Ernest Hemingway’s classic 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises (known by the title Fiesta in the UK) seems to lack both plot and action. However, this novel is all about repression and subtext meaning that you have to learn to read between the lines to understand this novel. The Sun Also Rises is also based on true events and people which have been somewhat fictionalised.
Due to the lack of plot the characters are the main focus of the novel and the characters are more interesting than they first appear. Jake Barnes is Hemingway himself, even called Hem in earlier drafts of the novel. Jake is a journalist who was injured in the First World War and he is travelling from Paris to Spain to watch the running of the bulls. He is travelling with people which cannot exactly be called his friends, even though he is friendly with them, as he seems to dislike them all at some point in the novel. His injury from the war prevents him from being with Brett, the woman he loves, as he is impotent (note: Hemingway did not have the same injury as Jake). Jake reveals little about his own thoughts and feelings, once again hinting at repression which is the underlying theme for the novel.
Brett is a woman who goes against the norms of society by wearing her hair short and dressing in tight-knit jerseys, just as the flappers did during this era, and she seems to exude sexuality in her every movement. We never get a description of Brett’s face, just that she is ‘damn good looking’, meaning that Brett could be any woman. Unable to give up sex she cannot be with the man she loves, Jake, due to his impotence. Brett has numerous affairs throughout the novel, with Robert Cohn, Mike, and finally a nineteen-year-old bullfighter who wants to marry her even though he is ashamed of her unfeminine appearance and attitude. Brett is much more complex than she initially appears and she refuses to change herself for any man.
Once you learn to read between the lines in this novel you can really start to understand and enjoy Hemingway’s writing. The plot is of no consequence, you just enjoy learning about these characters and their pasts from the snippets that Hemingway reveals throughout the novel. The Sun Also Rises is a short, easy read as all superfluous language and description has been omitted. This aids the enjoyment of reading as you are not weighed down with unneeded description of every place that Jake and his friends visit while in Paris or Spain, you just read what needs to be read.
If you’re reading this book beware of the almost casual racism, antisemitism, and homophobia scattered through the prose. These casual references make this book an uncomfortable read in the 21st century and I found myself cringing when reading it.
I enjoyed reading this novel and have found it interesting to study at university. Hemingway is a classic writer of the 20th Century and I look forward to reading his other works such as A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bells Toll.
Started: 22nd September 2014
Completed: 30th January 2015