This book states a perfect example of how skilled Hemingway is when it comes to saying something without actually saying it, which is one of the qualiThis book states a perfect example of how skilled Hemingway is when it comes to saying something without actually saying it, which is one of the qualities that made him an internationally established author. With this said, I refer to his iceberg prose. A sign of a real classic is the fact that different readers are able to find different meanings and symbolism in the same book. The author’s own inner affliction, springs out of the pages in a very revealing way, and this makes the meanderings of the protagonist all the more comprehensible.
Throughout the book, one gets to know the central figure, which surely is a similar projection of the author himself, by the name of Jake Barnes. He is newspaper writer, and the narration proceeds with describing his love for a woman called Brett Ashley. However, we will learn that neither of them are able to live the life that is necessary to provide enough commitment for their relationship to work. Nevertheless, they manage to maintain a very close friendship, and they have their mutual support. Although the story is full of concerns and social issues, at heart it is a fairly tragic love story. The storyline really constitutes a typical set-up. The primary source of anxiety and tension is the relationship between Jake and Brett. They both have feelings for one another, though Jake’s impotence is an inexpugnable impediment for Brett. One is constantly reminded of the impossibility of them being together, even though their mutual struggle represents a large part of the book.
"This was Brett that I had felt like crying about. Then I thought of her walking up the street and stepping into the car, as I had last seen her, and of course in a little while I felt like hell again. It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night is another thing."
The people that Jake and Brett socialize with, parties constantly, seemingly to convince themselves that they are having fun, in order to escape the insignificance of the rather highly privileged lives they lead. There is Michael, which is the man that Brett at first seems destined to marry. Then we have the former boxer champion Robert Cohn, which is vainly in love with Brett, but becomes scorned by her and her recurring infidelities. As the novel unravels, we meet the expatriate characters in Paris. Despite his overall feeling of dissatisfaction, Jake clearly thrives with his life in the city. We are infused with the notion that Jake could fit in, no matter his whereabouts. Robert Cohn, on the other hand, does not seem to enjoy himself, and is not really comfortable anywhere.
"I have never seen a man in civil life as nervous as Robert Cohn, nor as eager. I was enjoying it. It was lousy to enjoy it, but I felt lousy. Cohn had a wonderful quality of bringing out the worst in anybody."
There is a very significant part of the book where the whole group goes to Pamplona for the festival of the running of the bulls, and here Hemingway’s narration and portrayal of the scenery is very vivid and accurate. This is when Jake and Brett’s already difficult relationship becomes increasingly tenser when Jake discovers that Cohn has an affair with Brett in San Sebastian.
"I was blind, unforgivingly jealous of what had happened to him. The fact that I took it as a matter of course did not alter that any. I certainly did hate him."
The simultaneous presence of Mike, Cohn and Jake in Pamplona, intensifies everyone’s concern. Neither does Brett facilitate the matters by not acknowledging the problems she is wreaking, or taking any responsibility for her actions. During their stay, the problems between all parties progresses and the social commentaries becomes increasingly more strained. This results in a resolution where Cohn beats up Jake, Mike, and a bullfighter called Romero, in a fit of rage. The situation very much embodies the culmination of everybody’s frustration about Brett and her actions. Furthermore, it also reflects the disillusionment and ulterior anger of all the novel’s characters. After Cohn’s eruption, he is very regretful and decides to leave Pamplona, which signals a commencement of the ending of the story, and when the fiesta comes to its official end, it’s more or less a relief to everyone involved.
When everyone leaves Pamplona, the resolution regarding the relationship between Brett and any of the men in the novel is nowhere in sight. They are all dissatisfied, since Jake is in desperate need of some alone time, in order to ponder. Mike has no money left, and is with reason in emotional disarray. Cohn is out of the picture, but all are relieved that he is. Alone, Jake decides to head to San Sebastian to recuperate and take it easy. Brett left with Pedro Romero, the bullfighter, which states that everything is even more confusing and less certain than it was when the novel first unraveled, and this leaves us to once again question the nature of the novel’s central relationship.
"The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta."
After a brief postponement in the story, Brett urgently sends for Jake in San Sebastian, and he learns that she sent away Romero, that she took off with. This incident once more awakens the question of a potential relationship between Brett and Jake, since Jake quickly rushes to meet Brett in Madrid.
"That seemed to handle it. That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him. Now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was it all right."
It is obvious that Brett had made a reasonable decision leaving Romero, but now she does not know what to do or where to go from there. Jake is the one to finally decide that they never really had a chance to be together, although this was Brett’s decision earlier in the novel, and this makes the final resolution to the conflict that has been central throughout the entire novel. Brett is at this point very sad, and Jake holds and comforts her, even though she says that she will probably return to Mike. They decide to take a taxi ride through Madrid, and in the car Brett laments and says that she and Jake “could have had such a damned good time together”. Then Jake replies, “”Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?”
It is obvious throughout the book, that the unrequited love between Jake and Brett torments both of them. It’s possible to see Brett’s recurring affairs as attempts to deal with the emotions that arise because of Jakes unavailability. Brett often serves as the novel’s center of attention, or at least it’s objective attention. Yet her careless style and the way she embraces all experiences does not indicate any personal happiness, though she is entirely aware, realistic, and accepting about the power she possesses over men. However, it is worth mentioning that she demonstrates a significant capacity in the end of the novel, which was not very distinct in the beginning. This capacity manifests itself through a moral strength, which might enable her to leave Jake in peace. That would have been for their mutual best, even when taking their reciprocal love into account.
The last words in the novel, delivers a considerable and somewhat sad summary of all the characters lives. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” one could say refers to the idea that Jake and Brett could have made it together. However, another important aspect is the general symbolism in that sentence. The author expresses the pervading feeling of hopelessness, weariness and resignation that he perceives in his surroundings. It could be construed as to mean that everyone keeps their dreams and hopes close to their hearts, but realizing that they can not be fulfilled, might be devastating. The ideal approach would instead be to wistfully convince oneself that these dreams and hopes could have been possible or feasible in another alternate reality, and this would give us some comfort.
The meaning of the above mentioned, weaves through the book as early as from the first page. Hemingway initiates the novel with an epigraph, which purpose is to provide an initial preview to the story, and head the reader in the right direction. In the beginning the author opens with a quote from Gertrud Stein. “You are the lost generation.” Then follows a passage from Ecclesiastes, where “the sun also rises” is included, and it is emphasized that time goes on, independent of us and the fact that we all perish in the end. Our negligible lifespans fade in comparison to the everlasting cycle of sunrise and sunset, the circulation of the wind around the world, and the waves that ceaselessly beat against the rocks and beaches, only to roll back into the sea.
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.” – Ecclesiastes