Before reading this book you must be familiar with the post World War I effects in France. Since the novel was written in the 20’s for the 20’s the purpose of the story is not obvious to someone bred in the 1990’s. Following World War I all publications in France – newpapers, articles and novels – were glamourtized. According to the media life in post war France was as content and dignified as before. In reality the War had devastating effects on the French people. Many were disillusioned, wandering through their life lost, not sure what their goal was. Hemingway took a bold step in publishing The Sun Also Rises. He chose to write the truth. His goal was to tell it like it really was. After a half a century of steamy Harloquin novels or Stephen King, this story may not seem very shocking to you. But it caused quite an uproar upon publication in the 1920’s. But Ernest Hemingway was one of the greatest writers of his time. His words are written with detail and preciseness. So as you read A Sun Also Rises rememember that if you are looking for its purpose within the story, you will not find it. The story itself is the purpose.
As I stated previously, A Sun Also Rises takes place in France following the first World War. The main character and narrator Jake is a War veteran and a news writer. His daily life consists of getting up, eating a large breakfast, going to work for a brief period, and going to lunch (usually with a friend) which is where he has his first drink of the day. After that he drinks some more, has a large dinner and more drinks. Then he goes out with friends and drinks and drinks and drinks. Then he goes to sleep ready for the same routine in the morning. His is the typical life of a French resident in the 1920’s. Jake has a group of close friends whom he parties with on a regular basis. His best friend is a wild foul-mouthed woman named Brett, A.K.A “Lady Ashley.” Brett is no lady. Her first entrance into the novel has her showing up at a club with a rowdy group of homosexuals. The scene is humorous to read. Jake, however, was not amused. It so appalled him that he had to leave the club to drink elsewhere until his friends met up again at another club. There were deeper reasons for his disgust aside from the usual. Jake was once, and still is in love with Brett. They had a romantic relationship long ago but Jake developed a post war handicap. Impodence. Jake and Brett had learned to change their relationship to one of close friends. So it’s easy to understand why seeing a group of boys with perfectly functioning manly parts dance around in rejection of their masculinity would be offending to Jake.
Jake’s friends follow the same dispirited ritual of waking up, partying, going to sleep. When they got bored partying in France they tried partying other places, like Spain. The cultures and mannerisms in Spain were a little different. Instead of clubs and festivals to quench their thirsts, they had bull fights. But the drinking was always the same.
One of Jake’s friends, a man named Robert Cohn was different from the rest. Robert was an American who received an American’s riches following the war by publishing his first best selling book. Having nothing better to do in America, he moved to France. Cohn was different from the others. He didn’t drink and he had dreams and ambitions. Robert Cohn enjoyed the company of his piers but his outlook on life was different. He didn’t want to sit around and drink until he died in a mug of brew. This irritated everyone to the point that the resentment of the drunks he once called friends caused him to be outcasted.
The awareness of the dimoralized French society during its “lost” era makes this book very powerful. Hemingway made his historical mark by telling it like it was plain and simple. His novel also gave people a sense that it was okay to speak up and let the world know that everything was not okay in the end. The sun may have gone down when the war ended and the rest of the world slept soundly in the dark with their eyes closed tight. Hemingway made them open their eyes. Because the sun also rises.