Love, Friendship, and Jake's Emancipation in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2002

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3


As difficult as it may seem sometimes to characterize the features and delineate the exact time frame of the modernist period in American literature, there can be no doubt that Ernest Hemingway must be considered one of its most prominent figureheads. Among Hemingway’s many accomplished works, his first full-length novel, The Sun Also Rises, has won particular accolades in the years and decades since its publication in 1926. Sun has not only been hailed as a pillar of 20th century American fiction, but it has indeed also often been referred to as the “bible of the [Gertrude Stein-coined] Lost Generation,”[1] as it achieved to singularly capture the psyche of an entire generation of American expatriate writers in the wake of World War I.

A fine illustration of Hemingway’s “minimalist prose”[2] and so-called iceberg principle in his narrative strategy, Sun presents its fair share of challenges to the eager literary critic. However, even a cursory reading of the novel will reveal that Hemingway’s primary concern in writing Sun was to depict, by literary means, the emotional confusion that marked post-WWI European society and the impact that situation had on love and friendship in personal relationships. More specifically, Hemingway shows in Sun how the complicated web of relationships among a group of Paris-stationed American expatriates develops, especially as they expose themselves to the intense heat and exhilaration of the Pamplona bullfights. It is in particular the complex relationship between Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley that any analysis of the novel’s key relationship theme must focus on, and that, indeed, generations of literary critics have tried to make some good sense out of.

It is the aim of the present paper to show that Jake and Brett, prevented by fate from being able to find sexual fulfillment, struggle with a peculiar relationship that both frustrates them sexually and yet sustains them emotionally. However, with both love and friendship as the two underlying foundations to their relationship, it will be shown that it is Jake who realizes eventually that the only way to end the couple’s stalemate is to pursue a strategy of emotional emancipation from Brett. This process is mostly triggered by Brett’s selfish actions, three key instances of which will be demonstrated. The paper’s point of departure is to show what factors are in the way of Jake and Brett becoming true lovers. It will then be argued that the two characters “fall back” to friendship in their attempt to find an escape route to their emotional dilemma. Being primarily concerned with the importance of love, friendship, and Jake’s emancipation in Sun, the paper’s last step will be to show how Jake eventually “become[s] his own man”[3] by “breaking [the] spell”[4] Brett had exercised over him.

Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley must seem like an odd couple, particularly to many first-time readers of The Sun Also Rises. Many readers will undoubtedly ask themselves why these two characters, who by all accounts interact very intimately with each other throughout the whole novel, do not manage to find together. However, much of what determines Jake and Brett’s thoughts and actions lies somewhat hidden and must be pulled to the surface by close (if not indeed multiple) reading. Proceeding thusly, the attentive reader will soon notice that Jake and Brett are trapped in an emotional stalemate that they do not know how to solve, with the concepts of love and friendship decidedly defining their relationship.

Jake Barnes, an American journalist, is at the same time the narrator and protagonist of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Jake and Brett Ashley, the attractive and twice-divorced nouveau riche, are part of a group of Americans living comfortably off money from home in mid-1920´s Paris, Europe’s then en vogue social hub. Although life in Paris at that time clearly offers its share of delights for the well-to-do (plainly demonstrated by the expatriates´ carefree attitude and easygoing lifestyle), Europe still has not yet completely overcome the trauma of WWI, a watershed event that took a considerable toll not only in terms of human life lost on the battlefield but also in terms of its emotional aftermath.

As the novel’s time context holds the key to any serious interpretation of Sun ’s plot and message, it must be kept in mind. Cognizant of the fact that “[o]ne of the most persistent themes in the twenties was the death of love in World War I,”[5] Hemingway uses The Sun Also Rises to describe the love and friendship relationships his American characters have both in their rather homogeneous group but also with the French and Spanish natives they come into contact with. It cannot surprise much that the quality of these relationships, and the conflicts that arise in them, are a direct reflection of the time the characters live in. Therefore, Sun has correctly been read as delivering a “thorough moral examination of its time.”[6] According to Michael Reynolds, Sun can be read as “a sad story about smashed people whose lives [and emotional states] are largely beyond their own control.”[7] It can only be attributed to Hemingway’s penchant for subtle irony when he, of all the characters in the novel, lets Georgette, the prostitute Jake picks up at the beginning of the novel, clairvoyantly notice “Everybody’s sick. I’m sick too”[8] when Jake tells her to stop touching him when she tries to sexually arouse him.


[1] Sibbie O´Sullivan, “Love and Friendship/ Man and Woman in The Sun Also Rises,” Arizona Quarterly (1988): 76. [all further references as: O´Sullivan, “Love and Friendship”]

[2] Earl Rovit, “On Psychic Retrenchment in Hemingway.” Hemingway. Essays of Reassessment. Ed. Frank Scafella (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991), p. 181.

[3] Jackson J. Benson, Hemingway: The Writer’s Art of Self-Defense (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969) p. 40.

[4] Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, “Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises: Masculinity, Feminism, and Gender-Role Reversal,"American Imago 47 (1990): 62.

[5] Mark Spilka, “The Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises.” Twelve Original Essays on Great American Novels. Ed. Charles Shapiro (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1958) p. 238. [all further references as: Spilka, “Death of Love”]

[6] Michael S. Reynolds, The Sun Also Rises. A Novel of the Twenties (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988) p. 64.

[7] ibid, p. 73.

[8] Hemingway, Sun, p. 13.

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Love, Friendship, and Jake's Emancipation in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises"
University of Freiburg  (English Department)
History of Love in American Fiction
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ISBN (eBook)
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505 KB
Love, Friendship, Jake, Emancipation, Hemingway, Also, Rises, History, Love, American, Fiction
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Christian Jacobi (Author), 2002, Love, Friendship, and Jake's Emancipation in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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