Characterisation of the Narrator Jake Barnes in Hemingway's Novel The Sun Also Rises

Term Paper, 2002

20 Pages, Grade: 2,3




Jake’s unfulfilled Love for Brett

Jake’s relationship towards Cohn

Jake’s attitude to Catholicism

Jake’s consciousness of environment

The narrator’s voice

Jake’s values

Jake’s identity as an aficionado




Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises is set in Europe after World War 1. The effects of the war led to a decline of the traditional value system - to a degeneration of morality, belief in justice, and love. It was a time of despair and disillusionment. People who experienced the war became psychological and morally „lost“. Because of the dissolute lifestyle of this generation Gertrude Stein called them the „Lost Generation“. Life became meaningless for these people because they were no longer able to rely on traditional beliefs. They tried to fill up their empty lives with inconsequential activities like drinking, dancing, and debauchery.

These characteristics of this time apply to almost all of the characters in the novel. The Sun Also Rises deals with a desperate group of expatriates, who are all in search of passion and meaning of life. Consequently to the war, all characters are in some way, emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually damaged. Their lifestyle is just a purposeless activity of an aimless life which centers on activities like drinking, dancing, eating, fishing, watching bullfights, or getting haircuts. Jake and his companions are always on the move: from one cafe to another, from Paris to Pamplona. But their excessive lifestyle does not make them happy. The permanent use of alcohol lets them forget their situation and lets them not think about their inner lives or about the war. The partying and drinking, which is a form of escapism, is the only possibility to experience distraction. Under the influence of alcohol the characters think they can escape a life that is empty of true affection and purpose.

In this seminar paper I will examine the psychological state of Jake Barnes, who is the narrator of this novel. Jake Barnes is an American veteran who works as a journalist in Paris. He was a U.S. Navy pilot on the Italian front during World War 1, where he was badly wounded and lost his potency. While being in hospital in England he fell in love with the nurse Brett Ashley, a sexual active woman, a debauched femme fatale. (Reynolds, 24) In which way this physical injury influences Jake’s feelings and character and how he manages the desperate situation, that his love, Brett Ashley, does not want to establish a relationship with him, will be answered in this paper.

Furthermore I will take a closer look at Jake’s relationship to Robert Cohn and his membership in the circle of aficionados in Spain. Jake’s belief in Catholicism and his consciousness of environment will be other topics that I will examine in this seminar paper. His role as the narrator of the story and his voice are worth being considered as they have a great impact on how the reader interprets Jake’s character.

Jake’s unfulfilled love for Brett

The love between Jake and Brett is a struggle for them. Both have the desire to be with each other but they realize that they can never be lovers. Although Jake does not directly say so, there are several incidences in the novel when he implies that he is no longer able to have sex. The desire for it however torments him. We see implicitly that he still has all the sexual desires a normal man has. But because of his physical injury he is not able to satisfy those drives. Brett ,on the other hand, is not willing to give up her independence for her love. She refuses to enter a close relationship to any man. Before I come to examine Jake’s and Brett’s relationship in detail, I want to mention some traits of character of this woman to better understand why the two will never be a couple.

Brett Ashley, an English lady, appears to be a strong, independent woman who has a strong attraction toward every man she meets. She is „damned good-looking“ and nearly all the male characters in the novel fall in love with her. Brett is presented more manly than any other character in the book. Having a short, masculine hair cut, she refers to herself as a „chap“. She embodies the „new woman“ of the post-war time, because she strives for individualism, self-expression, mobility, and activity. Besides not caring about marriage, motherhood, and monogamy, she enters traditional male places like bars or bullfight arenas - places that were not common for women to be at before the war. But behind the facade of male characteristics she is breakable and sick with love. Her constant engaging with different men is a sign that she tries to forget the past and the future, an attempt to hide her pain and to find substitutes for true love. Brett is a dangerous threat to men because of the anxieties she arouses in men. She makes them recognize the primitiveness of their desire.

There are different points of views of Brett’s behavior. Some readers might think this woman is man-crazy, others might think that there are deeper reasons for her behavior. These different opinions about this lady do we owe to Jake’s own mixed feelings about her. (Reynolds, 23) Brett is often criticized as a nymphomaniac because of her promiscuity. But there is enough background information that prove that Brett has been deeply wounded by the war. Her first husband whom she really loved has died of dysentery and her second husband got insane consequently to the war. (Bruccoli, 99) Her aimless wandering from one man to another can be seen as a futile, sub-conscious search for this original love. This search is symbolic for the search of the lost generation to find the destroyed pre-war values of love and romance.

His injury burdens Jake with a feeling that he is no longer a real man. What hurts him most about this injury is that his real love Brett is not willing to enter into a relationship with him because of his impotence. Jake’s condition is an example of weakened masculinity. Jake is obsessed with Brett, but not in the same way as Cohn is. He accepts the fact that he will never be able to have Brett for his own. This becomes clear when the count asks Brett and Jake why they did not marry. Both of them give an answer which implies that this will never happen: „’We want to lead our own lives,’ I said. ‘We have our careers,’ Brett said. ‘Come on. Let’s get out of this.’“ (Hemingway, 54)

Jake’s love for Brett is unconditionally: not only does he tolerate her dissolute behavior, he is also willing to endure and forgive Brett’s promiscuity and infidelity. But one can recognize some sense of jealousy when he says, realizing Cohn watching Brett: „You’ve made a new one there,“ (Hemingway, 19) For Jake only one thing counts: Anything goes as long Brett eventually comes back to him. Jake and Brett still remain in an inseparable relationship. When she feels miserable or when she is in trouble, she needs Jake’s vicinity to feel better. Brett can rely on Jake, he is always there to help her. And Brett knows that. Jake and Brett need each other emotionally but Brett feels that she needs more, that is physical love. Jake is forced to give up fighting for his love because he cannot give her what she is longing for.


Excerpt out of 20 pages


Characterisation of the Narrator Jake Barnes in Hemingway's Novel The Sun Also Rises
Dresden Technical University  (Institut Amerikanistik)
Images of the American Twenties
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
475 KB
Double spaced
Characterisation, Narrator, Jake, Barnes, Hemingway, Novel, Also, Rises, Images, American, Twenties
Quote paper
Monique Bre (Author), 2002, Characterisation of the Narrator Jake Barnes in Hemingway's Novel The Sun Also Rises, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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