Symbolism: Bullfighting

Hemingway’s sparing use of embellishment in regard to his prose makes for a comfortable understanding of his intended literary devices. The symbol I would like to discuss today is incredibly important in aiding the reader in his comprehension of the sociology of the characters.

This site entertains the idea that a number of the bullfights demonstrate an important plot occurrence within the bulls’ actions. It is indeed an interesting idea with an example being the death of the steer (killed by a bull) at the start of the festival, representing the occasion when Mike ravenously berates Robert Cohn. Although Cohn mopes about after the incident, the occurrence itself could signify a figurative death of Cohn at least in some of his original mannerisms or schools of thought.

Bullfighting also emerges as a symbol of Eros. Jake is fascinated by bullfighting and is intrigued by the relationship between the bull and matador. This also describes Brett. Cohn on the other hand is repulsed. It almost seems to the reader as if Jake assumes the ethos of the bullring with lust, or at least something nearly equivalent. It is often inferred that Jake’s passion for bullfighting stems from an id-driven obsession, being his unconscious and instinctive need for sensuality. This can be easily understood, as bullfighting is a sensual sport. According to Shmoop, bullfighting contains elements of sensuality including “seduction, manipulation, maneuvering, and penetration by the bull-fighter of the bull.” With that said it is not surprising that Jake, an impotent man finds bullfighting to be so interesting.

What elements of sensuality are existent in the image borrowed from this site?

Brett is another character that views bullfighting as absorbing and exciting. She soon finds herself infatuated with Romero. Since Romero is a torero, the erotic passion found in bullfighting seems to be flowing through himself also, at least from Brett’s perspective. In other words, Romero is extremely fertile. Romero seems to be the exact opposite of what Jake is. But is he? I think that a better description of Romero from Brett’s standpoint is what she (Brett) wishes Jake could be. This is the case as it seems that Jake learns so much about bullfighting and becomes quite well-versed in it until the only major difference between him and Romero is his (Jake’s) literal impotence.

This post obviously doesn’t do anything near to justice in regard to the symbol of bullfighting, but hopefully it helps to open one’s mind to some of the outer layers and allows one to further delve into this brilliant novel.



Elements such as tone are obviously very vital in The Sun Also Rises as they are in almost any novel.

The tone of the novel is very clear. According to Shmoop, Hemingway himself called the story “a damned tragedy.” Now that’s saying something. Humor plays a large role in the novel. Almost all of the characters engage in a form of casual humor. The humor occurring between Jake and Brett’s relationship seemed especially strong to me at the time I read the novel. With that said, as mentioned in my prior post, Jake and Brett have a very turbulent relationship. The reader should be able to understand that the humor shared between Jake and Brett among other characters is just a veneer masking the truth. The truth being the collective and purgatorial existence occupied by the main characters (projection of “Lost Generation). The tone that I perceived tended to be mainly captious, somber, and cynical in a way that was highlighted with a variety of black humor. Although a dingy tone is employed, the title can summon notions of rebirth and hope. The following two quotes demonstrate a contributing factor to the somber tone, the brutal resultant of the War on the Lost Generation symbolized by (mainly) Jake and Brett among others.

“I told the driver to go to the Parc Montsouris, and got in, and slammed the door. Brett was leaning back in the corner, her eyes closed. I sat beside her. The cab started with a jerk.

‘Oh, darling, I’ve been so miserable,’ Brett said.”

The above quote directly demonstrates Brett’s dissatisfaction with life. She tends to be quite frank in regard to her emotional expression.

“She touched me with one hand and I put her hand away. ‘Never mind.’

‘What’s the matter? You sick?’

‘Everybody’s sick. I’m sick too. ‘”

This quote emphasizes the doldrums that many in Paris feel. This malaise is so common as Paris is (in the setting of the story and historically) a destination for World War I expatriates that have experienced such suffering throughout the years past.

How does this image by Escher exemplify the tone of the novel? Refer to how Jake and Brett specifically contribute to it.


A Tidbit On Jake Barnes

It is initially clear that Jake Barnes yearns for nothing more than Lady Brett Ashley. This is first demonstrated throughout various cafés and residences (Jake’s residence) in Paris. After experiencing a near emotional void with Georgette in the beginning, Jake goes off with Brett and it is evident that they share a mutual attraction for each other. Jake and Cohn even argue to a great extent over Brett as they both adore her. Jake’s love for Lady Brett Ashley is especially clear as Jake and Brett discuss the fallacy that is their relationship near to the occasion when they socialize at the Café Select with Count Mippipopolous among others. Later in the evening, Jake overhears Lady Ashley engaged in a confrontation with the concierge of his residence and dilutes the conflict by allowing Brett to ascend to his chamber. Here they further discuss why their relationship is dysfunctional and one of the defining qualities of this dilemma is revealed. It is found to be Jake’s impotence caused by his assumed military service. His impotence is what is keeping Brett from him.

It is often said that Jake Barnes is a consummate representation of the Lost Generation as a whole. His inability to function “normally” leads to his overall depression and contributes to his practicing of a mental/emotional asceticism in a sense that he seems to enjoy things less and less as well as view many conventionally beneficial things such as his relationships (and kindness to an extent) as somewhat nugatory in part due to his injury. Even though this is apparent to the reader, it is also apparent that he still does socialize with some people like Bill, Brett, and Romero among others. Jake still has true passion by some means. He attempts to assuage his shortcomings with activities that he is passionate about such as fishing and bullfighting. One of the major veins of Jake’s discontent is always his inability to please Brett, his love. And that no matter what he may try in order to soothe himself, he is only distracting himself from what is truly controlling him. I feel that it (his passion) is just misplaced. That his passion was redirected by what had happened to him in his past. As a result he embodies a damaged existence suffocating under the weight of a multiverse characterized by Schadenfreude. This is very similar to those of the Lost Generation. It is understood that they too often felt misplaced in society as if they were wandering purposelessly because of the wartime atrocities experienced by them. In my opinion, it is never fully understood whether or not Jake accepts his fate regarding Brett although the concept is concretely abolished by the pair at the conclusion of the novel.

The majority of this entry consists of my own notions although this site was used in some instances as an adequate refresher.

Geographic Setting

The exposition of the story occurs in Paris. It is often indicated that the setting in the beginning (Paris) is based off of the Paris that Hemingway knew throughout the 1920s when he wrote the story.

Paris was often considered a cynosure for American and British wordsmiths after World War I and attracted many gifted writers such as T.S. Eliot and F. Scott Fitzgerald amongst Ernest Hemingway himself. In Paris, artists such as these were known to practice various forms of hedonism as the actions of Jake and Brett, as well as Cohn demonstrate.

How does the above 1920s vintage Parisian image represent some of the earlier themes of the novel?

The image is borrowed from this blog.

Although figures such as Jake often frequent the nightclubs and bars in a manner many would consider whimsical, the setting of Paris is presented in an equivocal manner.

The escapades taking place in Paris seem to be positively capricious, the characters often display a sense of overall delight and lightheartedness. With that said, other characters express their distaste for Paris and describe it as “dirty.” Although most are assumed to enjoy the the buoyant ethos of Paris, Cohn for example looks to partake in an exotic journey to South America, thus manifesting his lack of satisfaction in Paris. Jake also involves himself with a harlot in Paris and also experiences some correspondence issues with Brett regarding their love for each other. These happenings represent Jake’s deficiencies regarding relationships and wholly represent how Paris becomes a city in which residents interact socially, but at the same time find themselves emotionally isolated as in the case of a number of the characters within the novel including Brett, Jake, and Robert Cohn.

This literary stigma surrounding Paris could in fact be in part what Hemingway experienced while living in Paris after World War I, an isolated interactivity.

Throughout the latter portion of the novel, various settings in Spain play vital roles in the progression of the plot.

Burguete plays the part of an idyllic, pastoral landscape in which Jake and Bill enjoy various outdoor activities such as (and mainly) fishing. This trip is an important one as it offers a strange purity, even a cleansing sensation as it greatly contrasts the ethos of Paris.

Pamplona, a city famous for its bullfighting embodies a rapidly engulfing setting. The prominent characters all congregate here in search of enjoyment and appeasement, but chaos and a sense of drunken irresponsibility between their relationships soon transpires. Evidence of this can be seen throughout the scenes in which Cohn is viciously attacked (verbally) by Mike. Pamplona is a setting that harbors aggression and extreme confusion that leads up to the final ultimatum in regard to the relationship between Jake and Brett and is also an important determinant in the interactions between the other characters.

Other areas do play roles in the plot such as San Sebastian, but the locations discussed seem to hold the most relevant applications.

It’s curious how and why Hemingway managed to paint a melancholy image of urbanized areas such as Paris and an ebullient image of more natural areas such as Burguete.

This is a handy site that I used to help refresh my memory on some of the various locations in the story.

Themes: War

The First World War greatly impacts most of the characters in The Sun Also Rises and continuously resurfaces as a most notable theme.

Hemingway himself did partake in the War and his anguish is surely conveyed throughout the plot.

Brett Ashley has a multitudinous amount of suitors and torments all of them. She is incredibly impulsive regarding her relationships and could be classified as a nymphomaniac. She is engaged in the story, but has affairs with Cohn and Romero. With that said, it is also stated that she has feelings for Jake. This creates immeasurable tension between the quasi-camaraderie experienced by Robert and Jake among her other suitors. Her erratic behavior essentially destroys all of her potential, meaningful relationships. It can be inferred that the destruction of war in general is a subject that Hemingway wanted to emphasize in The Sun Also Rises. Little reason for Brett’s behavior is given aside from a few passages, the following quote in my opinion really aids the reader in understanding that the War is the catalyst behind Brett’s behavior, as it damaged her ex-husband in such a way that her own life was never the same.

“‘When he came home he wouldn’t sleep in a bed. Always made Brett sleep on the floor. Finally, when he got really bad, he used to tell her he’d kill her. Always slept with a loaded service revolver. Brett used to take the shells out when he’d gone to sleep.'”

View a short video on Lady Ashley here.

Jake Barnes is another character whose battle scars are all too visible. There are a number of possible allusions to the biblical Jacob, although this namesake, if existent, can best be described as jocular and sardonic. He is a passionate fellow, enjoying activities such as fishing and bullfighting and is also successful in the media industry. With that said, he seems to be in search of something, something that would complete him. In search, Jake frequents the cafés of Paris, even interacting with Georgette, a prostitute. It is obvious that he is disgruntled as he is often isolated from the conversations. He has feelings for Brett and is often angered when she interacts with other males. It is revealed that the War rendered him impotent which serves as a plausible explanation as to why he may feel so incomplete. The following quote demonstrates the effect that his impotence (caused by the War) has on his relationship with Brett, as she expresses her disappointment towards the issue.

“‘When I think of the hell I’ve put chaps through. I’m paying for it all now.’

‘Don’t talk like a fool,’ I said. “Besides, what happened to me is supposed to be funny. I never think about it.’

‘Oh, no. I’ll lay you don’t.’

‘Well, let’s shut up about it.’

‘I laughed about it too, myself, once.’ She wasn’t looking at me. ‘A friend of my brother’s came home that way from Mons. It seemed like a hell of a joke. Chaps never know anything, do they?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘Nobody ever knows anything.'”

The prevalence of the theme of war in The Sun Also Rises is vital to the reader’s understanding of war’s destructive properties. Hemingway first demonstrated how war can destroy relationships even if the figure is not directly involved in the bloodshed as with Lady Brett. Jake Barnes on the other hand is an example of how war can directly impact relationships through injury, as well as stressing the social and emotional conflict experienced by the “Lost Generation.”