The Sun Also Rises 4 Essay, Research Paper
In 1926 a man named Ernest Hemingway wrote a novel that illustrates the effects of war on the Lost Generation; specifically, on one man named Jake Barnes. This novel is titled “The Sun Also Rises”. The Lost Generation is a group of people left feeling emotionally isolated in society due to the effects of World War I. Although most see the physical effects of the war, the emotional effects left a greater void in the hearts of many. This is what “The Sun Also Rises” deals with throughout its pages. The narrator, Jake Barnes, is scarred both emotionally and physically by World War I. He spends most of his life trying to repress his pain and fill the void he feels inside; he does this in many different ways.
The first way Jake tries to fill the void inside of him is through a large consumption of alcohol. He uses alcohol in order to repress the emotional distress he feels. Jake receives an injury in World War I that leaves him impotent, which is the main reason he has this overwhelming void in his soul. His masculinity is taken, and now he believes he is less of a person because of it. This void is described by critic Mark Spilka when he says, “As Barnes now sees, love itself is dead…” (Spilka,137). The painful discovery, that something believed in by so many is gone, causes Jake to question what is left to believe in. This leaves him with a cold sense of uneasiness, so instead of living with that harsh reality he drowns it away with alcohol. Jake’s friend Bill discusses Jake’s state of mind with him to a point, then instead of helping him work through his pain, by perhaps discussing it further, he tells him to have a drink. Hemingway writes:
Bill. What’s the matter? Feel low?
Jake. Low as hell.
Bill. Have another absinthe. Here, waiter! Another absinthe for this senor.
Jake. I feel like hell, I said.
Bill. Drink that, Bill said. Drink it slow(Hemingway,226).
The reader can interpret Bill’s advice to drink the alcohol slowly as a suggestion that the alcohol will somehow manage to ease Jake’s pain. This is not a one time occurrence; these types of actions are carried out through the novel. With every meal alcohol is consumed, and whenever Jake is in public he and his friends are looking for a place where they can get something to drink. Therefore, alcohol can be seen as a tool used to numb Jake from the reality of his life. At another point in the book, Bill labels him as being on a road to nowhere with his alcohol abuse; Jake simply accepts this with happiness, knowing that dealing with his alcohol problem is better than dealing with the pain of reality.
Bill. …You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking not working
Jake. It sounds like a swell life, I said. When do I work(Hemingway,120)?
At this point, it is obvious to see that Jake is in a state of denial; he’s doing anything he can to stay in the illusionary world he has created. Alcohol, therefore, is a necessity for Jake; it allows him to cope with everyday life.
Alcohol is not the only crutch Jake uses in Hemingway’s story. Later, the reader discovers that in order to put some sort of meaning into his life, Jake becomes deeply intrigued by, and involved in, the world of bullfighting. He is considered an aficionado. “Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights”(Hemingway,136). Jake uses bullfighting as another way to fill the void he feels inside, and, also, to remove the feeling of having no meaning in his life. Throughout most of Book 2, Jake is portrayed as a man who finally has something to hold onto. Like all things in his life though, this does pass, as Jake loses interest in this as well. By the end of the fiesta in Pamplona Jake isn’t even attending the bull fights anymore, but instead asking his friends how they went. This loss of interest illustrates another characteristic of Jake; one that can be described as the absence of attachment to anything in fear of losing it, subsequently causing him to question what else he should believe in. This characteristic then explains Jake’s ability to go from being so deeply intrigued by something, to not caring about it at all. Cathy N. Davidson explains it as such,”Jake, for example, clearly violates the code that, in the novel, most distinguishes him. His vaunted aficion for the bullfight ends with his failure in that service”(Davidson,85). This failure leaves Jake with no reason to be associated with bullfighting anymore, because it has lost the effect of giving him meaning, so he moves on.
Jake’s most widely used crutch throughout the book are his friends who save him from isolation. He represses reality and emotion by spending as much time with them as possible. The reason this works is that when he’s with them they are so busy eating, drinking, and moving around that there is no time to think about reality, or any of the negative aspects of his life. With them he is in his element. He is around people that can understand him because they experience the same feelings, to a certain extent, that he does. Dr. Bhim S. Dahiya describes the struggle as follows, “…[It is a]struggle to get over the depression of his disenchantment and learn to live in a world that ‘kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially’” (Dahiya,73). This is the core issue of how each character, specifically Jake, survives. They all feed off each other because it’s for the good of everyone’s interest. Their friendship, in all reality, is a form of group therapy. They band together in a group in order to survive what they all mutually see as a harsh reality. Jake’s friends are the largest tool used in the novel to help him cope with his life.
Jake’s life is also affected emotionally by a woman, named Brett Ashley, who he desires most of all. He desires her so strongly, yet can’t have her due to his war injury which leaves him impotent. This, most of all, is what makes the reader realize how jaded Jake’s feelings actually are. He will put himself through hell in order to see the woman he loves happy. At one point in the novel, Jake and Brett talk about a crush of Brett’s named Pedro Romero:
Brett. Ask him to come over and have a drink.
Jake. Not yet. He’ll come over.
Brett. I can’t look at him.
Jake. He’s nice to look at, I said(Hemingway,188).
This conversation illustrates that instead of claiming Brett for himself Jake’s reality is that he can’t ever have Brett, so he’d rather see her happy with someone else than sad and alone like he is. Mark Spilka describes Jake like this,”…ready to serve his lady at the expense of self-respect” (Spilka,136). Jake is willing to go running back to help Brett time and time again no matter how much pain it causes him all in the interest of making her happy. His desire to be loved by her blinds him to the pain she brings him. He realizes he is experiencing all of this anguish because of his war injury, which causes him to be bitter and to want to bury that pain. This is best explained when Leonard Unger says, “Brett is in love with Jake, and he with her, but since he is wounded as he is there is not much they can do about it”(Unger,251). This explains a lot of the reasons Jake represses reality; his reality is simply too painful to deal with.
The final thing that the reader realizes about Jake is that he, due to his torn-up emotions, cannot handle being alone. When Jake is alone he has too much time to think about the reality of the pain he’s dealing with. Leonard Unger describes Jake as,”…the man who cannot sleep when his head starts to work, and who cries in the night” (Unger,251). The reason this is key, in the breakdown of Jake Barnes as a character, is that it shows ultimately that he is repressing a painful reality which is only visible to him when he is alone. Without his tools to distract him from what he’s feeling inside Jake can’t handle life. Much of Jake’s inability to cope is caused by the war which, not only disenchants him as to what to believe in, but leaves him a lost man in a cold world.
All in all, Jake is a man emotionally destroyed by the war and then cast astray to fend for himself in a world full of harsh reality. He uses many tools, such as alcohol, bullfighting, and his friends to help him cope with day to day life, yet they all fail to fill the void he feels inside. He also tries to find happiness through a relationship with Brett, yet that too is also tarnished by the lasting effects of the war. He does everything he can to progress, but he always ends up back in the same place; his life becomes a never ending cycle of painful reality and broken dreams. Subsequently, for Jake Barnes, the sun sets, but never truly rises.