Born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899, Ernest Hemingway began writing in 1917 for The Kansas City Star. He served as an ambulance driver during World War I and moved to Paris in 1921. While in Europe, Hemingway associated with a group of notable expatriates such as Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and Ford Madox Ford. Noted for his terse prose, Hemingway’s fiction won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and his work, The Old Man and the Sea, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He died in Ketchum, Idaho on July 2, 1961.
The Frailty of Human Relationships
It is said, “You will only maintain one friendship from high school.” I was convinced that I could buck that trend. With a small graduating class and a tight-knit group of friends, it seemed impossible that I would lose them all. But I did.
Of course, I must mention that I am friends with the people I knew in high school, just not the people with whom I attended high school.
Through unseen circumstances, the close friendships held in high school morphed into acquaintances. I have no hard feelings regarding how the relationships transformed but, because of them, I have learned about the frailty of human relationships.
My friendship history renders the plot of The Sun Also Rises in realistic colors. Acting as my first expedition into the works of Hemingway, I enjoyed the restrained writing and the realistic portrayal of relationships falling apart in this book.
Set in post-World-War-I Europe, Jakes Barnes, our protagonist, and a group of expatriates enjoy the licentious lifestyle of Parisian nightlife, fishing, Spanish fiestas, and bullfighting. With Hemingway’s understated descriptions, the scenes take a life of their own as the reader fills in the space with his or her interpretations.
When Vacations Attack
As the group of friends spends time together, the mutual affections of the men for their friend, Lady Brett Ashley, transform a vacation in Spain to a war of words. Hemingway’s characters jab each other:
“Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave. You know what’s the trouble with you? You’re an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven’t you heard that? Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers” (120).
Ultimately, licentiousness and jealousy break apart the group. Referring to Barnes’ joy to be free of the drama, Hemingway writes,
“It felt comfortable to be in a country where it is so simple to make people happy. You can never tell whether a Spanish waiter will thank you. Everything is on such a clear financial basis in France. It is the simplest country to live in. No one makes things complicated by becoming your friend for any obscure reason. If you want people to like you you have only to spend a little money. I spent a little money and the waiter liked me. He appreciated my valuable quantities. He would be glad to see me back. I would dine there again some time and he would be glad to see me, and would want me at his table. It would be a sincere liking because it would have a sound basis. I was back in France” (237).
An Autobiographical Novel
Based on real events, The Sun Also Rises feels autobiographical. Where many novels seek to portray life in its grandeur, Hemingway exhibits reality through simplicity. The plot feels real because it was real. Each character not only encounters pain and regret, but also looks forward, believing in a hope that a post-World-War-I society offers opportunity and growth for all.
Just like the demise of my high school peer group, The Sun Also Rises exhibits the frailty of human relationships and the inevitability of change. Yet, my life continues and flourishes as I meet new people and grow vocationally and professionally. Likewise, The Sun Also Rises offers hope that despite the deterioration of relationships, life continues in an upward slope. I enjoyed this book and I see why Hemingway is worth reading. If you have yet to read, The Sun Also Rises, I recommend that you put it on your “To Be Read” list.