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Humanities Libertexts

5.3A: "Does the Sun Rise? A Study of Metaphors in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises" (Day)

  • Page ID
    20196
  • Bill Day English 1102 Does the Sun Rise? A Study of Metaphors in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Although Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises begins with an epigraph from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes that suggests the constantly renewing cycles of the earth and of human generations, the author’s use of metaphors in this story raises the question of whether we will always be able to recover from our own destructive behavior. If it is true that humans and the earth are resilient and that no force can disrupt the cycle of rebirth and regeneration, the novel should leave readers feeling optimistic. However, it does not end on a positive note. Instead, it ends with confirmation that even though Brett Ashley likes to imagine a happy life with protagonist Jake Barnes, they are too damaged to have one. Jake’s cynical response to Brett’s fantasy reminds us of this point: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Jake’s difficulty coping with his injury, his tendency to self-medicate with alcohol, his inability to pray, and his failure to sustain an intimate relationship with another person all exemplify the irreversible destruction inflicted by World War I. Specifically through the metaphors of Jake’s wound and the tainted Pamplona fiesta, the novel conveys the possibility that if we are not careful, we can dangerously disrupt the cycle of renewal. Jake’s service as an American soldier in World War I has left him with an unusual wound: he took a hit to the groin and his sexual organs were damaged. Not only does this wound affect him physically, preventing him from being able to have sex and to reproduce, but it also affects him psychologically, robbing him of masculine confidence and of the chance for an intimate relationship with the woman he loves, Brett Ashley. Jake’s response to the injury as he looks in the mirror reveals how powerfully the scar affects him: “I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed….Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny” (38). Although Jake tries to laugh off the injury, 107 The Truths of Fiction he suffers from the constant effort to cope with it and the general effects of his war experience: “I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn’t keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry” (39). The wound is a constant reminder to Jake that his life is different now. Yet it also serves as a general metaphor for the psychological wounds he and all his friends are coping with. Like Jake’s genital scar, his friends’ pain is kept well-covered. They almost never speak of the war. When Robert Cohn asks Mike Campbell if he was in the war, Mike answers, “Was I not?” And then the subject shifts to a funny story about Mike’s stealing medals earned by someone else so Mike could wear them to a formal dinner. Although he seems fun-loving, ready to laugh and party with his companions, Mike drinks and spends money indiscriminately in order to cope with his pain. We see the characters’ dysfunctional behavior throughout the novel as the group constantly drinks and engages in distractions to cope with their own psychological wounds. The worst effects of these injuries are their inability to find hope in anything, even God, and to enjoy close and healthy relationships with each other. Another metaphor employed effectively in the novel to suggest irreversible destruction is the ruined bull fights. Jake has been an aficionado of the bull fights for many years. He considers them almost sacred. He shares this feeling with his friend Montoya, at whose hotel he stays when he comes to Pamplona for the fiesta. “I had stopped at the Montoya for several years. We never talked for very long at a time. It was simply the pleasure of discovering what we each felt.” (137). Even though Jake’s mind wanders when he goes to church now, he has been able to maintain this special experience of the bull fights. The way he describes this “art” reveals that he sees something pure in it—a chance to confront one’s fears with dignity, courage, and grace and then destroy those fears: “Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his 108 Writing and Literature: Composition as Inquiry, Learning, Thinking, and Communication movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time” (171). Since the events recur each year during fiesta, there is a sense of renewal associated with it. However, when Brett initiates Romero into manhood through a brief sexual affair, it not only compromises Romero’s innocence and purity as an artist, but it spoils the experience of fiesta for Jake. Montoya, his fellow aficionado blames Jake and his friends for not respecting Romero and the bull fight, and the loss of this friendship hurts Jake. Just before the group leaves town, Jake says, “We had lunch and paid the bill. Montoya did not come near us” (232). Montoya’s previous regard for Jake will not likely be regained, since the aficion, or passion, they shared was very rare, and the affair has spoiled their bond. Like Jake and his friends’ faith in anything transcending ordinary mundane life, Jake’s experience of the bull fight has been tainted now by the dysfunctional actions of him and the rest of the group. This metaphor suggests that some kinds of destruction are permanent. As the novel concludes, the reader wants to believe that Jake will survive and find some kind of happiness. Yet, the metaphors of Jake’s wound and the tainted bull fights suggest that some kinds of damage cannot be undone. The novel implies that, as a result of one of the most destructive wars in human history, these characters will simply have to learn to live with their injuries and cope with their lost hopes. Their hardship serves as a warning that humans should think carefully before waging war against each other. Work Cited Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Scribner, 1926.

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