The Sun Also Rises is considered the first significant novel by Ernest Hemingway. Published in 1926, the plot centers on a group of expatriate Americans in Europe during the 1920s. The book’s title, selected by Hemingway (at the recommendation of his publisher) is taken from Ecclesiastes 1:5: “the sun also ariseth.” Hemingway’s original title for the work was Fiesta, which was used in the UK and Spanish edition of the novel.
The novel is a powerful insight into the lives and values of the so-called “Lost Generation”, chronicling the experiences of Jake Barnes and several acquaintances on their pilgrimage to Pamplona for the annual fiesta and bull fights. Barnes suffered an injury during World War I which makes him unable to consummate a sexual relationship with Brett Ashley. The story follows Jake and his various companions across France and Spain. Initially, Jake seeks peace away from Brett by taking a fishing trip to Burguete, deep within the Spanish hills, with companion Bill Gorton, another veteran of the war. The fiesta in Pamplona is the setting for the eventual meeting of all the characters, who play out their various desires and anxieties, alongside a great deal of drinking. The novel ends ambiguously, with the characters going their separate ways and Jake about to free himself from Brett’s lure.
The Sun Also Rises is considered Hemingway’s best novel by a majority of critics, with A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls as runner-ups. It is considered ground-breaking in its economic use of language for creating atmosphere and recording dialogue. Upon its publication, many U.S. critics denounced its focus on aimless, promiscuous, and generally licentious characters. On the other hand, it was extremely popular with a young and international readership. Since then, the novel has gained general recognition as a modernist masterpiece.
While most critics tend to take the characters seriously, some have argued that the novel is satirical in its portrayal of love and romance. It shows Jake and Cohn, the two male protagonists, vying for the affections of Brett, who is clearly unworthy of the naive praise they heap on her (Cohn openly, Jake implicitly). On the whole, however, the text does not offer sufficient evidence to support this reading.
In The Sun Also Rises, gender issues are dealt with very seriously by critics, though there is little consensus among them. Some critics charge that the depiction of Brett as a ‘liberated woman’ is intrinsic to her divisiveness in relationships throughout the novel, and therefore that Hemingway saw strong women as causing trouble, particularly for the men who otherwise dominate the novel. Others have argued that Brett signifies the castration of Jake, meanwhile defenders suggest that Brett actually becomes the main character by being the only person Jake is truly interested in. Although the reasons vary significantly from critic to critic, the majority of critical opinion still labels Brett’s character as an expression of misogyny.
Another point of criticism is Hemingway’s depiction of character Robert Cohn, a Jewish man who is often the subject of mockery by his peers. Though some critics have interpreted this as anti-Semitism on the part of Hemingway, defenders of the book argue that Cohn is depicted in a sympathetic manner, mocked not due to his religion but due to his failure to serve during World War I. Interestingly, Hemingway is reported to have said that Cohn was the “hero” of the book, and Harold Loeb, the Jewish writer who served as a model for Cohn, defended Hemingway from charges of anti-Semitism. [find more information about this book, click here]