Drinking Habits in the Sun Also Rises
Jake, Brett, and Robert: Why Do They Drink and How Does it Affect Them?
One of the most prominent parts of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is the amount of drinking the characters do. They regularly have drinks in bars and cafes and very often indulge as a group. It appears that three of the main characters, Jake, Brett, and Robert, have the most compelling reasons for their habitual alcohol consumption, and seem to be affected by it the most. Of course, there are also reasons the group as a whole like to drink while they are together.
The main character and narrator of the book, Jake Barnes, is an expatriate living in Paris working as a journalist in the 1920s. Jake suffered a wound in WWI that has left him impotent, and arguably, this is his main reason for his excessive consumption of alcohol. Obviously, quite a bit of people use alcohol as a means to ‘drown’ their feelings and make them feel better about the situations they may find themselves in; for Jake, it would seem that he is drinking because of the impotence. The injury has made Jake painfully aware of his masculinity and most importantly, aware of the fact that he will never have an intimate relationship with Brett. At one point, Jake states: “under the wine I lost the disgusting feeling and was happy” (150). In the situation in which this line appears, it is assumed that Jake is speaking about the tensions between his friends, but the line could have also been regarding the situation with his masculinity. Jake not only enjoys drinking with his friends but also drinking alone, which is evidenced when he says, “I drank a bottle of wine for company. It was pleasant…to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company” (236). Here, Jake creates the impression that he can grow tired of his companions and the sense that he knows the wine will not judge him or his masculinity.
Brett Ashley is perhaps the most complex character of the book. A divorcee with a tendency to hop around from man to man, Brett is a woman who seems to thrive on attention and wants to just be one of the guys. Brett has no discernible career and conveys the impression that she lives off of the men she dates; therefore she has no real stability in her life. This alone could be reason enough for Brett to partake in so much drinking. In one scene, the count actually points out to Brett how much she drinks. He says, “You’re always drinking, my dear. Why don’t you just talk?” (65). Brett goes on to be defensive towards the count and winds up calling him a fool. However moments later, the count goes on to say, “My dear, you are charming when you are drunk” (66). Such comments could almost encourage Brett to get and stay drunk. Another reason that could lead to such excessive drinking is the fact that Brett wants to be one of the boys. She often refers to herself as a ‘chap’ and wears her hair slicked back. Brett’s male companions are always drinking together, and conceivably she feels as though she needs to drink as much as they do in order to be a ‘chap.’
Robert Cohn is the only main character in the book that does not drink, when he has maybe the best case for being a drunk. It is evident almost immediately that none the characters really like Robert. When he and Jake get into a minor spat, he tells Jake “You’re really about the best friend I have” and Jake responds by thinking “God help you” (47). Later on, Bill says about Robert: “he makes me sick, and he can go to hell” (108). The most obvious cause of the dislike towards him is the fact that he is Jewish, and a palpable disdain for Robert is shown by all of his friends at some point. It could be argued that such feelings of animosity would drive someone to drinking, but this is the exact opposite case for Robert. Mike even asks: “Why aren’t you drunk? Why aren’t you ever drunk, Robert?” (146). However, he just deflects the question totally and tells Mike to “go to hell” (147). Perhaps Robert does not drink because of personal or religious reasons, or maybe his ex-wife or Frances had something against it. Whatever the case may be, the character that could seemingly benefit the most from ‘drowning his sorrows,’ does no such thing.
As a collective group, Jake and his pals seem to use drinking as a way to avoid making real human connections. It is as if they are all so insecure of themselves, they really trust no one. Each member of the group seems to have a personally guarded secret about themselves, and no one wants to really get to know one another in fear of having to reveal said secrets, for example: Jake’s failing masculinity, Brett’s man-hopping, and Robert’s refusal to drink. On the surface, the group appears to be a happy bunch that enjoys having a good time, but underneath all of the drinking and party-going their true, very flawed, characters are revealed.
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