Ignoring The Warning Signs Before Disaster Anti-Semitism as Seen In The Sun Also Rises
Ignoring the detrimental issues of the world, does not cause them suddenly vanish from our own eyes, it only gives them time to flourish and expand into the beast that they aspired to become. Case in point: the decimation and near annihilation of an entire ethnic and religious group, the slaughtering of an innocent six million peoples; commonly referred to as the Holocaust. Throughout the novel, The Sun Also Rises, persistent anti-Semitic remarks are all made towards the novels only openly Jewish character, Robert Cohn.
The remarks are often degrading, and shine a subordinate light on Jewish people. In the 1920s, anti-Semitic thinking was rising not only in Europe, but in America as well. The once moderate anti-Semitism of the 1920s helped ignite the flame of powerful regimes, particularly that of the Nazi Party in Germany. By the 1930s, anti-semitism got to the point where it was no longer just crude verbal remarks, but the outright massacre and near obliteration of an entire religious and ethnic group. In Ernest Hemingway’s critically acclaimed novel, The Sun Also Rises, many scholars view the openly present anti-Semitism as Hemingway’s own vendetta against those of Jewish descent. I would like to respectfully disagree with that claim. It is in my belief that Hemingway uses anti-Semitism to help give readers a glimpse into how Jewish people were treated at the time of the novel and give a highly pronounced warning sign to the world, of what is to come in the future, if the anti-Semitism does not cease.
Many reverenced critics have interpreted Hemingway’s text, The Sun Also Rises, with an activist perspective. This flawed interpretation of the text has often caused a heavily differentiated viewpoint as to why Hemingway uses anti-Semitism in the text. A fair majority of critics who interpret The Sun Also Rises, with an activist perspective, argue that Hemingway’s supposed preconceived notions towards Jews are why he consistently inputs anti-Semitism and not because he wants to utilize it as a thematic apparatus. Acclaimed Hemingway scholar, Pearl Greenberg, agrees with me in the fact the Hemingway most definitely uses anti-semitism throughout the text as a thematic apparatus, even down to the title of the book. According to Greenberg, Theory has freed us to take Hemingway’s possible anti-Semitism in stride and yet not impoverish ourselves by labeling The Sun Also Rises (a title that is, after all drawn from Hebrew scriptures) as little more than a open indictment of Jewish culture. (Greenberg 926) Greenberg clearly indicates that there is much more into the implication of anti-Semitism in The Sun Also Rises, than just downright hatred towards Jews.
Hemingway is commonly regarded as one of the most profound writers of his era for implementing small, often overlooked aspects, of the real world into his writing and shining a greater light on them, than that in the real world. That is exactly what Hemingway did with anti-Semitism in The Sun Also Rises. To help further this point, another esteemed Hemingway scholar Maurice H. Cummings has stated Hemingway wrote [.] that he is not recreating the world around him, but creating a new world sometimes using bits and pieces of the real world for his vision. (Cummings 927) Hemingway implemented the bits and pieces of the real world’s growing anti-Semitism problem through a variety of belittlements, mockeries and downright animosity towards Jews in the 1920’s right before the Holocaust. He did this to help show readers of how Jews were treated during his time and if this anti-Semitism was to continue something extremely troublesome would occur quite soon.
One of the most prevalent belittlements of Jewish people is the mockery of their physical features, particularly that of their nose. The first instance of anti-Semitic remarks in The Sun Also Rises, occurs in Chapter 1 when Jake makes a highly crude and degrading remark, stating that He (Cohn) was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. .and it certainly improved his nose. (Hemingway 11) To the outside world, Cohn was far more attractive once he got his nose flattened. While this may seem like mere insult on Cohn’s physical features, the connotations of Jake’s remark go much further than that. According to Jewish culture scholar, Ophir Yarden Folk beliefs about horns and big noses have served to demonize Jews–and even Jews themselves have not been exempt from distorted images of their bodies. (Yarden 1) The popularity of this common stereotype of Jews ended up being extremely detrimental towards them during the Holocaust. The Nazis seized upon the negative Jewish body image and used caricatures and other forms of propaganda to present the Jews as subhuman or as disfigured humans. (Yarden 1) During the crackdown on Jews in the Holocaust, a large nose was used to determine who was Jewish and would get sent out to the concentration camps later in the 1930s and 40s. This dislike of a large or long nose is still immensely present to this day, as a large nose is not considered beautiful or attractive according to Western beauty standards. By Hemingway including this crude remark about Jewish people’s’ noses, he helped to show readers one of the most common physical belittlements that Jewish people endured and how this small belittlement led to much larger repercussions towards Jewish people in the near future.
Not only are the physical attributes of Jews mocked, their supposed superiority over the rest of the world often is as well. A prominent instance of this type of anti-Semitism in The Sun Also Rises, occurs in Chapter 10, when Bill comments that “”Well, let him not get superior and Jewish. (Hemingway 102) Similar to the previous degrading remark about Cohn’s nose, this odious statement also holds much further implications than what may appear on the surface level. According to another venerated Jewish scholar, Michael Laitman Since ancient times, the Jews have been dubbed the chosen people, that they were chosen to be a light unto nations. However, today Jews are being blamed for doing the exact opposite.(Laitman 4) Laitman is referring to the fact that in ancient times Jews were viewed as superior peoples and were supposed to beneficial to other nations, but during the period of The Sun Also Rises, the 1920s, and still to today, Jews are often scapegoated into being the problematic force when something goes wrong. Laitman also mentions Hitler rose to power and blamed the war on the Jews (Laitman 14) This mob-mentality of scapegoating the superior Jews who cause all problems, is what helped fuel Nazi ideology and later led to the decimation of the Jewish populations of Europe. This widespread anti-Jewish propaganda helped fuel the absolute hatred and disgust of Jewish people. Thus, by Hemingway including this small remark made by Bill, he is presenting readers with another prominent instance of real-world anti-semitism in the novel and adding another vivid indicator of what is to come in the future if belittling, anti-Semitic remarks do not stop.
All in all, while many scholars may argue that Hemingway includes the rampant anti-Semitism in the novel The Sun Also Rises, because of his own personal enmity towards Jews, Hemingway makes it indubitably evident throughout the entirety of the novel, that the flagrant anti-Semitism is utilized to help give readers a glimpse of how Jews were treated in the 1920s leading up to the eventual disaster of the Holocaust. Not only does he provide readers with a glimpse of the anti-Semitic actions of the 1920s, he (possibly unknowingly) foreshadows and give a profound warning of the events that will occur in the near future, only ten years after the setting of the novel, if the anti-semitism does not cease. He is able to accomplish this by showing how supposedly inconsequential degrading remarks, like belittling a Jewish person for the size of their nose or their supposed superiority, eventually lead to a much larger and graver matter, and helped inspire the Nazi propaganda and ideology, that led to the carnage and near eradication of the Jewish population in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. The truly cynical aspect of Hemingway’s vivid description of the anti-semitism of the 1920s, is that much of the same ideology still strives on to this day. Hemingway executes an absolutely stupendous job in foreshadowing what can happen if we let hatred, even if it appears as just mere demeaning remarks towards a single group, run rampant and uncontrolled.
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