Review: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises: Ernest Hemingway’s first biggie. But it’s not just about a bunch of expatriates frolicking in 1920’s Europe. Instead, it observes a momentous period in America’s history where gender roles become obscured and an opportunity for women to present themselves as equals to men develops.

The blurring of gender roles is initially apparent in the female characters names; Brett, Jo and Georgette (no offense to anyone named Brett, Jo or Georgette by the way). This is totally against the traditional Jane’s, Elizabeth’s and Emma’s that were commonly used in early pre-war Victorian fiction.

Not only do the women in the novel have quasi-masculine names. their appearance too becomes less feminine and increasingly masculinised. Brett’s hair, for instance is described as being “brushed back like a boy’s”. Brett, who represents sexual freedom in the book, also refers to her male friends as “you chaps”, projecting herself as their equal. Other female characters also appear to be on an equal social footing as their male counterparts: Jake asks Georgette: “are you going to buy me a dinner?” (dream on buddy).

War is certainly the driving force behind this gender inversion. Alongside the masculinisation and increased social power of women, Hemingway also depicts the post-war emasculation of men, which takes its most physical form in the character of Jake, who is sexually crippled:

One group claims women support you. The other claims you’re impotent.

This sums up Jake’s emasculation. At one point, Georgette touches Jake sexually and he does not reciprocate her affections, instead telling her he is sick and was “hurt in the war.”

Then there’s the post-war boom. Robert Cohn is financially dependent on none other than his own MOTHER:

Robert’s mother had settled an allowance on him, about 300 dollars a month.

His lack of financial independence represents a major post-war power shift: the death of millions of fathers, husbands and sons during the period of 1914 to 1918 resulted in a shift of financial power to their wives and mothers. Money plays an important part in the story. You’ll notice that throughout the novel money, counting, conversion and values are noted consistently, Brett surrounds herself with rich men and Jake quantifies emotion as carefully as he documents his own spending:

One was a bank statement. It showed a balance of $2,432.60. I got out my cheque-book and deducted four cheques drawn since the first of the month, and discovered I had a balance of $1, 832.60. I wrote this on the back of the statement.

In the period following the Great War, men lost their ‘masculine-invincibility’ with the death of millions in the trenches; and women shook off their Victorian, submissive and docile image, and began to blossom into what we now perceive as the ‘modern woman’. Young women across America were inspired to sport short hair and dress like the women in the novel.

Louise Brooks

Review

The Sun Also Rises is a modernist masterpiece, written in Hemingway’s groundbreaking style the novel appears to be deceptively simple and it’s short, yet there’s so much to say about it, I could go on and on. Admittedly, I did not find it gripping. However, this IS the first of Hemingway’s work that I have read, so perhaps I am just not quite used to his style.

It makes for an interesting comparison when read alongside another expat tale, Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (post on it’s way soon!)

Of course this is only my own interpretation, any other thoughts?

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9 thoughts on “Review: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

  1. The emasculation of men that you discuss is definitely evident in the book. But I wonder if Hemingway really believed in women rising to equality? Sure, Brett displays her sexual freedom, but she’s restless and unhappy and winds up needing Jake to come rescue her in the end. Though she was no submissive, docile Victorian, she still struck me as flighty and emotional.

  2. Hey, thanks for commenting!

    Yeah, I mean Hemingway is often perceived as bit of a man’s man, and as sexist and racist too, so you’re probably right, I don’t imagine he truly properly believed women would or could rise to equality, but in that, he was probably not unlike every other man at that time.

    Mind you, I do definitely think that he would have been well aware of a post-war shift in the role of women though and I think this certainly comes through in this book. Especially with the passing of the 19th amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote.

    There’s an pretty good piece here on the whole Brett Ashley / sexism debate if you’re interested: http://davidburn.com/lady_ashley.php (Lady Ashley – Distressed Diva or Dynamite Dame?)

    I should probably read more of Hemingway books (… before I make any more wild claims… :-))

  3. This is my FAVORITE Hemingway book. The only book, forced to read in highschool, that I actualy liked! And because I was so young when I read it(1978), the elements really became absorbed as “…but of course this is how life is”, and I went on to remain single and hang around with Military officers and Gulf War veterans (the first one-1991) with hidden PTSD injuries, subverted, cropping up at unexpected intervals. Emotional Cripples we women called them then. This, and having read that Marlene Dietriech used to cook for everyone(in the 1930’s-40’s), I learned to cook and threw dinner parties- which classes life up from just a bar-hopping troll-existence. I had never considered the angle you just presented: the womens names being masculine, etc., the emasculinastion of men, wether via financial ineptitude or Jakes sex unjury…? ( ;-) Makes me want to pull my old copy out for yet another cold morning read here in the states! Thank you- your reviews are great fun. Where are you getting all of these fantastic/alluring pics?- Silky

    • Thank you very much :) yeah, it’s definitely a bit of a different angle to interpret, and it’s probably a bit controversial, as there’s the argument that Hemingway was in fact a bit sexist! Glad you enjoyed it too – you should definitely dig it out and pay it another visit!

      Ps. I dig around the Internet for images, but Flickr creative commons is a good resource!

  4. What a good miniature on its cover !!!! I have not read the novel but it seems to be similar to all other literary works of Hemingway related to war and love; although there is no war and no love in it. it is a couple story but there is no fertility. This is a dark atmospher of the world which is changed deconstructively after war. your notes encourages me to read it. God bless u all
    Mohammadreza Arghiani

  5. Pingback: Ernest Hemingway – The Old Man and the Sea « Little Interpretations

  6. Pingback: Music, Unbought Stuffed Dogs, Phil Collins & Ernest Hemingway | farther along…

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