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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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After World War I Hemingway felt he had to start over, to learn how to do things simply and truly again. "I was trying to learn to write, commencing with the simplest things," Hemingway said of his life in Paris in the 1920s. He was trying to "put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it." To accomplish this, Hemingway banished all literary frills from his writing. The Sun Also Rises, for instance, contains almost no metaphors or similes, very few adjectives, and even fewer adverbs. Hemingway wanted to focus on "things" in themselves, and so he used only simple nouns, and simple verbs. His style, compared to the style of many other writers you have read, is extremely lean.

Hemingway also believed that if a writer knew his subject well enough, he did not need to write everything he knew. Writing, to him, was like the tip of an iceberg; the reader would see only one-eighth but would feel and understand the rest.

Hemingway further believed that he could reach his readers through the physical and emotional reactions of his characters. By lucidly describing sensations-smells, sights, sounds-he hoped to produce the same feelings in his readers.

The Sun Also Rises is not simply a dramatic story of love and betrayal, nor is it only a travelog or an allegory of damnation and salvation-though it's all of these things in part. It is also Hemingway's effort to put his theory of writing into practice. Robert Cohn, who blubbers self-consciously, doesn't have good style in life or in writing (his novel was bad). The bullfighter Pedro Romero, on the other hand, has terrific style: if he wrote as he fights bulls, his style would be like Hemingway's-clean, enduringly pure, and professional. He would get the job done economically. He would avoid tricks or mystification; he would never show off. Thus when Hemingway celebrates Romero's bullfighting technique, he is indirectly celebrating his own writing style.

Hemingway broke with writing styles of the past. Popular writing before him generally was florid and overwritten, sentimental and loaded with compound sentences. Hemingway may not have been the first to use a simpler style (that other American expatriate in Paris, Gertrude Stein, always believed that Hemingway copied her style and made a fortune from it), but he was the first to enjoy critical success with it, and he radically changed the public's taste in fiction. Immediately after the publication of The Sun Also Rises numerous writers began to mimic him.


The events in The Sun Also Rises are described through the eyes of Jake Barnes, so you have to look carefully at Jake's strengths and weaknesses in order to judge how reliable he is as a narrator.

Do not mistake Jake for Hemingway. Jake is a fully realized character created by the author; he does not necessarily say everything that Hemingway believes. There may have been some superficial similarities between Hemingway and Jake: they were the same age, both were journalists in Paris, both were Americans, and both were wounded during World War I, although in different ways. But they should never be taken for the same person.

Jake is what is called an "unreliable narrator." He tells the story, but he tells you only what he wants you to know, sometimes putting himself in a good light, other times not. He also makes judgments about characters with which you might not agree. His hatred of Robert Cohn, for example, is colored by his jealousy and anger over Cohn's affair with Brett. He also has endless tolerance for Mike Campbell who, at least when you see him in the novel, is nothing but a drunken, obnoxious anti-Semite. As a reader, you have to decide for yourself what you think of Cohn, Mike, and all the other characters. Making up your own mind about them is not only your right, it is a way of participating creatively in the novel.

Though you may find yourself not liking Jake, he's the only one telling the story, so you have to trust him for basic facts. In weighing his judgments, keep in mind his prejudices, such as his dislike of American tourists, and his respect for people with what he calls aficion (passion).


The Sun Also Rises is divided into three distinct sections.

Part I, set in Paris, introduces the major characters and their relationships. In Part II we follow them on a trip to Spain. Bill and Jake go fishing in the Spanish countryside, then join the others at Pamplona, a small town that holds a yearly bullfight festival. Part III is an epilog following the fiesta. The book ends in another large city, Madrid.

The three sections can be seen as a series of movements: from city to country to city, and from wasteland to bountiful land to wasteland. Jake moves from sickness to health (on his fishing trip) and back to sickness. Brett descends into her own private hell, wallows in it, then through her one moral act, demonstrates the possibility of salvation.

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