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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Ernest Hemingway was born in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Oak Park. He had four sisters and a brother. He went hunting and fishing with his father, a doctor, in Michigan. He was not able to join the army because of an eye injury. He began writing for the Kansas City Star just out of high school and almost a year later he volunteered as a driver for the ambulance corps in the war. He suffered serious leg injuries only after a few weeks on the front. During his long convalescence, he fell in love with a British nurse. He returned to the United States during Prohibition and turned to journalism and travel to escape the conventionalities of middle- class life.
He married Hadley Richardson in 1921 and returned to Europe as a journalist for the Toronto Star. There he met and mixed with a large group of expatriate writers and artists who had formed around Gertrude Stein in Paris. When his son was born, he was forced to return to Toronto, but not before he visited Pamplona for the running of the bulls. Hemingway was married three more times. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 for his short novel The Old Man and the Sea and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Hemingway committed suicide in 1961 following his father's example.
The Sun Also Rises is what is called a roman á clef, a novel with a key, meaning that it is written about actual people and events. For instance, Robert Cohn was based apparently on a man named Harold Loeb. In addition, this is a novel written after the fact, in retrospect. It is said to be Hemingway's greatest novel and serves as a good example of literary modernism (1910-1930), which was characterized by technical innovations. Unlike traditional novels, this is a novel that does not tell a story. The reader is thrust into the middle of the story with no direction and no outlining of issues.
Jake Barnes is like many of Hemingway's protagonists, who together form a sort of composite character as a fictional alter ego of the author. The protagonist's background is middle-class mid- western American. When World War II begins, the hero volunteers as an ambulance driver. A crucial event takes place: he is wounded seriously. While in the hospital he falls in love with a nurse who abandons him. He becomes cynical. His wound henceforth serves as a physical sign of his psychological trauma. The wound also represents a brush with death, a constant reminder of his mortality. He consciously abandons youthful ideals and calls them obscene lies. He suffers for the rest of his life from insomnia.
The Hemingway hero always has some sort of activity or pasttime that serves to provide order to his life, bullfighting and fishing, especially. These activities serve as a sort of substitute for religion or any ideology. They are a form of ritual activity, a way of ordering time. (See the character sketch of Pedro Romero below for the Hemingway code hero).