Hemingway is one of the writers that professors and various academia love to talk about, mainly about how amazing he is and how everyone on this earth, it seems, should read his books. Due to some free time over this winter break, I decided to get a small head start on the reading list for my upcoming semester’s classes, and “The Sun Also Rises” is one of them. I haven’t touched Hemingway before, and this was my first encounter with him. Knowing a little about his biography and lifestyle I expected a very superficial novel, both in terms of style and subject matter, and my opinion after finishing the book wasn’t far from that.
I struggle with figuring out why this book was written. There were a couple clear points that were very easy to pick up on: the ridiculous role of women and the sheer irony and contradiction that sprang up in nearly every conversation between characters. The first point doesn’t surprise me, given that Hemingway was a known womanizer and lover of alcohol, the two giving a combination that probably manifested themselves best in the character of Michael. The second point was more interesting, the flip side to the first point as well as the only reason why I did find this book slightly intriguing. It was amusing to note combinations that ran along the lines of ‘dreadfully spectacular’ when it came to describing situations or people, or simply when making a statement. It would serve as a good entry point into analyzing the writing further.
The characters were very easy to become accustomed to after a couple of chapters or so. There were several, but after some time it was easy to tell which were the main characters and which were the ones adding some context to the main cast. Each character was equally easy to dislike for their own reasons. Each one had a nasty side to their personality. The narrator, Jake, was what can be called a ‘rag’ of a character, who runs around among others and caters, either by giving out money or by listening to others’ emotional drama. Brett was, as a said, quite the poor depiction of a woman, with the stereotypical moodiness and an airheaded conversationalist, with the constant reminder of how she was a seductress who was desired by basically any man around, with her only reinforcing this with her constant ‘I can’t help it’ routine. Cohn didn’t know when to quit and stop acting like a sulking dog – for this reason it was difficult to feel sorry for him when Cohn initially lashed out at him, followed by the remaining characters all at their own time. Michael was a sorry bankrupt drunk, there’s no other way of putting it, and this very drunken routine is what was far from admirable. Bill was in the same boat as Jake, a rag of a character. Which leaves only Pedro Romero, who I felt generally neutral to, although I quite liked the descriptions of his personality, namely his passion for bullfighting and the authenticity with which he did it. It gave a very warm impression of someone who was truly dedicated to a passion of theirs, something I do find admirable in people.
A separate question that always came up for me while reading was the issue of money. Just what was the financial situation of all these characters, that they could afford to be drinking so much and going to cafés every day, several times a day, not to mention the tips, travel expenses, etc. I wonder what the situation would’ve been like at the time, and what kind of niche group this is in regards to the general populace. This always frustrates me because authors often choose to depict upper-class characters, yes, but there really should be some kind of sound reasoning to how extravagant their monetary expenses are.
I struggle with placing the significance of the title in regards to the novel, at the moment. I have a few guesses, and perhaps they are correct, but I’ll know for sure only when we start discussing the novel in class. I’m not quite sure what it’s ‘statement’ is, if it even has one. If it doesn’t, and the novel was written for a more ‘aesthetic’ reason, then I cannot say I found too much of that either. If I wanted a more accurate depiction of Parisian life or of bullfighting, there is separate, appropriate literature in existence for both categories. I’m not sure what makes Hemingway so great. I had a lot of issues with his writing style, mainly how repetitive he was. I’m sure the phrasing was normal for the time in which he wrote, although sometimes it sounded rather awkward I must admit. There was just the sense of something missing, something big and significant, that could leave any kind of emotional impact and deliver at least a little satisfaction.