises neatly sums up the book, Ruth. I enjoyed it. If you are interested in a pretty long treatment of the background of how this novel came about, Lesley M.M. Blume has the subject covered. Based on your recent reading of this work you would probable agree with her title, Everybody Behaves Badly. (when given the opportunity)...a quote from the book.

Jillian said...

I'm excited to read this one. For some insane reason, I'm finding I love Hemingway. (Insane because I expected I'd dislike him.) :-)

My favorite by him so far is A Farewell to Arms. <3

Stephen said...

This was my least favorite of the classics club! I'm glad you were able to enjoy it more than I was.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I read this book in my twenties. Years later I read a couple of biographies of Hemingway and apparently all the characters in most of his books but especially this one, because it was his first, were based on his friends.

Apparently all of Paris had a field day because they recognized who Brett and the men were. Hemingway lost a lot of friends thanks to that book.

Hemingway seemed to delight in brutalizing his friends, especially those who really liked him, by making them look like horrible people or buffoons in his stories.

Hemingway had major issues.

Silvia said...

I may read it. I have read Farewell to Arms and it’s a well written modern book. The Spain connection and your comparison to Gatsby are appealing.

Ruth said...

GEORGE: I bet it would be interesting. I think after what Sharon said, it would be very interesting!

JILLIAN: This is only my second Hemingway, and I can see that I am agreeable to his writing style. I look forward to A Farewell to Arms. I also need to get A Moveable Feast, I think. No, For Whom the Bell Tolls...that's the one I want to read after Farewell. BTW, I received your email, and I am saving it to read before bed. This way I have no interruptions. : )

STEPHEN: I totally understand...this was one of those -- either you like it or you did not. No gray area for sure.

SHARON: I had a good laugh with your comment. I'm so glad you shared that with me. Do you remember the biography that discussed this? I guess he didn't like having friends!

SILVIA: That's my next Hemingway...Farewell to Arms. It seems to be his best rated.

Ruthiella said...

I first read Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms) in high school and was probably to young and naive for him. I read The Sun Also Rises a few years ago and liked it more, though I think the sexual symbolism was a little over the top (something I would NOT have understood in high school for sure). They sure did drink a lot made me a little ill just to read about it.

Ruth said...

RUTHIELLA: I'm surprised they had you read this in HS. I wouldn't have liked it much, nor would I have understood any of it if I had to have read it in HS. It's on a different level than regular literature. And like you said, the sexual overtones, the drinking and smoking were over the top.