The novel The Sun Also Rises follows the lives of plenty of Americans, who live in Europe after the end of the First World War. The generation discussed in the novel is the lost generation. The Great War shaped the lives of the men and women who live in the era. The war set new and fresh standards for death and immortality. It also broke different beliefs in terms of the traditional value of money, love, and faith. This paper seeks to analyze the importance of the war and its impact on the lives of the characters in the novel.
The Sun Also Rises points out the war as told by a journalist, who is the narrator in the novel. The journalist’s name is Jake Barnes. The lack of purpose of the lost generation and the failure of communication are some of the pieces about the war that the novel puts together. The war is the main source of conflict in the novel. For example, the central conflict of the impossibility of Jake and Brett’s marriage is the inflicted by the war wounds. The war ordeal events make it not possible for Jake to go back to America (Young 38). He feels comfortable in a community that shares his traumatic experiences. In the conversation with one of their friends, Jake tells him that they would have gone on to discuss the impacts of the warfare as well as the ways in which it would be avoided.
The narrator, Jake Barnes is a protagonist in this novel. He and his friends are caught up in the world of drinking and parties that never have a limit. He appears to be the most stable character. However, his vulnerability unfolds as the novel proceeds. Jake is in love with a beautiful girl, Ashley. He feels insecure with her because of the impotence as a result of the war. This holds him back from pursuing his dreams that he so much wishes to come true. The failure of communication is the most obvious factor that is dominant in all the characters’ lives. The conversation between Jake and his friends lacks depth. Whenever the topic on war pops up amidst their discussion, they discuss it with humor to try to mask the permanent emotional scar caused be the war, which is deep within them (Unrue 94). The only time that the characters in this novel express their true feelings is when they are strongly influenced by alcohol. The characters’ heavy drinking is their way of escaping the true reality of life.
World War I forced a fundamental re-evaluation of the meaning of masculinity. The known ideas of a masculine man to be a brave soldier have little relevance in the novel, characterized by the brutality typical of the warfare (Unrue 143). The soldiers in the war were massively killed. The survival tactics during the war depended more on luck than bravery. The traditional notion of masculinity had been considerably influenced by the war. For example, Jake is a victim of the cultural emotional torture as a result of the war. He lost his manhood during the war because of the injury on his penis. He carries the burden of feeling like a lesser man and cannot even have the courage to propose to Brett. He cannot escape the nagging feeling of being a lesser man crowned by Brett refusal to accept his proposal.
The lost generation depicts an immense sense of irresponsibility, which can be attributed to the war. This young generation had their dreams and believes smashed by the war. Hemingway critiques the lack of hope for the generation that he puts in the context of his novel and, on the other hand, expresses the hope for the future generation. The war theme is useful in bringing about several other themes. These themes have direct relationship to war. Most of the characters’ actions have a driving force of emotional and mental torture as a result of the war.
Emasculation and Impotence
The war helps to bring out the theme of emasculation and impotence in the novel. One of the key observations from the novel is the emasculation of the male psyche due to the war, making them more domesticated (Unrue 67). This is in comparison to Brett, who appears to be more signified by her manly haircut and roughness. Brett is dancing with the homosexual men in Paris instead of dancing with Jake; it threatens Jake. Cohn also is abused by other women in his life. Jake admires bullfighters, especially Romero, so much because he thinks that they are far more heroic than he is. Although Romero appears to be more feminine than Jake is, he fulfills the code of being a true hero through the way he confronts death. This is in comparison to Jake, who returned from the war feeling lesser of a man than the others; both emotionally and physically. In addition, to get the real insight of how the war transformed the roles of women, it is essential to have comprehension of the roles women play in the society before the onset of the Great War (Unrue 123). Thus, before the war, women were to bring up children and care for their husbands as well as their homes. The character of Brett in the novel portrays the image of the woman after the war. She is more independent and manly compared to the women before the Great War; hence, her character is used to show how women’s roles changed after the war. Due to staying away from their husbands who had gone to war, they developed a sense of independence.
Sexuality and Bull Fighting
The author of the novel uses Jake to bring about the parallels that exist between bull fighting and Brett’s sexuality. Judging from the injury that Jake got from war, Brett would refuse to commit to him (Sanderson 78). She even tells him at the beginning of the novel that if she was in a relationship with him, she would cheat on him. She is more attracted to Romero, who is described in the novel as a strong bullfighter. Jake and his friends enjoy the game of bull fighting, while Romero is a little bit older for him to participate in the bull fighting game. This shows the time wasted for them to do all they wanted to, since they were participating in the war. The bull fighting episodes in the novel are used symbolically to precede an episode that has occurred or is predicted to occur among Jake and his friends. Belmonte signifies the lost generation whose moments have passed. The symbolic connection between violence and sex links sexuality to destruction. The bull fighting can also symbolize the heroism brought about through conquering the war. Most of the characters in the novel admire the way Romero fights. This can be a reminder of how they ought to have fought to succeed in the war without any injuries.
Most of the friendships in the novel are not based on affection and intimacy. As a result of war, most of the characters in the novel face emotional torture and loss. There is no formation of strong friendships among the characters for the fear of losing them. During the war, most of the men and women lost their lives, while many others got injuries. Most of the families were separated due to the war. For this reason, the characters feel insecure to form intimate friendships (Sanderson 104). They feel like the cord of war joins them all. For example, in the novel, Jake meets the bicycle manager, and they share a drink together. During this time, the two enjoy a friendly conversation and even go to extend of making plans of meeting again. However, Jake and Cohn reveal a false friendship between them. Although Cohn genuinely likes Jake, Jake only pretends to like him. Jake has unspoken jealously towards Cohn for their affair with Cohn. At one point, he even directly proclaimed that he hated Cohn (Young 96). The inability for the characters to form genuine connections with other people is a clear aspect of the aimless wandering, which is caused by the war. The characters in the novel exemplified by Jake do not have an emotional connection with each other due to the emotional scar that is inherent within them as the impact of the war. Ironically, the author of the book states that during the war, it was easier to formulate healthy relationships with other people (Adair 143). While, on the other hand, during peacetime, it is more difficult for the same characters to do so. This clearly brings out the negative effects of war.
The Failure of Communication
The conversations between Jake and his friends are rarely honest. All of them hide the true feelings behind the mask of civilization. Though the legacy of the war torments all of them, they want to hide it, and in most cases, they are unable to communicate their true emotional feelings. They talk of the war in either excessively humorous manner or in an excessively painful and trite one. The several psychological impacts of the war became long term, and it affected the general performance of individuals. Jake and his friend do not have any hopes for the future. The war had also paramount impacts on the health and safety of the civilian population. That is why there is no wonder that the moment of honesty about the war arises only when the characters are in their worst mood. For example, when Jake was having dinner with one of his friends, they would have discussed the war if they were not interrupted. In addition, when the topic of war comes up, all the characters make funny comments about it (Adair 78). There is always a lingering sense of uneasiness, since the experience of war is still too fresh in their minds to have serious discussions about it. Jake suffered a physical wound that left him impotent, while his friend suffers emotional and mental torture. The society as a whole has scars of the ordeal associated with the World War.
In conclusion, the men and women in the novel who experienced the war became psychologically lost. They wander aimlessly in the world that appears not to be real. The author of the novel never openly states that the lives of Jake, Brett and their acquaintances are empty as a result of the war. Alternatively, he implies this through the way he portrays the characters’ emotional and mental torture. Jake and his friends organize parties and drink a lot of alcohol as a way of helping themselves to fight the unpleasant memories of the war. Their parties and drinking are empty distractions to their empty lives. There are several effects, felt either during the course of service in the military, grief, division, dislocation, or during the trauma of becoming a refugee, that are clearly described by the characters in the novel.