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Nonsense, Fiction, and Miscellaneous Things

'The Sun Also Rises', Ernest Hemingway

I don't know the reasons but I expected Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises to be a kind of dull authorial moralizing with Ma Barkeresque characters to enliven and give credence to the moralizing.  These Ma Barker characters would torment Hemingway. Hemingway, in having the last word, would then show himself to be foolish , in an unfortunate and shameless way. That's not what I got.

Jake Barnes is the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.  His everyday life is as a news reporter working and living in Paris.  Most of the story concerns the events and details of, a sort of, group vacation he takes to Spain with friends. They attend a fiesta with bullfights and also get some fishing in.   

Published in 1926, 8 years after the end of World war I,  The Sun Also Rises seems a malaise.  Jake, the narrator, distances himself emotionally from his descriptions.  The writing style is like a dispassionate recounting.  Emotions are blunted.

They expected their money the next day.  We arranged to meet at Pamplona.  They would go directly to San Sebastian and take the train from there.  We would all meet at the Montoya in Pamplona.  If they did not turn up on Monday at the latest we would go on ahead up to Burguete in the mountains, to start fishing.  There was a bus to Burguete.  I wrote out an itinerary so they could follow us."1

The interesting thing is that Hemingway has Jake narrate this way on purpose.  The purpose is to help set a tone of malaise maybe even one of an underlying fear.  This malaise and fear being the result of the first World War and it's effects of a sort of worldly post traumatic stress disorder.  I'm going to digress for a minute.

It seems to me the first World War, in being the first of it's kind, or at least the first contemporary world war which was not merely a relic of history like Alexander's conquests, made batty a return to pre-war civilities.  How could a person return to normal life and, although grateful the war was over, not have doubts that something was amiss?  Tomorrow another war might happen.  If tomorrow another war didn't happen, somebody was being fooled?  Everyone knew tragedy would happen, it was inevitable, it probably should have happened.  In effect, this lack of tragedy made so-called life a sham.  The war had created the world's first dystopian souls. Any attempt to understand even enjoy life was useless.  Who wouldn't experience a malaise under these circumstances?  Enough amateur social psychology; back to the book.   

All that sort of doubt is Hemingway's intent with the blunted writing, or as the blurb on the backcover of the book calls it, ". . . restrained writing . . ."2  

The break from this impassive writing comes in the final climactic bullfights.  Now, instead of impassivity we have Jake narrating, as per Hemingway's intent, in an involved and attached way, thus, helping to create a sense of hope as opposed to the blunted writings previous sense of despair.

He profiled directly in front of the bull, drew the sword out of the folds of the muleta and sighted along the blade.  The bull watched him.  Romero spoke to the bull and tapped one of his feet.  The bull charged and Romero waited for the charge, the muleta held low, sighting along the blade, his feet firm.  Then without taking a step forward, he became one with the bull, the sword was in high between the shoulders, the bull had followed the low slung flannel, that disappeared as Romero lurched clear to the left, and it was over.3

Jake's pleasure with bullfighting sets the stage for a moving away from a defensive hesitancy and toward a happier existence.  But Hemingway suggests Jake can't be happy in this way.  Despite being a responsible and intelligent news reporter, Jake is a also a backslider with a huge streak of ignorance.   Suffice to say, Jake imparts a countenance of mature ethics only to act completely opposite these ethics.  He's not willfully hypocritical, he is just unbelievable ignorant of ethics when reflected in actions and situations rather than concept.  It's as if he could easily answer any ethical question presented to him as an ethical question, but if that same ethical question occurs among certain sets of circumstances, which circumstances he takes for granted as being obviously civil, then he is completely unaware that anything like ethics even exists in such a case. Put another way, if he has to consider ethics then okay he will.  If he has to 'live' ethics then, he might argue, he has already chosen a life based on ethics thus, all subsequent ethical decisions have already been answered positively. 

Anyway, in the resolution things seem somewhat more hopeful for Jake and Brett Ashley, whom Jake has acknowledged he loves, and by symbolism more hopeful for society in general. But Jake's tendency to backsliding, which is similar to societies backsliding into wars, is the monkey on Jake's back. With Jake's last sentence, "Yes," I said.  "Isn't it pretty to think so?"4, I realized Hemingway was intimating Jake's, and possibly civilizations', inevitable backsliding from any new found hope.

Jake takes a lot of care to set scenes.  Describing the types of chairs and tables in a cafe or describing the countryside as he or the group travel through it.  The descriptions, in keeping with his character, aren't poetic by any stretch. They are of such an ascepticism and quantity that the cumulative effect is to impart on the reader an empathy for and similitude with Jake as the descriptions reveal in him a longing for a simpler time and life.   

I might recommend the book in the way of mimicking Jake Barnes matter-of-fact reportage.  'The book is swell. I'd recommend it.'

1 The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway, ©Charles Scribner's Sons, Trade Paperback Edition, 2006, pg. 90
 Ibid, Backcover   
3 Ibid, pg. 224
Ibid, pg. 251
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