I finished reading The Sun Also Rises some time ago, but I never got around to writing a review for it. While I was reading it, a coworker saw me doing so and told me an interesting fact about Ernest Hemingway I didn’t know: he hates women. First I was shocked. Then I continued reading and I came to a similar conclusion. The only main female character in that novel is not portrayed flatteringly, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
The story is about a group of World War I veterans, whom are now mostly all writers, drinking a lot of alcohol and traveling. The main character, Jake Barnes, is a plain man who was injured in the war and lost the use of his penis. This is important because his love interest, Brett Ashley, is unable to be with him because she doesn’t want to give up sex. She is a very outgoing and independent woman. They met during WWI in England where Brett treated him for his wound that made him impotent. Jake starts out in Paris with an acquaintance named Robert Cohn. Cohn and Brett leave Paris for a time (partially together, but that isn’t revealed until later) and so Jake’s friend and fellow veteran Bill Gorton visits Paris. He convinces Jake to go on a fishing trip in Spain and then go to Pamplona for the “Running of the Bulls” festival. Cohn tags along, much to Bill’s and even Jake’s internal complaining. Just before they leave, Jake runs into Brett and her fiancé and their mutual friend Mike Campbell. She asks if they can join Jake and co. in Pamplona for the festivities and Jake agrees. After a peaceful fishing trip in a small Spanish town, Bill and Jake return to Pamplona where Cohn decided to wait for Brett to arrive. Brett and Mike arrive as the town prepares for the festival. One of the nights Mike ridicules Cohn for following Brett around even though she doesn’t want him to. The celebrations start and there is a lot of drinking and bullfighting. Brett ends up falling for an up-and-coming bullfighter, and has Jake help her get to know the young lad named Pedro Romero. Cohn can’t find Brett one night and gets mad at Mike and Jake for not telling him and insulting him. He ends up knocking both of them out and then discovers Brett with Romero and beats him up. By the end of the altercation, he feels guilty about doing so and escapes to his hotel room. Romero slays a bull the next day as if it were nothing. Then after his victory, him and Brett leave for Madrid. Jake, Bill, and Mike return to France, but then Jake heads back to Spain to vacation. He receives a telegram from Brett to visit her immediately in Madrid, where upon his arrival, he finds out she just broke up with Romero and sent him home for fear of screwing his life up. She then asks Jake to take her back to Mike. As the book ends, they are riding in a taxi on their way out of Madrid and Brett says they “could have had such a damned time together,” to which Jake responds with “Yes…Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
This book is a great example of Hemingway’s simple language and diction. He leaves plenty left unsaid, and so it requires the reader to infer about a lot, but he doesn’t just have the reader guessing. He points you to a direction, and then says “You tell me what is really happening here.” This is very well done, however this “leading” ends up revealing what beliefs and biases Hemingway himself had. For instance, Jake is very much a self-inserted character, meant to be a man akin to ol’ Ernie. Brett is believed to be basically any woman that he ever interacted with, manifested in a negative portrayal of an independent woman. He writes her to be very promiscuous. She has many different partners and isn’t shown to have any real attachment to them in the first half of the novel, and then she cheats on Mike multiple times in the second part of the novel. The interesting part for me is it isn’t seen by Jake as a big deal that she is cheating or being promiscuous. Jake just has a problem that she isn’t cheating or being promiscuous WITH HIM. So in short, this is a good novel, and I am glad I read it, but holy shit, Hemingway had the typical “Nice guys finish last” complex and it really overshadows some of the more fun literary themes, like alcoholism and self-discovery after a major war that was so horrific it made so many men and women feel lost like never before. But hey, this book really helped establish him as a writer, so maybe it got him laid and he let out these frustrations because apparently some of his later works featured women who weren’t the “bitch woman” stereotype that Brett Ashley is called in most literary circles.