The Sun Also Rises Summary

Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises

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The Sun Also Rises Summary

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A classic example of Ernest Hemmingway’s tight, minimalist style, The Sun Also Rises is considered by many to be the author’s finest work. Through a tale of drinking, decadence, and doomed relationships, it explores themes of love, masculinity, and the effects the First World War had on the “lost generation” that fought it. Set in the 1920s, shortly after the end of the war, the novel is narrated by its protagonist, Jake Barnes, a young American veteran now working as a journalist in Paris. The novel begins with Jake’s description of his friend Robert Cohn, in which the reader learns that Cohn comes from a wealthy Jewish family and was the victim of anti-Semitic bullying while studying at Princeton. In an effort to put this unhappy time behind him, Cohn married soon after graduation but his wife left him after a few years. He is now a struggling writer living in Paris with his controlling partner Frances Clyne. Early on, Cohn asks Jake to visit South America with him but Jake argues that traveling does not actually help one escape discontentment or an unfulfilling life. He also suggests that only bullfighters truly live their lives to their fullest potential.

Later, Jake meets a prostitute named Georgette and takes her for dinner. Georgette makes sexual advances but Jake declines, explaining that an old war wound means he cannot have sex. When Jake and Georgette join Cohn, Frances, and others at a club, they encounter Lady Brett Ashley, a married socialite with whom Jake has some prior relationship. Cohn is immediately smitten with Brett but she leaves the club with Jake. However, when Jake tries to kiss her, Brett refuses and it is suggested that Jake was castrated by his wartime injury and Brett could not bear to be in a sexless relationship. That night, having gone to bed miserably contemplating his injury, Jake is woken by Brett drunkenly attempting to get to his room. They share a drink and Brett invites him to travel with her and Count Mippipopolous, a Greek expatriate. Jake declines and tries to kiss Brett, but she refuses again and leaves his room.

The next day, Cohn tells Jake that he is attracted to Brett and Jake says she is seeking a divorce from her second husband in order to marry Mike Campbell, a hard-drinking Scottish veteran. They argue but quickly reconcile and Cohn calls Jake his best friend. That night, Brett and Count Mippipopolous visit Jake’s apartment. While the count is out of the room, Jake confesses his love for Brett but she says she could not be faithful to him. Instead, she suggests that time apart would help them both and announces plans to visit San Sebastian in Spain. A number of weeks pass with Brett in San Sebastian and Cohn away traveling. Jake’s friend Bill Gorton visits and they decide to visit Spain to go fishing and see the fiesta in Pamplona, and arrange to meet Cohn on the way there. Jake learns that Brett has returned to Paris when he bumps into her and her heavily intoxicated fiancé Mike. Mike invites himself and Brett to join them in Spain but, while Mike is out of the room, Brett confesses that she was in San Sebastian with Cohn.

Jake, Bill, and Cohn travel to Pamplona where they had planned to meet Brett and Mike. When the couple do not arrive, Cohn decides to wait for them while Jake and Bill leave to go fishing. After five enjoyable days spent fishing and drinking, Jake and Bill receive messages from Cohn and Mike and they return to Pamplona. They meet up with Cohn, Brett, and Mike and watch bulls being prepared for the fiesta. Afterwards, Mike derides Cohn for pursuing Brett and reveals that Cohn had returned to San Sebastian to see her while Jake and Bill were fishing. When the festival begins, the group watch a remarkable young matador named Pedro Romero, who wows the crowd and fascinates Brett. Mike again viciously mocks Cohn and Brett joins in before Jake intervenes to stop things escalating. Afterwards, Brett admits to Jake that she feels terrible for sleeping with Cohn behind Mike’s back but, later on, she says she loves Romero and asks Jake to help her find him. Jake helps her and Brett and Romero leave together while Jake goes to meet up with Bill and Mike. When Cohn joins them he is, like Bill and Mike, exceedingly intoxicated. He calls Jake a pimp and demands to know where Brett is, before knocking Jake and Mike unconscious. The next day, having reluctantly forgiven Cohn, Jake learns that the man also beat Romero after discovering the matador had Brett in his room.

After Cohn leaves town, the remaining expatriates attend the last day of the fiesta. After the final bullfight, Romero gives Brett a bull’s ear as a token and the two depart for Madrid. Bill and Mike also leave and Jake travels to San Sebastian to relax on his own. However, he soon receives a telegram from Brett begging him to come to Madrid. After an overnight train journey, Jake finds Brett alone and devastated, having ended things with Romero. They decide to leave Madrid together and the close of the novel finds them much like the start: they are traveling in a cab, a little drunk, and Brett is miserable and planning to marry Mike although she also speculates that she and Jake could have an amazing time together in Madrid.

The Sun Also Rises remains one of Hemmingway’s most celebrated works and is often considered to be one of the great American novels. Some critics suggest that this is because its tale of youthful decadence, violence, drinking, and love making holds a timeless appeal. Others, however, argue that the novel is actually extremely dated, as revealed by the characters’ acceptance of antisemitism and celebration of bullfighters as noble heroes. They suggest, instead, that the novel’s ongoing popularity is the result of Hemmingway’s remarkable minimalist writing.