READING: The Sun Also Rises

6 Dec

Reading: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Why you should read it: Perspective

(Photo Credit)

As a young woman and both a writer and avid reader, I’ve been exposed to little literature with a strong theme of masculinity. For most of my high school experience, whenever there was any intense focus on gender perspective, it was usually the female perspective. I’ve read a lot of the classics, and a lot of them do touch on both, but—though I didn’t realize it then—the male perspective wasn’t as prominent in discussion and assignment. When I read for fun, my tastes ran toward typically female-dominated genres like romance and YA literature, and though there are men who write both, I didn’t usually pick up books with a strong, male protagonist. As a woman, I wanted to read about women, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When I was assigned The Sun Also Rises in college, I was in for the intensely masculine experience of protagonist, Jake Barnes. Up until then, my experience with Hemingway was limited, but not totally null. I’d read two of his short stories—“The Killers” and “Hills Like White Elephants”—which I loved, and The Old Man and the Sea, which I hated. And still hate, for the record. There were a lot of elements in Hemingway’s style that I could leave or take. While the legendary, economical quality of his writing is impressive, it can also be a little brusque and abrasive. For the most part, I could leave or take Hemingway.

Then I read The Sun Also Rises. Thought to be semi-autobiographical, the novel is about Jake Barnes, an American expatriate living in Paris during the 1920s. The novel begins with Jake explaining what kind of guy his friend, Robert Cohn is. He talks about how Robert is kind of a weakling, a little sniveling, his wife walked out on him, etc. etc. Basically, he’s the exact kind of guy Jake doesn’t want to be.

But Jake’s own sense of manhood is called into question for two reasons. One: his relationship with Lady Brett Ashley. Brett is kind of a hot mess. She’s good-looking and smart, but she hops from man to man seeking fortune and and attention. But she always comes back to Jake whenever she really needs help or she’s looking for something “real.” But she says she’ll never get in a relationship with him for the second reason. Jake suffered an injury in the war that’s left him impotent, though the extent of this injury is never really explained.

Jake, Brett, Robert and a couple more people, including Brett’s fiancee take a trip to Spain to see some bullfights. Thematically, the bullfights are everything. They’re sex, love, masculinity, passion, all rolled into one symbolic event.

But the real interesting part of the novel for me was watching Jake struggle to define and live with his own manhood, even though he’s impotent and has to watch the love of his life dally around with man after man, including Robert Cohn. The struggle in that is what makes the whole book interesting, and what made me remember why I so liked the Hemingway of his short stories, and forget why I hated The Old Man and the Sea.

The point is, there’s a reason why The Sun Also Rises is a classic. It will always be one of my favorites because Hemingway explores masculinity and what it’s like to be a man without having to be vulgar, or obvious. Hemingway claimed that being simple and direct produced the greatest writing. Maybe so, and though I won’t be taking on his style anytime soon, I appreciate the perspective he writes from, in a manner that’s eloquent and unadorned.

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3 Responses to “READING: The Sun Also Rises”

  1. Michelle December 6, 2011 at 12:36 PM #

    I’ll have to reread this one. I read it a year or so ago and enjoyed it, but didn’t really take the time to think about it thoroughly. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • dallyingwiththewriter December 6, 2011 at 2:35 PM #

      And thank YOU for commenting! I actually had to write a paper on the subject for my class, but then reread the book. I just love the ways, both subtle and obvious that Hemingway gets inside Jake’s head, and really raises the question of what it’s like to be a man. Thanks again! Come back by after you reread it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. READING: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman « Somewhere Different - December 13, 2011

    […] Last week I covered The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, which I adored on a couple levels, but most importantly, the book really made me take a look at the masculine perspective in literature, which I’d really been lacking in my literary experience. […]

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