Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is critically acclaimed and confronts various themes. One prominent theme is the impact of war on individuals, and having lived near war, Hemingway can be considered an authentic and credible source of information on this topic. In this novel, events linked to the war shape characters differently.
Precisely, The Sun Also Rises explores how war impacts people by capturing a fast-living and hard-drinking group’s attitudes, feelings, behavior, and moods in postwar Spain and France. Therefore, the following paper scrutinizes Hemingway’s novel to determine the impact of the Great War on the psychology and life of the characters, including physical injuries, developing negative coping strategies, and loss of faith, among other chaotic situations.
War trauma or psychological trauma is a prevailing theme in the novel as every character confronts the aftermath of the war. Trauma refers to a survivor’s mental disturbance after a devastating incident or events like war or accident, hence considered a wound inflicted upon a person’s mind. Hemmingway brings up the topic of trauma and how it affects characters who become traumatized by the war, the kind of trauma each character experiences, the impact, and how every character deals tries to heal from it.
The impact is evidenced by how characters become disillusioned from the world, directionless, aimless, sleepless, and restless. Jake, the novel’s protagonist, suffers from mental and physical post-war trauma. The physical trauma develops from a war-related injury that leaves Jake impotent, subjecting him to rejection from the woman he loves. Jake’s bodily injury becomes a continuous struggle throughout the novel, resulting in hopelessness and frustration. To address his Trauma, Jakes spends most of his time in bars, drinking, smoking, and traveling around Europe.
Jake’s trauma also makes him hopeless, such that he believes his situation cannot be remedied. For instance, when Cohn tells Jake of his plans to visit South America, Jake states, “Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I have tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There is nothing to that” (Hemmingway 10). Jake is always hopeless and frustrated because the war takes away his masculinity, leaving him to suffer throughout his life, mainly because he cannot cope with the trauma in a healthier manner than with alcohol consumption.
Hemmingway also shows how the war creates identity confusion and dissatisfaction through Jake, Cohn, and Brett. Having experienced the aftermath of the First World War, the novel first reflects how Hemmingway belongs to a lost generation. The missing generation concept has been used to describe Hemmingway’s novel. It represents individuals who reached adulthood during World War I, given their tendencies to behave recklessly and aimlessly and focus on the hedonistic accumulation of personal wealth. Characters in the novel show these characteristics through their dilemma as victims of the war and their inability to fulfill their physical and emotional needs.
Family, friends, and faith have lost importance to the characters and no longer provide any solace. Their unfortunate situations remain unchanged whether they travel, gamble, drink, or indulge in other distractions. From Gertrude Stein’s definition of a lost generation, the war results in moral and social corruption that leaves expatriates and the novel’s characters finding meaning in their lives through constant wandering, reckless sex, and drinking. Moreover, Hemmingway shows that the war creates a rapidly developing modernism that leaves expatriates who had left their country lost.
The three characters, Cohn, Jake, and Brett, are expatriates left disappointed and unsatisfied with their social environments and themselves, creating identity confusion. In one of their conversations, Bill thinks that most of Jake’s issues are linked to his decision to remain in Europe after the war. Bill states, “You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed with sex…” (Hemingway 60). As they maneuver in the new world, the war creates and the subsequent mental and physical distress, the characters turn to escapist habits to deal with their identity confusion and dissatisfaction.
The impact of war also enables Brett to transform into a ‘new woman.’ Through Brett, the novel contributes a lot to the rise of feminism, hence making the concept commonplace in mid-twentieth-century society. The concept of the ‘New Woman’ first emerged in the late 19th century as women started joining college and taking previously male-dominated careers, causing much fear that women would lower wages or take away jobs once they joined the labor force.
The 1920s New Woman pushed past venturing into male-dominated careers by infringing on masculinity with her academic and career achievements and physical appearance. Brett’s portrayal in the novel creates the link between the historical figure of the New Woman and herself. The most critical feature is how Brett’s character blends behavior, appearance, and display of power in her relationships. Hemmingway describes Bret with masculinity and femininity, respectively, when he writes, “her hair!-brushed back like boys” and “hull of a racing yacht (Hemmingway 30).
Besides her physical appearance, Brett’s carefree behavior further symbolizes the New Woman, especially how she inserts herself into typically masculine domains without being held back by social standards. Brett mostly asserts herself in masculine spheres like bullfights, among other domains considered unfit for women. Therefore, the loss of her love in the war launches a New Woman that challenges the existing distribution of power, patriarchy, and gender relations in Brett.
The loss of faith is an outcome linked to the aftermath of the Great War in the novel. The war precisely causes the characters to no longer have faith in things they trusted or believed, including traditional institutions, people, and God. When people face war and subsequent chaos, their belief in an omnipresent, omniscient, and orderly God erodes because a negative perception of the same replaces the notion of a benevolent and benign sovereign being. People affected by war often wonder how a benign and orderly God watches as chaos and horror unleashed by others consume their lives and well-being.
Similarly, the novel’s war alters the characters’ views in The Sun Also Rises, where characters transition from a peaceful world to one that loses its innocence, with Christian morality no longer relevant to the people. The difficulties Bill, Brett, and Jake face in the novel are attributable to the loss of faith in God, which is linked to their participation in the war. Brett, in particular, displays a loss of faith after tragically losing her love to the war and subsequently finds it challenging to maintain her religious beliefs and Christian moral expectations.
Trying to fill the emptiness she experiences, Brett develops unchristian escapist habits like alcohol consumption and constantly throwing herself at various men. Brett admits, “I’m damned bad so a religious atmosphere. I’ve the wrong type of face” (Hemingway). Moreover, due to her immoral lifestyle, Brett considers herself unworthy of being inside a church and hesitates to enter the chapel. Furthermore, Brett admits to Jacob that she cannot relate to his Catholic beliefs because she has lost her faith. Therefore, because of the devastating impact of war, the character’s religious beliefs are distorted because they do not understand how God would allow such chaos and misery.
In the novel, war is also shown to disturb characters in an expected manner such that friendships lose value. A dark representation of the loss of friendships is depicted in the intimacy between Cohn and Jake. Both characters maintain a superficial friendship, but Jake is often insulting toward Cohn and, at some point, confesses that he hates him. The novel begins with an unflattering description of Cohn, where Jake’s criticism of his supposed friend explicitly considers Cohn to be Jewish.
Jake also makes fun of his friend’s physical appearance and states that having his nose flattened in boxing “certainly improved his nose” (Hemmingway 3). Besides the anti-Semitic views against his friend, the reader will likely sense the tension between both friends. Both are barely alone and are shown dancing, drinking, parting, and having fun most of the time. However, the reader can sense that despite the company they keep in these circumstances, they seem to be alone in a crowd. Even if both characters talk constantly, they do not reveal their inner and true feelings in their conversations because they do not trust one another as confidants.
Because chaos is an everyday reality of the novel’s characters, post-war people have rejected pre-war romantic values. Jake states, “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together” (Hemmingway 3). The loss of romantic values can be seen in how most characters, particularly war veterans, do not respect Cohn’s romantic views of romance and friendships. To them, Cohn is like a schoolboy with big dreams other characters lack due to their participation in the war. Jake is particularly irritated by Cohn’s romantic views and, in one instance, tells him, “Oh, cut out the prep-school stuff” (Hemmingway 39). Another character Harvey Stone a close friend of Jakes, says to Cohn, “You’re not a moron. You’re only a case of arrested development” (Hemmingway 43).
Just as shown in the novel, the post-war period saw a world founded on debasing economic considerations rather than the previous glorious moral values (Alarcón 100). As such, people, especially those who participated in the war, no longer believe in anything, and the universe becomes meaningless. The destructive impact on their psyche pushes them to harmful coping strategies and escapist habits like bullfighting, gambling, substance use, and reckless sex. Instead of taking their problems away, the characters are left empty, joyless, and greedy.
Furthermore, prewar concepts of love and marriage are also eroded in the post-war period. Traditionally, marriage is a social institution with the moral obligation of promoting social stability and forming the family’s core. For these reasons, marriage has to endure every storm fluctuating emotions notwithstanding. In the novel, marriage becomes a superficial relationship without commitment between partners after the war.
Contrary to the expectations within a marriage setting, sexual acts in the novel become mechanical, non-committing, fruitless, and temporary entertainment for the post-war characters. Most characters in the novel are depicted as aggressively sexual. For instance, Brett has affairs with several men as she goes through her divorce. At the same time, Brett is also engaged to Mike Campbell, who, despite being aware of Brett’s numerous affairs, does not protest but accepts her behavior as usual. Post-war society in society, therefore, becomes a wasteland of moral values that overlooks the commitment expected in marriage or courtship.
Moreover, while Cohn is well aware that Brett is engaged to marry Mike Campbell, her hovers around her just as the other men Bret sleeps with despite being in a relationship with Frances. The extreme moral debasement is also evident in how Jake plans the affair between Pedro Romero and Brett, although he is deeply in love with her. Jake would rather have someone else satisfy Brett’s sexual needs because he cannot fulfill her needs. When Jake, a war hero, proposes marriage to Brett, she rejects the proposal even if she claims to love him, saying that Jake’s impotence will destroy their love and that she cannot settle for a sexless life. Whatever the reason for every character’s promiscuity, it is no doubt that the war erodes pre-war concepts of love, commitment, and sacrifice in the institution of marriage for most characters.
Excessive consumption of alcohol is a prevalent escapist habit characters adopt to cope with the aftermath of the Great War. Almost every male and female character in the novel becomes an alcoholic. The characters hop from one bar to the next and are depicted more in the bars than in their homes. Harvey Stone shows that drinking becomes more important than eating when he confesses that he has not eaten anything in five days. When Jake tells Harvey to eat, Harvey states, “When I get like this, I don’t care whether I eat or not” (Hemmingway 42).
Like Brett, who utilizes sex as an escapist strategy to cope with the effect of the Great War, alcohol does not free the characters, provide peace, or assuage their pain. In many cases, drinking amplifies their anxieties instead of making them forget their physical and emotional turmoil. Cohn, Mike, and Jake have been shown at their worst when drunk, mainly when they create scenes, become aggressive, and begin to cry in their drunken states.
When sober, Jake, for instance, does not show any self-pity but spills out all his grievances when he drinks excessively. When people use substances such as alcohol as coping strategies, it is possible that they can confront their problems when sober but opt to push them into the unconscious with the help of the substances. The novel’s characters repress their traumatic experiences most of the time, but it gets revealed occasionally in their drunken state.
During the war, people have war-related events all the time but find forgetting their experiences post-war important. Jake tells Cohn, “I’ve had plenty to worry about one time or another. I’m through worrying” (Hemmingway 11). The characters would rather travel abroad, watch bullfighting, drink from one bar to the next, or gamble than think of the war. However, war is a powerful force constantly on the surface, even if they try to mask their feelings. Because the war drives and controls most of the characters’ lives, alcoholism becomes an escapist habit, coping strategy, and distraction from their constant struggles.
In conclusion, whenever there is war, the entire society is changed as an aftermath such that people’s faith in spiritual values and moral ethics experience a crisis. Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises reveals the emotional and physical trauma, loss of faith, the development of escapist habits, and other ways the war affects every character. After the war, people are left in hollowness as the war takes away as ransom the meaning of life and related values.
The war’s destructive nature erodes the prewar notions of innocence, uniformity, and simplicity so that post-war characters shy away from the ideas as suspicious and annoying. Every character in this novel is affected directly or indirectly on a different level. Some outcomes are physical, while others are internal struggles that produce much psychological and emotional trauma on the characters, prompting each to develop coping strategies to overcome the war’s powerful presence post-war.