WWI Effects and ”The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
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Ernest Hemmingway was an intellectual writer who used characters, setting, and action in the novel, The Sun Also Rises, to convey many themes. He is also known to be a writer about the World War I time period. Thus, World War I has affected each of the characters in the novel in one-way or another. The war serves to haunt many of the characters and is the source of great pain in the book. Two characters that are specifically affected by the war are Jake and Brett. The reader can gain a view of some of the detriment that occurred during the war by analyzing these two characters.
Even though the reader knows little detail about the characters’ lives, it is for certain that each was affected by the war on some level. Jake, for instance, is known to be “sick.” (34) Jake’s lack of masculinity causes him difficulties in coping with his love for Brett. Brett is physically driven, and, even though she loves Jake, she knows she would never be satisfied with him. She claims that she “turns to jelly when he touches her,” and later exclaims that she “couldn’t live quietly in the country…with [her] own true love.” (34, 62) Jake is forced to deal with Brett’s decision about their relationship because she is determined to have it that way.
Beyond his sexual problem, Jake may also have a weakened ego from the war. World War I was fought in trenches, thus not many men had the chance to stand out and be heroes. Each of them was forced to fight as a group and share any glory that may be acquired. This led many men to question their purpose in the war and in the general overview of life. Thus, when fronted with the rejection of a true love, Jake was at loss. He questioned whether or not it was true and he gave into Brett’s relational views even though he believed differently. Although he was coping with these mixed emotions, Brett still expected him to be an emotional confidante. She expected him to always be there, and yet continuously leaves him to pursue other affairs. For example, when Jake sees Brett in the bar with the homosexual men. “Somehow they made Jake angry.” (28) Jake has difficulty dealing with Brett’s overly flirtatious ways with men, and these feelings are justified by his simple love for her and his inability to really stand up for what he believes.
Hemmingway keeps Jake, although a main character, in the light shadows. There is a lack of background information concerning him and thus a lack of reasoning for his current lifestyle. However, the reader can also relate Jake’s actions to the war. Jake, like many veterans, chose to leave the battles on the battlefields and not continue the ciaos in his current life. He is living for the present, and, in a sense, drinking away the war. Bill, another character in the novel, calls Jake an “expatriate.” (120) He goes on to say that he has “lost touch with the soil.” This may mean that Jake has lost touch with what he really wants out of life. He seems to be just floating through his everyday life, but not really living. His friends encourage this ideology by urging him to party and forget all his woes.
Finally, he states at one of their dinners “it was like certain dinners [he] remember from the war…much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening.” (150). He feels as though he has lost control of his own life. In the beginning of the novel, Jake tells Robert Cohn “nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.” (18) Jake proves that he believes that ideology by living his life as though he will never be able to reach his full potential. Thus, the war greatly damaged Jake more than just physically, but also emotionally.
Brett was another character who was immensely affected by the war. She served as a “V.A.D. in a hospital” during the war and this is where Jake first met her. (46) She also lost her first husband and first true love to the war. Nonetheless, she fell in love with Jake when he arrived at the hospital. She immediately trusted Jake, and Hemmingway reveals this to the reader by writing that “her eyes had different depths…you could see all the way into them.” (34) Throughout the novel, Jake is the only man she really trusts. The rest of the men serve as a physical way she can control her life. Instead of being at the mercy of men, she was in control. However, she has no control over Jake because she has no physical manipulation over him. Yet, Jake continues to associate with Brett, leading her to believe that he is trustworthy and will truly always be there for her.
Brett also served as the character that could desecrate a person’s self-identity. The power she gained physically over men is parallel to the outcome of the men who fought in the war. Her husband returned from the war in a state where he only felt safe with a revolver under his pillow. That strong hold on his life is basically what Brett wanted over men because then she was not at a point of weakness, like she was with her husband. She no longer had to fear men if she could control them. Thus, she turned Robert Cohn into an infatuated fool and Mike Campbell into an uncontrollable drunk. Cohn suffered greatly from Brett’s insecurities with herself. Although the one night of passion meant nothing to her, it meant the world to Cohn.
However, once Brett knew this, she just played Cohn like a pawn against Mike and other men. Pedro Romero was characterized as an infatuation for Brett, but the reader cannot be certain of whether or not she actually loved him. He was described through his bullfighting as “natural and pure.” (170) Hemmingway portrayed him as an innocent young man, one whom Brett fell for and had a physical desire for. She had the power to strip his innocence from him just like the war had done to her husband and her true love. For once, Brett was holding all the cards and, although she had no control over her emotional state, she could manage her physical rule. Thus, Brett is searching for a meaningful life, just like Jake.
In the end, Hemmingway utilizes these two characters and their group of friends to illuminate how World War I left many people feeling lost in their own existence. He leads the characters on a fun trip around France and Spain, but they never do anything but drink and socialize. The characters never really reveal any deep feelings and the war is rarely mentioned. Thus, their lives basically serve a lack of purpose. Jake and Brett both are living, but are living without a meaning or a desire for life. They are going through the motions, but ignoring all emotion. Jake stated that one “can’t get away from [himself] by moving from one place to another,” but that is exactly how he is living. Neither character is willing to face their true selves so they just continue through the blind motions of life. They never confront the deep problem of the effect of the war on their lives. Everything just seemed to have happened in their lives and now they are forced to cope with it or drink it down.