Sunday, January 16, 2011

3. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

To be quite honest, I hated A Farewell to Arms. I'm sure a part of it was that I read it in English class senior year with a teacher I both hated and ridiculed, but a bigger part of it is that I simply have no interest in war stories. With that in mind, I wasn't convinced that picking up another book by Ernest Hemingway would be the best idea, but in fact The Sun Also Rises isn't actually about World War I.

Instead, it's about a group of fairly young, petty, irresponsible friends--people?--who seem to spend all of their time eating in cafés, getting drunk, and hurting not only each other but everybody around them. There is both a callousness to money and a firmly arrogant belief that it can solve anything, and a conviction that each's own emotions are deeply true while completely disregarding the validity of others'. Is this characterization supposed to indirectly reflect the dehumanizing effect of war? My English teacher would probably argue yes, but I would say no.

It never ceased to be incredible to me that Brett, the only major female character in the book, has no qualms about cheating on her fiancé, and apparently with his knowledge. Mike gets angry and jealous, and yet does nothing about it, and it almost seems that they had never sat down together for a serious, sober conversation about anything, let alone their expectations for each other in a monogamous relationship. Meanwhile, Jake, who spends a considerable amount of time explaining that he is a rare, foreign aficionado of bullfighting, promptly turns around and allows Brett to destroy the Spanish purity of the bullfighter Pedro Romero. It was satisfying to see that the hotel owner Montoya stopped being friendly to him in response, but infuriatingly Jake does not seem to care.

I half-expected Romero to die in a fight, and when this didn't happen, I also sort of expected Cohn to commit suicide. That also did not happen. Actually, Cohn is never really pulled together at the end of the story, and neither is Mike nor Bill. To some extent I would have appreciated a little more narrative about Jake's war experiences, because it would have helped clarify the history and nature of his relationship with Brett, how Mike and Bill fit into their dysfunctional world, and perhaps even how the ending is supposed to be interpreted and imagined. The only reassuring part is that it seems that even when only Brett and Jake are the ones truly left in the book, they do not get together and instead maintain some semblance of actual friendship.

I really need to treat myself to something contemporary now. Water for Elephants, here I come! Provided I actually get to the library, that is.

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