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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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The eating and drinking continue on the last day of the fiesta-the day of the most important bullfight. When Brett appears she is again the goddess of the festival. Jake describes her "walking, her head up, as though the fiesta were being staged in her honor, and she found it pleasant and amusing." She has made love to the hero of the festival, Pedro Romero, and still has everyone else in love with her.

Cohn has hurt Romero seriously, but Romero is going to fight the bulls anyway.

Mike, as usual, looks on, impotent and jealous, though now his feelings are directed toward "a bullfighter," not "a Jew named Cohn." He continues to take his frustrations out on Cohn, however, taunting him like a schoolboy.

Brett is radiantly happy. "I feel altogether changed," she says. Robert Cohn is gone, and she can play the goddess. She also has Romero, the man she loves. Her feelings toward him are not just physical. She has been nursing him since Cohn's attack the night before, and awakening in her self some of the maternal feelings she felt as a volunteer nurse helping a young soldier. (That was the only time, remember, when she ever felt true love.) As a nurse, she discards the cigarette-smoking, mannish role that she usually plays, and finds a degree of fulfillment and happiness. As you'll see, her happiness doesn't last.

Jake and Brett take a walk and wander into a church. The last time they entered a church Brett wasn't admitted because she didn't have a hat. Now no one bars her entrance.

But the experience doesn't work for her. "Let's get out of here," she says. "Makes me damn nervous." Going to church "never does me any good." Although nursing Romero has made her feel as if she were starting a new life, she has fallen too far away from the church's beliefs to start anew with them.

Jake digs up Mike and finds him "on the bed looking like a death mask of himself." Some readers think of Hemingway's characters as living a "death-in-life"; that is, they're alive, but dead in most of the ways we consider human-they can't love, make commitments, or take life seriously. Certainly Mike, a drunk who is loud and abusive even with friends, is a kind of moral zombie, and here he even looks like one. Jake tucks him into bed and heads down to dinner.

Then they go to the last bullfight of the festival.

The three bullfighters, Romero, Marcial, and Belmonte, lead a colorful procession into the ring. The picadors wear gaily colored suits full of spangles. Romero has a gold cape and a three-cornered black hat. A band is playing; the crowd stands and cheers.

Romero takes off his cape and gives it to Brett as a symbol of their love. When she receives it, Jake tells her to spread it out on the railing before her so all can see it, but the sword-handler tells her to keep it folded on her lap. Why? Because Romero wants Brett to know he's thinking of her, but he doesn't want to advertise their love before the crowds.


Belmonte, the first matador of the afternoon, was once a very great bullfighter. When one fights a bull, there are two zones, one around the man and another around the bull. If a man stays within his own zone (Hemingway calls it his "terrain") he will be relatively safe, but when he passes into the area close to the bull-where his horns will be, where he can gore you-then the man puts himself in danger. (Don't we all make the same choice, standing safely back from life or grappling with it, risking failure?) Belmonte became famous 15 years ago for moving close to the bull and risking his life every time he fought. When he retired, a legend grew up that he was the bravest bullfighter of all times. When Belmonte was coaxed back from retirement, his fans didn't like him anymore. Belmonte in the flesh could never be as grand as his legend. Also, he chose smaller, safer bulls.

Now the fans love Romero. He is consistently great, always choosing dangerous bulls and fighting them on their "terrain." When they are worthy opponents, he loves and respects them. This afternoon he is fighting for Brett, but not showing off for her, because he's also fighting to please himself. When a person wants to impress another, he sometimes forgets his dignity and does something foolish. Romero never loses his dignity. He is a perfect bullfighter, not a brilliant one. Brilliance can blind you; perfection makes you see more clearly.

Since the first bull is color-blind, Romero must attract him not with his scarlet cape but with his body. Most of the crowd is disappointed by the way Romero steps toward the bull and then retreats. Only a true aficionado like Jake can understand the perfection of Romero's performance.

When Romero goes to kill the bull, he rises on his toes, blinds the bull with his cape, and thrusts the sword deeply into him. For a moment Romero and the bull are as one. Romero's next bull, the one who killed Vicente Girones, is big, with good horns and a lively spirit. Romero now looks good to everyone, even those who know nothing about bullfighting. The crowd cheers Romero to keep the fight going. He performs flawlessly, with no tricks and no mystifications.

When Romero kills the bull, his older brother is given permission to slice off the bull's ear and present it to Romero as a trophy. Romero gives the ear to Brett. This is enough tribute for Romero, and he would like to decline when the crowd offers to carry him on its shoulders. But he has no choice, and with an embarrassed look is carried off.

Everybody's tired after the fight and the week-long fiesta. Bill and Jake go off for a last drink. Perhaps they're exhausted, perhaps they're uneasy at having to again face the emptiness of their lives. Jake gets more drunk than he can ever remember. Perhaps it's just as well: when he goes to Mike's room he finds out that Brett has run away with Romero. Of the whole crowd only Bill and Mike are left. He misses all the others.

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