Cynthia Dubose on “Consequences of War in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises“
The Sun Also Rises, written by Ernest Hemingway is known as a critically acclaimed novel that embodies the illusion of a “lost generation.” The novel follows a group of American and British expatriates who revolve around the narrator and protagonist, Jake Barnes. Barnes, a soldier in World War I, receives a wound, which makes it impossible for him to have sexual intercourse. Therefore, the woman he loves, Lady Brett Ashley, refuses to sustain a relationship with him. This remains a continuous struggle throughout the novel, and is a direct outcome of the war; therefore, the war itself becomes the main problem of the novel. Hemingway suggests that the truth often works below the surface of his writing. Hemingway was wounded himself during World War I, and through fiction, Hemingway imagines what life might have been like if he was injured as Jake Barnes has been.
The characters in The Sun Also Rises who were involved with the war appear to be disoriented in various ways. Not only does Jake have a physical wound, but it is emotional as well. Jake states, “Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another” (The Sun Also Rises 19). Jake suggests that he has tried to escape himself, but it is simply impossible. Jake’s outlook further emphasizes how he is joined with Stein’s theory. In Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, he recalls his conversation with Stein, and that she claims, “All of you young people that served in the war. You are a lost generation” (A Moveable Feast 61). Stein further states, “You have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death…” (A Moveable Feast 61).
Excessive drinking is a persistent theme throughout the novel, and further supports Stein’s perception of this generation. Jake and the other characters constantly wander from bar to bar and are always drunk. This can be seen as a distraction not to ruminate over their current struggles. For example, Jake finds a present dinner party relatable to a memory he has from the war, “It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy” (The Sun Also Rises 150). Jake suggests that it is only under the influence of alcohol that he loses this sickened feeling and can be happy. However, similar to his recollections of the war, there is a known tension, and the inevitable feeling that something would soon happen. Jake is unable to escape this feeling, though things such as travel or alcohol might help for a little while, these feelings soon return.
It seems apparent that for this novel, war is the reason of the characters, specifically Jake’s disillusionment and anguish. They wander around meaninglessly, while using alcohol and travel to fill a void that will only be a temporary fix. The war shaped the characters physically and mentally, which led them into a state of permanent drunkenness and a constant search for something more. From start to end the novel implies that Jake’s wound is the cause of his troubles. One of the last sentences in the novel by Brett states, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together” (The Sun Also Rises 251). This conclusion is an affirmation that if it wasn’t for the wound Jake received from the war, Lady Brett would have continued a relationship with him and many of Jake’s troubles would cease to exist.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. New York: Scribner, 2010. Print
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. New York: Scribner, 1996. Print.
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