The Sun Also Rises

The Sun Also Rises is a 1926 novel written by Ernest Hemingway and considered a treatise of the post-WWI generation dubbed the Lost Generation. Arguably the best modernist novel of the period by an American, it received mixed reviews upon publication. Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes that it is “recognized as [his] greatest work”, and Hemingway scholar Linda Wagner-Martin calls it his most important novel.[1] Critics generally agree that the novel has withstood the test of time based on style, but point to attitudes, such as the antisemitic treatment of a Jewish character, as dated.

The basis for the novel was Hemingway’s 1925 trip to Spain. The story centers around a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to the Festival of Fermín in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. The setting was considered unique and memorable, presenting the seedy café life of Paris, the Pamplona festival, with a middle section devoted to fishing in the Pyrenees. Equally startling was Hemingway’s spare writing style, combined with his restrained use of description to convey characterizations and action, which became known as the iceberg theory.

Hemingway began writing the novel on his birthday (21 July) in 1925, while still in Pamplona. He finished the draft manuscript barely two months later in September. After putting aside the manuscript for a short period, he worked on revisions during the winter of 1926 while visiting Schruns, Austria. The novel was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in the US in October 1926, and in the UK in 1927 as Fiesta by Jonathan Cape. It has been continously in print since its publication.

On the surface the novel is a love story between the hero Jake Barnes—a man whose war wound has made him impotent—and the sexually promiscuous divorcèe Lady Brett Ashley. Brett’s earlier affair with Robert Cohn causes Jake to be upset and break off his friendship with Cohn; her seduction of the 19-year-old matador Pedro Romero in Pamplona causes Jake to lose his good reputation among the Spaniards. A roman à clef, the novel’s characters are based on real people and the action on real events. The primary themes are the notion that the post-WWI generation was a ‘lost generation’, decadent and dissolute, irretrievably damaged by the war; death; renewal in nature; and living life purely, to the best of one’s ability in an authentic manner.


Hemingway lived in Paris in the 1920s, where he was foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star, traveling frequently to places such as Smyrna where he covered the the Greco-Turkish War. During this period he gained writing experience that he wanted to translate to writing fiction. He believed fiction could be based on reality in such a way that if a writer were to distil his experiences then “what he made up was truer than what he remembered”.

He first visited the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona in 1923 where he became fascinated by bullfighting.[3] He and his wife Hadley returned to Pamplona in 1924—enjoying the trip immensely—with Chink Dorman-Smith, John Dos Passos, and Donald Ogden Stewart and his wife.[4] They returned for their third time in June 1925. That year they were joined by a different group American and British expatriates: Hemingway’s Michigan boyhood friend Bill Smith, Donald Odgen Stewart, Lady Duff Twysden (recently divorced), her ex-husband Pat Guthrie, and Harold Loeb.

In Pamplona the group quickly disintegrated. Hemingway, who was attracted to Lady Duff, was intensely jealous of Loeb, who had recently been on a romantic getaway with her, and by the end of the week the two men had a public fist-fight. Against this background was the influence of the young matador from Ronda, Cayetano Ordóñez, whose brilliance in the bullring affected the spectators. Ordóñez honored Lady Duff by presenting her, in the bullring, with the ear of a bull he killed; an honor she failed to appreciate. Outside of Pamplona, the fishing trip to the Irati was marred by polluted water.[5]

At the time, Hemingway intended to write a non-fiction book about bullfighting[4] but realized the experiences of that week presented good material for a novel. A few days after the fiesta ended, on his birthday (21 July), he began writing, finishing two months later on 21 September.[6] By 17 August, with 14 chapters written and the working title of Fiesta chosen, Hemingway returned to Paris. He finished the draft on 21 September 1925, writing a forward the following weekend and changing the title to The Lost Generation.[7]

Hemingway and Hadley went to Schruns, Austria in December 1925, where Pauline Pfeiffer joined them. During the next three months he revised heavily, and traveled to New York to sign a contract with Scribner’s (leaving Hadley alone in Schruns).[8] He then devoted the following six months to rewriting, working on the manuscript while traveling. He finished the final draft in Paris at the end of August in 1926.[9] During this period his marriage to Hadley disintegrated and, alone in Paris, he completed the proofs, and then dedicated the novel to his wife and son.[6] By November they had separated and Hemingway offered Hadley the royalties from The Sun Also Rises.

Publication history

Hemingway likely broke the contract with his publishers for the opportunity to have The Sun Also Rises published by Scribner’s. He had a three book contract with Boni & Liveright with a termination clause if they rejected a book. In December 1925 he quickly wrote The Torrents of Spring—a short satirical novel about the publishing industry—and submitted the manuscript. Unamused by the satire, Boni & Liveright immediately rejected it and terminated the contract.[11] A month later Scribner’s agreed to publish The Torrents of Spring and all of Hemingway’s subsequent work.[12]

Scribner’s published the novel on 22 October 1926. Its first edition consisted of 5090 copies, selling at $2.00 per copy.[13] Two months later the book was in a second printing with 7000 copies sold and subsequent printings were ordered.[14] In 1927 the novel was published in the UK by Jonathan Cape. The novel’s two epigraphs were left out in the UK edition.[15] Two decades later, in 1947, Scribner’s had a boxed-set release of three of Hemingway’s works, including The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls.[16]

In 1983 the New York Times reported that The Sun Also Rises had been continuously in print since its publication in 1926, and was likely one of the most translated titles in the world. At that time Scribner’s began printing cheaper mass-market paperbacks of the book, in addition to the more expensive trade paperbacks already in print.[17] In 2006 Simon & Schuster began releasing audiobook versions of Hemingway’s novels, including The Sun Also Rises.[18]

A first edition of the first printing, with dust-jacket and inscription by Hemingway, now sells at auction for between $80,000 and $120,000.

Plot summary

The narrator of The Sun Also Rises is Jake Barnes, an expatriate American journalist living in Paris. Barnes suffered a war-wound that caused him to be impotent, though the nature of his wound is never explicitly described in the novel. He is in love with Lady Brett Ashley, a twice-divorced Englishwoman. Brett, with her bobbed hair, embodies the new sexual freedom of the 1920s, having had numerous love affairs. Book one is set in the Café society of Paris. In the opening scenes, Jake plays tennis with his college friend Robert Cohn, picks up a prostitute in one scene, and escapes with Brett from a gathering at a nightclub. She tells him she loves him, but they both realize they have no chance at a lasting relationship.

In Book two Jake is joined by Bill Gorton, recently arrived from New York, and Brett’s fiancé Mike Campbell who arrives from Scotland. Jake and Bill travel to Spain where they meet Cohn north of Pamplona for a fishing trip. Cohn, however, leaves for Pamplona to wait for Brett and Mike. Cohn had an affair with Brett a year earlier and still feels possessive of her despite her engagement to Mike. Jake and Bill enjoy five days of tranquility, fishing the streams near Burguete, after which they travel to Pamplona, reuniting with the group where they begin to drink heavily. Cohn’s presence is increasingly resented by the others, who taunt him with anti-Semitic remarks. During the fiesta the characters drink, eat, watch the running of the bulls, attend bullfights, and bicker with each other. When Jake introduces Brett to Romero, the young bullfighter, she is smitten with the 19-year-old and seduces him. The jealous tension between the men builds; Mike Campbell, Jake, Robert Cohn, and Romero each love Brett. Cohn, a champion boxer in college, has fistfights with Jake, Mike, and Romero, whom he injures. In spite of the tension, Romero continues to perform brilliantly in the bullring.

Book three shows the characters in the aftermath of the fiesta. Sober again they leave Pamplona. Bill Gorton returns to Paris, Mike Campbell stays in Bayonne, and Jake goes to San Sebastián in northeastern Spain. As Jake is about to return to Paris he receives a telegram from Brett, who has gone to Madrid with Romero, asking for his help. He finds her in a cheap hotel, without money, and without Romero. She announces she has decided to marry Mike Campbell. The novel ends with Jake and Brett in a taxi speaking of the things that might have been.

Writing style

The novel is well-known for its style which is variously described as modern, hard-boiled, or understated.[20] As a novice writer and journalist in Paris, Hemingway turned to Ezra Pound—who had a reputation as “an unofficial minister of culture who acted as mid-wife for new literary talent”—to blue-ink his short stories.[21] From Pound, Hemingway learned to write in the modernist style: using understatement, paring away sentimentalism, and presenting images and scenes without explanations of meaning, most noticeable in the book’s ending with multiple future possibilities for Brett and Jake.[20][note 1] Hemingway scholar Anders Hallengren writes that because Hemingway learned from Pound to “distrust adjectives” he created a style “in accordance with the esthetics and ethics of raising the emotional temperature towards the level of universal truth by shutting the door on sentiment, on the subjective”.[22]

F. Scott Fitzgerald told Hemingway to “let the book’s action play itself out among its characters”. Hemingway scholar Linda Wagner-Martin writes, that in taking Fitzgerald’s advice, Hemingway produced a novel without a central narrator: “Hemingway’s book was a step ahead; it was the modernist novel”.[23] When Fitzgerald advised Hemingway to trim at least 2500 words from the opening sequence, which was 30 pages long, Hemingway instead wired the publishers telling them to cut the opening 30 pages altogether. The result was a novel without a focused starting point, which was seen as a ‘modern’ perspective and critically well-received.[24]

Wagner-Martin speculates that Hemingway may have wanted to have a weak or negative hero as defined by Edith Wharton, but he had no experience creating a hero or protagonist. At that point his fiction consisted of extremely short stories, not one of which featured a hero.[25] The hero changed during the writing of the novel: first the matador was the hero, then Cohn was the hero, then Brett, and finally Hemingway realized “maybe there is not any hero at all. Maybe a story is better without any hero”.[26] William Balassi believes that in eliminating other characters as the protagonist he brought Jake indirectly into the role as the novel’s hero.

A roman à clef, Hemingway based the characters on real people and caused an uproar in the expatriate community. The early draft included the real names of the group; Hadley’s character was cut early to allow room for the Brett/Jake love story.[29] Although written in a journalistic style, Frederic Svoboda writes that the striking thing about the novel is “how quickly it moves away from a simple recounting of events”.[30] Jackson Benson believes Hemingway used autobiographical details as framing devices about life in general. For example, Benson says that Hemingway used his experiences and drew them out with “what if” scenarios: “what if I were wounded in such a way that I could not sleep at night? What if I were wounded and made crazy, what would happen if I were sent back to the front?”[31] Hemingway believed the writer could describe one thing though an entirely different thing occurs below the surface, which he called the iceberg theory, or the theory of omission.[32]

Balassi says Hemingway applied the iceberg theory better in The Sun Also Rises than in any of his other works, by editing away extraneous material or purposely leaving gaps in the story. He made editorial remarks in the manuscript which show he wanted to break from the stricture of “clear restrained writing” as Gertrude Stein had advised. In the earliest draft, the novel begins in Pamplona but Hemingway moved the opening setting to Paris because he thought the Montparnasse life was necessary as a counterpoint to the later action in Spain. He wrote of Paris extensively, intending “not to be limited by the literary theories of others, [but] to write in his own way, and possibly, to fail”.[33] He added metaphors for each character: Mike’s money problems, Brett’s association with the Circe myth, Cohn’s association with the segregated steer.[34] It wasn’t until the revision process that he pared down the story, taking out unnecessary explanations, minimizing descriptive passages, and stripping down the dialogue, which created a “complex but tightly compressed story”.[35]

Hemingway admitted that he learned from the Kansas City Star style-sheet, where he worked as cub reporter, what he needed as a foundation for his writing.[note 2][36] Critic John Aldridge says that the minimalist style resulted from Hemingway’s belief that to write authentically, each word had to be carefully chosen for its simplicity and authenticity and carry a great deal of weight. Aldridge writes that Hemingway’s style “of a minimum of simple words that seemed to be squeezed onto the page against a great compulsion to be silent, creates the impression that those words—if only because there are so few of them—are sacramental”.[37] In Paris Hemingway had been experimenting with the sound of the King James Bible, reading aloud with his friend John Dos Passos. From the style of the biblical prose he learned to increment his prose; the action in the novel builds sentence-by-sentence, scene-by-scene and chapter-by-chapter.

The simplicity of his style, however, is deceptive. Harold Bloom writes that it is his effective use of parataxis which elevates Hemingway’s prose. Drawing on the Bible, Walt Whitman and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hemingway wrote in a deliberate understatement and heavily incorporated parataxis, which in some cases almost become cinematic.[39] He skeletal sentences were crafted in response to Henry James’s observation that WWI had “used up words”, explains Hemingway scholar Zoe Trodd, who writes that his style is similar to a “multi-focal” photographic reality. The syntax, which lacks subordinating conjunctions, creates static sentences. The photographic “snapshot” style creates a collage of images. He omits internal punctuation (colons, semicolons, dashes, parentheses) in favor of short declarative sentences. The sentences are meant to build, as events build, to create a sense of the whole. Multiple strands exist in a story with subtexts leading to a variety of angles. He also uses cinematic techniques of cutting quickly from one scene to the next; or of splicing one scene into another. Intentional omissions allow the reader to fill the gap as though responding to instructions from the author and create three-dimensional prose.[40] James Mellow writes that the bullfighting scenes are presented with a crispness and clarity that evoke the sense of a newsreel.

Major themes

Paris and the Lost Generation

The first book of The Sun Also Rises is set against the backdrop of mid-1920s Paris. During the roaring twenties the favorable exchange rate drew Americans to Paris with as many as 200,000 English speaking expatriates in the city in 1924. In 1925, the Paris Tribune reported that in Paris there was an American Hospital, an American Library, and an American Chamber of Commerce—it was a Paris in which one could live without speaking French.[42] Many American writers were disenchanted with America where they found less artistic freedom than in Europe. Hemingway himself found in Paris greater artistic freedom than in the US during a period when Ulysses, written by his friend James Joyce, was banned and burned when it arrived in New York in 1922.[43]

Hemingway defined the The Sun Also Rises themes with two epigraphs: the allusion to the Lost Generation, a phrase coined by Gertrude Stein referring to the post-war generation;[note 3] and the long quotation from Ecclesiastes “that emphasizes the cyclical structure of the novel, the eternal order of nature, and the hope of a new generation”.[note 4][44] Hemingway told his editor Max Perkins that the book was not so much about a generation being lost, but that “the earth abideth forever”. He believed the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been “battered” but were not lost.[45]

Hemingway scholar Linda Wagner-Martin writes he wanted the book to be about morality instead of writing entirely of a lost and decadent generation, which he emphasized by changing the working title from Fiesta to The Sun Also Rises. The book can be read as either a novel about bored expatriates or as a morality tale about the protagonist seeking integrity in an immoral world.[25] In the months before Hemingway left for Pamplona, the Latin Quarter, where he lived, was depicted as decadent and depraved in the press. The novel began as a story of a matador corrupted by the influence of the ‘Latin quarter’ crowd, which he then expanded into a novel about Jake Barnes at risk of becoming corrupted by the wealthy and inauthentic expatriates.

In the novel, the characters are members of a group, each greatly affected by the war, who share similar norms.[25] Hemingway fully captured the angst of the age and thereby transcends the love story of Brett and Jake, although they too are representative of the period: Brett starved for reassurance and love and Jake sexually maimed. His wound symbolizes the disability of the age, the disillusion, and the frustrations felt by an entire generation.[25]

Michael Reynolds says that Hemingway thought he lost touch with American values while he lived in Paris but the opposite is true. In the novel he touched very much on American values because Hemingway retained his mid-western American values. He admired hard work, as depicted by the matadors and the prostitutes who work hard for a living, whereas Brett who prostitutes herself is emblematic of ‘the rotten crowd’ who live on inherited money. Ironically it is Jake, the working journalist, who pays the bills again and again when the others who can pay, do not. Hemingway, through Jake’s actions, shows his disapproval of people who did not pay up.[47] Hemingway captured his time, because as Reynolds says, the novel shows the tragedy not so much of the decadence of the Montparnasse crowd, but of the self-destruction of American values during this period. As such Hemingway created an American hero who is impotent and powerless. Jake becomes the moral center in the novel; he never considers himself part of the expatriate crowd because he is a working man; to Jake a working man is genuine and authentic, whereas those who do not work for a living spend their lives posing.

Women and love

In Lady Brett Ashley, Hemingway created a character who reflected her time. Paris was a city where divorce was common and easy to be had in the mid-1920s.[note 5] The twice divorced Brett represented the liberated new woman. Some ‘new women’ became educated and entered male dominated professions; others, like Brett, drank, smoked, and became sexually liberated.[49] James Nagel writes that Hemingway created in Brett one of the more fascinating women in 20th century American literature. Sexually promiscuous, she is a denizen of Parisian nightlife and cafés. In Pamplona she causes chaos where she is out of her element: in her presence, the men drink too much and fight; she seduces the young bullfighter; she literally becomes a Circe in the festival.[50] Critics describe her variously as complicated, elusive, enigmatic and write that Hemingway “treats her with a delicate balance of sympathy and antipathy”.[51] As a character she is vulnerable, forgiving, independent—qualities Hemingway juxtaposes against the other women in the book who are either prostitutes or overbearing nags.[52]

Nagel believes the novel is a tragedy. In spite of their love for one-another, Jake and Brett’s relationship becomes destructive because the love will never be consummated. Brett destroys Jake’s friendship with Cohn, and in Pamplona she ruins his hard-won reputation among the Spanish aficionados.[50] Meyers sees Brett as a woman who wants sex without love while Jake is forced to accept love without sex. Although Brett sleeps with many men, it is Jake she loves.[53] Dana Fore writes Brett is willing to be with Jake, in spite of his disability, in a “non-traditional erotic relationship”.[54] Other critics such as Leslie Fiedler and Nina Baym see her as a supreme bitch; Baym writes that Brett is one of the “outstanding examples of Hemingway’s ‘bitch women’ “.[55] Jake ends up pimping Brett to Romero, and hates himself, as shown when he says, “Send a girl off with a man …. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love.”[56]

Donald Daiker suggests that Brett’s behavior in Madrid—after Romero leaves and when Jake arrives at her summons—reflects her immorality.[57] Scott Danielson believes Hemingway presented the Jake-Brett relationship in such a manner that Jake knew “that in having Brett for a friend ‘he had been getting something for nothing’ and that sooner or later he would have to pay the bill”, while Daiker notes that Brett relies on Jake to pay for her trainfare from Madrid to San Sebastián to rejoin her fiancée Mike Campbell.[58] In a piece Hemingway cut, he has Jake thinking, “you learned a lot about a woman by not sleeping with her”; and in the end Jake likely has changed—although he loves Brett, he undergoes a transformation and in Madrid finally begins the process of distancing himself from her.[59] Reynolds, however, believes Jake represents ‘everyman’ and that during the course of the narrative he loses his honor, faith, and hope. Reynolds sees the novel as a morality play with Jake as the person who loses the most.

The corrida, nature, and the fiesta

In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway contrasts Paris to Spain and the frenzy of the fiesta with the tranquility of the Spanish landscape. Spain was Hemingway’s favorite European country; he considered it a healthy place and the only country “that hasn’t been shot to pieces”. He was profoundly affected by the spectacle of bullfighting, writing, “It isn’t just brutal like they always told us. It’s a great tragedy—and the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and takes more guts and skill and guts again than anything possibly could. It’s just like having a ringside seat at the war with nothing going to happen to you.”[61] In the novel he presented what he perceived as the purity in the culture of bullfighting—called afición—as an authentic way of life, which he then contrasted against the inauthenticity of the Parisian bohemians.[62] To be accepted as an aficionado was rare for a non-Spaniard; Jake goes through a difficult process to gain acceptance by the “fellowship of afición”.[63] Hemingway scholar Allen Josephs thinks the novel centers around the corrida and how each character reacts to it. Brett’s reaction is to seduce the matador; Cohn fails to understand and expects to be bored; Jake understands fully because only he moves between the world of the inauthentic expatriates and the authentic Spaniards; the hotel-keeper Montoya is the keeper of the faith; and Romero is the artist in the ring—he is both innocent and perfect and the one who bravely faces death.[64] The corrida is presented as an idealized drama where the matador faces death, creating a moment of existentialism, or nada (nothingness), broken when death is vanquished and the animal killed.

Matadors, to Hemingway and as presented in the novel, were heroic characters dancing in a bullring—which he considered nothing less than war, but a war with precise rules in contrast to the messiness of the real war Hemingway, and by extension Jake, experienced.[25] Critic Keneth Kinnamon notes that young Romero is the novel’s only honorable character.[63] Hemingway named Romero after Pedro Romero, an 18th-century bullfighter who killed thousands of bulls in the most difficult manner: having the bull impale itself on his sword as he stood perfectly still. Reynolds says Romero, who symbolizes the classically pure matador, is the “one idealized figure in the novel”.[66] Josephs says that when Hemingway changed Romero’s name from Guerrita and imbued him with the characteristics of the historical Romero, he also changed the scene in which Romero kills a bull recibiendo in homage to the historical namesake.

Before the group arrives in Pamplona, Jake, Bill and Cohn take a fishing trip to the Irati River. On one level the scene serves as an interlude between the Paris and Pamplona section, but more importantly, as Harold Bloom points out, it reflects the basic theme in American literatue of escaping into the wilderness, as seen in Cooper, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, and Thoreau. In the wilderness lies redemption and freedom.[68] Leslie Fiedler defines the theme as ‘The Sacred Land’, and he sees it extended in The Sun Also Rises to include the Pyrenees and even given a symbolic nod with the naming of the “Hotel Montana”.[55] According to Stoltzfus, in Hemingway’s writing nature is a place of refuge and rebirth where the hunter or fisherman gains a moment of transcendence as the prey is killed.[65] Nature is where men are without women: men fish, men hunt, men find redemption.[55] In nature Jake and Bill do not need to discuss the war because their war experience paradoxically is ever-present. The nature scenes also serve as counterpoint to the fiesta scenes.[25]

All of the characters drink heavily during the fiesta and generally throughout the novel. Writing in “Alcoholism in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises”, Matts Djos makes the point that the main characters exhibit alcoholic tendencies such as depression, anxiety and sexual inadequacy. He writes that Jake’s self-pity is symptomatic of an alcoholic as is Brett’s out-of-control behavior.[69] Belassi writes that Jake gets drunk to avoid his feelings for Brett, notably in the Madrid scenes at the end where he has three martinis before lunch and drinks four bottles of wine at lunch.[70] Reynolds, however, believes the drinking becomes more relevant when set against the historical context of Prohibition in the United States. The atmosphere of the fiesta lends itself to drunkenness but the degree of revelry reflects a reaction against prohibition. Bill Gorton, visiting from the US, drinks in Paris and in Spain. Jake is rarely drunk in Paris where he works, but on vacation in Pamplona he drinks constantly. Reynolds says that Prohibition split attitudes about morality, and Hemingway made clear his dislike of Prohibition.[71] In the novel, Hemingway made a statement about his choice to live away from the US, where Prohibition was in full force, and about his friends.


Critics have represented Jake as an ambiguous code hero of Hemingway manliness, but Kathy and Arnold Davidson, in their essay “Decoding the Hemingway Hero”, write that neither Jake nor the novel itself should be minimized to such an extent.[73] The ambiguities are many. For example, in the bar scene in Paris, Jake is angry at the homosexual men. Hemingway critic Elliot says that Hemingway viewed homosexuality as an inauthentic way of life; however, he aligns Jake with them, because like them he cannot have sex with a woman. His anger and hatred become a manifestation of his self-hatred at his inability to be authentic and masculine because of his wound.[74] He has lost his sense of masculine identity—he is less than a man. The symbol of masculine identity in the novel is Romero; but at the bullring Jake can only be a spectator.[75] The Davidsons write that Romero reflects the core of masculinity through his bravery in facing death, and that Brett is attracted to him because of his masculinity.[76] Ultimately Jake destroys the quintessential code hero Romero by bringing him to Brett, which diminishes him and diminishes Jakes’ aficion.

Anti-semitism and gender

Robert Cohn too is diminished in the novel, but it was Harold Loeb, on whom Cohn’s character is based, who perhaps lost the most when Hemingway immortalized him as the unlikeable Jew in the story. The Sun Also Rises has been called anti-semitic, and as Susan Beegel writes about Cohn, “Hemingway never lets the reader forget that Cohn is a Jew, not an unattractive character who happens to be a Jew but a character who is unattractive because he is a Jew.”[79] Hemingway used anti-semitic language in the novel; as a character Cohn is shunned by the other members of the group; and Cohn is characterized as ‘different’, unable or unwilling to understand and participate in the fiesta.[80] Cohn is never really part of the group—separated by his difference or his Jewishness.[25] Reynolds says that Loeb should have declined Hemingway’s invitation to join them in Pamplona. Before the trip he was Lady Duff’s lover and Hemingway’s friend; during the fiasco of the fiesta he lost Lady Duff and Hemingway’s friendship, but more importantly Hemingway used him as the basis for a character chiefly remembered as a “rich Jew”.[81] Hemingway critic Josephine Knopf thinks Hemingway likely intended to depict Cohn as a ‘shemiel’ (or fool), but that Cohn is the least authentically presented character in the book and that he lacks any of the characteristics of a traditional ‘shemiel’.[82]

Hemingway’s writing has also been called homophobic. For example, in the fishing scens, Bill confesses his fondness for Jake but then goes on to say, “I couldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot.”[83] Elliot wonders if Jake’s wound perhaps signifies latent homosexuality, rather than only a loss of masculinity.[84] More recently critics have examined issues of gender misidentification that is prevalent in much of Hemingway’s work. He seemed interested in cross-gender themes, shown by depictions of effeminate men and ‘boyish’ women.[85] In his fiction, a woman’s hair is often symbolically important and used to denote gender. Brett, with her short hair, is compared to a boy—yet the ambiguity lies in the fact that she is described as a “damned fine-looking woman”. Her feminine traits are minimized and masculine traits are maximized.[86] Daiker speculates that Romero may have left Brett because he disliked her image and her short hair; she lacked the womanly qualities he wanted.


Hemingway’s first novel was arguably his best and most important and came to be seen as an iconic piece of modernism, although Reynolds emphasizes Hemingway himself was not philosophically a modernist.[89] In the book, he epitomized the post-war expatriate generation for future generations.[90] He had received good reviews for his previously published volume of short stories, In Our Time, published initially in 1924, as in our time, in a small print-run from Ezra Pound’s modernist series through Three Mountains Press in Paris, of which Edmund Wilson wrote, “Hemingway’s prose was of the first distinction”. Wilson’s comments were enough to bring attention to the young writer.[91]

Good reviews came in from many major publications. Conrad Aiken wrote in the New York Herald Tribune, “If there is a better dialogue to be written today I do not know where to find it”; and Bruce Barton wrote in The Atlantic that Hemingway “writes as if he had never read anybody’s writing, as if he had fashioned the art of writing himself”, and that the characters “are amazingly real and alive”.[14] Many reviewers, among them H.L. Mencken praised Hemingway’s style, use of understatement, and tight writing.[92]

Other critics, however, disliked the novel. The Nation’s critic believed Hemingway’s hard-boiled style was better suited to the short stories published in In Our Time than the newly published novel. Hemingway’s friend, John Dos Passos, writing in the New Masses asked: “What’s the matter with American writing these days? …. The few unsad young men of this lost generation will have to look for another way of finding themselves than the one indicated here”. Privately he wrote Hemingway an apology for the review.[14] The reviewer for the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote of the novel, “The Sun Also Rises is the kind of book that makes this reviewer at least almost plain angry”. Some reviewers disliked the characters, among them the reviewer for The Dial, who thought the characters were shallow and vapid, and the The Nation and Atheneum reported the characters were boring and the novel was not important.[92]

His family hated it. His mother, Grace Hemingway, distressed that she could not face the criticism at her local ‘book study class’ where it was said her son was “prostituting a great ability …. to the lowest uses” clearly articulated her displeasure in a letter to him:

The critics seem to be full of praise for your style and ability to draw word pictures but the decent ones always regret that you should use such great gifts in perpetuating the lives and habits of so degraded a strata of humanity …. It is a doubtful honor to produce one of the filthiest books of the year …. What is the matter? Have you ceased to be interested in nobility, honor and fineness in life? …. Surely you have other words in your vocabulary than “damn” and “bitch”—Every page fills me with a sick loathing.[93]

Reynolds believes The Sun Also Rises could only have been written in 1925—it perfectly captured the period between WWI and the Great Depression, and immortalized a group of characters within a narrow context.[94] In the years since its publication the novel has been criticized for the anti-semitism, as shown in Cohn’s characterization. Reynolds explains although the publishers complained to Hemingway about his description of bulls they allowed his use of Jewish epithets which showed the degree to which anti-semitism was accepted in post-WWI America. Cohn represented the Jewish establishment and contemporary readers would have understood that from his description. Hemingway clearly makes Cohn dislikeable not only as a character but as a character who was Jewish.[95] Likewise, Hemingway was seen as misogynistic and homophobic by critics in the 1970s and 1980s, although both Bloom and Susan Beegel say that in the 1990s his work, including The Sun Also Rises, began to receive critical reconsideration by female scholars.


Hemingway’s work continued to be popular in latter half of the century and after his suicide in 1961. During the 1970s, The Sun Also Rises appealed to what Beegel calls the lost generation of the Vietnam era.[97] Aldridge writes that The Sun Also Rises has kept its appeal because the novel is about being young. The characters live in the most beautiful city in the world, spend their days traveling, fishing, drinking, making love, and generally glorifying in their youth. He believes the expatriate writers of the 1920s appeal for this reason, but that Hemingway was the most successful in capturing the time and the place in The Sun Also Rises.[98]

Bloom says that some of the characters do not stand the test of time, writing that modern readers are uncomfortable with the antisemitic treatment of Cohn’s character, the adulation given to a bullfighter, and that Brett and Mike belong firmly in the jazz age rather than in the modern era. However, he believes that the novel does stand the test of time on the strength of Hemingway’s prose and style.[99]

The novel made Hemingway famous, inspired young ladies across America to wear short hair and sweater sets like the heroine’s—and to act like her too—and changed writing style in ways that could be seen by picking up any American magazine published within the next twenty years. Nagel writes about the publication of the novel that “The Sun Also Rises was a dramatic literary event and its effects have not diminished over the years”. In many ways the novel’s stripped down prose became a model for 20th-century American writing.
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