Post-War Challenges in The Sun Also Rises

May 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

In The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, a moody and reflective tone with an ironic undertone is used effectively alongside formal, concrete diction, simple syntax and antithesis, expressive figurative language, and numerous allusions to the Bible and irony that allow the reader to experience the tumultuous emotions felt by the characters of the novel and enhancing the theme of the suffering of war that continues off of the battlefield. The book contains a chain reaction of broken and dysfunctional relationships in the central characters’ search for wisdom, subsequently leading to a plethora of inappropriate behavior that was prevalent in Paris during the early 1920’s and following World War I. Soldiers who survived the bloody conflict returned home only to face new challenges and horrors that hadn’t been previously anticipated.

Jake Barnes narrates the novel with a moody, depressed, and reflective tone. He acts as an observer, noting and interpreting the scenery and events around him. He is deeply depressed since his return for from the war because an injury left him impotent and unable to have relations with the woman he loves, Lady Brett Ashley. Jake is part of the group, but he remains separate from the others, as supported by the tone. The sad, reflective tone can be observed in the passage on page 25:

“’Don’t touch me,’ she said. ‘Please don’t touch me.’

‘What’s the matter?’

‘Oh, Brett.’

‘You musn’t. You must know. I can’t stand it, that’s all. Oh, darling, please understand!’

‘Don’t you love me?’

‘Love you? I simply turn all to jelly when you touch me.’

‘Isn’t there anything we can do about it?’

She was sitting up now. My arm was around her and she was leaning back against me, and we were quite calm. She was looking into my eyes with that way she had of looking that made you wonder whether she really saw out of her own eyes. They would look on and on after everyone else’s eyes in the world would have stopped looking.” (Hemingway 25)

In this quotation, Jake’s inner struggle is tangible, he expresses obvious love from Brett, and he is unable to have a relationship with her. The prevailing longing and sadness in the tone of is ironic, when one considers the title of the novel, The Sun Also Rises. The name suggests that for every downturn; every time the sun goes down, it comes up. In the novel, however, this doesn’t occur. The book ended on the same melancholy, depressed note on which it began. The sad, questioning, and reflective tone is also supported by the epigraph from the Bible in the beginning of the book. The epigraph is from Ecclesiastes 1:3-6. The opening sentences of the book summarize the tone of The Sun Also Rises, “’Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). The actions of the characters throughout the novel support this; excessive drinking and reckless behavior suggest that they are trying to fill an otherwise meaningless existence. Jake’s questioning attitude and depressed, moody tone is driven by formal, yet simple, diction.

Hemingway use formal language with very little colloquial or vernacular allows the reader to understand the main concepts of the story without having to decode a plethora of complex language. In Jake’s description of scenes and events, straightforward language is used, with few double entendres or euphemisms.

“By that time, though, he had other things to worry about. He had been taken in hand by a lady who hoped to rise with the magazine. She was very forceful, and Cohn never had a chance of not being taken in hand. Also he was sure that he loved her. When this lady saw that the magazine was not going to rise, she became a little disgusted with Cohn and decided that she might as well get what there was to get while there was still something available, so she urged that they go to Europe, where the lady had been educated, and stayed three years.” (Hemingway 5).

This passage exemplifies the simple diction used, and how it doesn’t interfere with the integral message of the story. In conjunction, Hemingway chooses mainly monosyllabic words. Finally, Jake’s reflective tone is apparent through the abundant descriptions he offers throughout the text. The diction in The Sun Also Rises is further supported by simple and periodic syntax.

Simple sentences make up the vast majority of the novel. Despite the name, the meaning that they convey is far from simple. For instance, the following passage consists of mainly simple sentences, but conveys the rhetorical question that seems to haunt Jake and Brett for the entirety of the story.

“We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out on the Gran Via.

‘Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, ‘we could have had such a damned good time together.’

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

‘Yes.’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’ (Hemingway 247).

In addition to being constituted primarily of simple sentences, this passage contains a rhetorical question. “’Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” is the essential question of the novel. What if Jake wasn’t impotent? Would their lives be less meaningless if they were able to be together? In addition, the description of Romero’s bullfighting provides antithesis, because he appears to be the only character with meaning in his life.

“The dampened, mud-weighted cape swung open and full as a sail fills, and Romero pivoted with it just ahead of the bull. At the end of the pass they were facing each other again. Romero smiled. The bull wanted it again, and Romero’s cape filled again, this time on the other side. Each time he let the bull pass so close that the man and the bull were all one sharply etched mass. It was all so slow and so controlled. It was as though he were rocking the bull to sleep. He made four veronicas like that, and finished with a half-veronica that turned his back on the bull and came away toward the applause, his hand on his hip, his cape on his arm, and the bull watching his back going away.” (Hemingway 217).

The presence of Romero near the conclusion of the novel creates a schism in the group of friends because he is apparently the only one who has achieved what is described in Ecclesiastes, purpose and meaning. The vast majority of Romero’s interactions occur within the bull ring, in contrast to the group of friends; the ring does not allow for fake or meaningless actions because they will lead to death. This sureness captures the group’s attention; they envy his seemingly togetherness and meaning. This syntax contributes to the irony in The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway makes effective use of irony in several different scenarios. Additionally, the aforementioned title creates irony in comparison to the verses of Ecclesiastes. In addition to this, the plot contains situational irony in regard to Jake’s impotence. He goes to war, like most men, in an attempt to prove his manliness, but as a result loses the use of the very organ that could be referred to as “his manhood.” In addition, the use and reference to the bible used to create this effect is also allusion. Hemingway’s inclusion of the epigraph and Jake’s name allude to the Holy Bible, and further enhance the questioning, depressed, and reflective tone. “Brett smiled at him. ‘I’ve promised to dance with this Jacob,’ she laughed. ‘You’ve a hell of a biblical name, Jake.’” (Hemingway 22). Another biblical allusion is present during the fiesta; it lasted seven days, like the biblical creation of the Earth. As previously mentioned, a significant theme in The Sun Also Rises is the search for meaning. Several of the characters question both internally and aloud whether religion could be the answer.

“’Listen, Jake,’ he said, ‘are you really a Catholic?’

‘Technically.’

‘What does that mean?’

‘I don’t know.’ (Hemingway 124)

This quotation illustrates the questioning of conventional religious beliefs and their impact on the search for meaning in one’s life. After visiting the church in Spain, Brett and Jake have a conversation that affirms this assentation.

“’Oh, rot,’ said Brett. ‘Maybe it works for some people, though. You don’t look very religious, Jake.’

‘I’m pretty religious.’

‘Oh, rot,’ said Brett. ‘Don’t start proselyting to-day. To-day’s going to bad enough as it is.’” (Hemingway 209).

The search for wisdom is the central emotional catharsis of The Sun Also Rises.

In The Sun Also Rises, a moody tone highlighting the situational irony is used in conjunction with simple diction, syntax and antithesis, and with allusions to the Bible and situational irony that permit the reader to experience the unbridled emotions felt by the characters in the story. They also augment the theme of horrors of war never really leaving you, despite being off the battlefield. The search for wisdom and meaning is what leads the characters to the situations which they encounter during the time frame in which the story takes place.

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