Arrested Development; ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway

“The… the other important joke, for me, is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud’s “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,” and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.”Alvy Singer, Annie Hall [1977]

There are two things Alvy Singer and I have in common; incoherent verbal diarrhoea and an inexplicable need to reject anyone who actually shows interest. We do not want to be part of clubs who would have us as members. This I reserve specially for relationships; show the slightest bit of romantic interest and I will be over the other side of the room staring longingly at the man calling me a bitch before you can blink. There are psychological reasons for this – I’ve not gone into them; however I usually (eventually) realise when I make a romantic cockup, so I have at least got a list of all the ways in which I am going wrong. Sometimes I improve, other times I do my Alvy Singer impression, it is pretty hit and miss.

Watching Alvy tumble through Annie Hall made me think of the dilemmas The Sun Also Rises explores, of the lovelorn Cohn and exasperated Jake. Before I go on to make a fair few criticisms of this novel, I would like to state that I absolutely loved it. It is one of the best stories I have read this year if not in my lifetime. Beautifully written, it kept me engaged, made me angry and most importantly, made me want to write.

On the surface the novel is a love story between the protagonist Jake Barnes—a man whose war wound has made him impotent—and the promiscuous divorcée Lady Brett Ashley. Brett’s affair with Robert Cohn causes Jake to be upset and break off his friendship with Cohn; her seduction of the 19-year-old matador Romero causes Jake to lose his good reputation among the Spaniards in Pamplona. The novel is a roman à clef; the characters are based on real people and the action is based on real events. In the novel, Hemingway presents his notion that the “Lost Generation”, considered to have been decadent, dissolute and irretrievably damaged by World War I, was resilient and strong. Additionally, Hemingway investigates the themes of love, death, renewal in nature, and the nature of masculinity.Wiki

I arrived at this novel from a slightly odd angle, having read The Paris Wife earlier in the year. With it being a Roman à clef I felt as if I already knew the events Hemingway based The Sun Also Rises on; I recognised the character’s real life counterparts, and from this prior knowledge I expected to dislike the novel.A Roman à clef is a based on real events and/or people Hadley, Hemingway’s wife, and their son are not characters in The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway bases this tale on his infatuation with Lady Duff, and his anger and frustration at what had or was happening with Harold Loeb.

However, I found Hadley and their son in this novel. They are represented in Jake’s impotence, one of the many reasons Jake and Brett are apart. Each character, even Jake, are childish self absorbed fools living in a bubble of alcohol and money, blocking out any ill consequences. The whole novel reminded me of Evenlyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, a critical fiction of the 20s bright young things. Jake calls Cohn a case of ‘arrested development’, yet this is not singular to Cohn, you see it in every character, in every bright young thing of Hemingway’s lost generation.Arrested Development is a state in which development has stopped prematurely Similar to the original celebrities of today, with a warped understanding of the value of money and a hedonistic need to enjoy the pleasures of life.

Hemingway’s attempts at being critical of his characters feels bitter and self indulgent. He mocks his friends, giving him an air of pettiness and attention seeking. Jake, the moral centre of the novel, is preachy and should be held as accountable as the rest of the characters he debases. Hemingway’s admiration or obsession with Lady Duff, shines through in Brett’s ability to be loved wherever she goes; any other woman faces far more scrutiny, for example Kitty Cannell as Francis, Cohn’s controlling girlfriend.Harold Loeb’s girlfriend before his affair with Lady Duff

Anti-Semitism is a key theme throughout The Sun Also Rises. Cohn, intended to be the ‘bad’ guy, was a figure of sympathy. I felt for Cohn, a character I should be disliking; while he is a fool he is purposefully segregated predominantly for circumstances outside of his control. I grew to disapprove of Jake, for his inconsistency and hatred towards Cohn. His narrative I found flawed and untrustworthy, mostly due to his biases. While my attitude is a product of the time in which I am reading, where anti-Semitism is definitely not okay, Cohn is clearly separated by race and you cannot help but feel for his predicament. Jake’s impotence leaves him lacking a Y chromosome; he flops along through the novel pathetically. Every male character Brett begins an affair with is a virile and manly, characteristics Jake lacks and is clearly threatened by. Jake uses Cohn’s Judaism to make up for his impotence; he is unable to match Cohn in any other way. Ultimately the only difference I found between Jake and Cohn is that Cohn makes a show of his emotions and Jake cannot (or does not) express his.

On a less critical note, Hemingway’s modernist writing style is fantastic; I enjoyed the lack of overly descriptive writing. Hemingway does not litter his prose with metaphors, describing everything as it is, writing without patronising.

I have found a lot to discuss in The Sun Also Rises, but this does not mean I have not enjoyed it. A novel that insights this much thought is fantastic, I do not encounter a book like this often. I strongly recommend you pick up a Hemingway and give it a go, it may surprise you how much you enjoy it.

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