Preface: During my college days, I lacked the proper appreciation for the education that was afforded me. Therefore, over the past several months, I have been reading up on the classics that I missed out on by skipping English class. My latest venture has been in the works of Ernest Hemingway.
At first glance, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, was a pointless novel following the misadventures of Jake Barnes, a World War I veteran working as a foreign correspondent in Paris for a New York paper. His misadventures go from dining in restaurants, to drinking in bars, to having coffee in local cafes, to his fruitless pursuit of the Lady Ashley, (or Brett, as her given name is).
There’s a love interest between Jake and Brett, but due to some undefined injury, Jake cannot consummate a romantic relationship with her. So, he aimlessly eats, drinks, and wanders in Paris, repeatedly coming into contact with Brett, who always seems to be in a relationship with someone she doesn’t love.
Seriously, that is the plot for, like, 75 percent of the book. The day ends, Jake and his “friends” go out to eat, then out to drink, then out for coffee. Then, the next day comes. The same routine ensues, until Jake and his friends take a trip to Spain to go fishing, and then to watch the bull fights in Pamplona.
Upon reaching the end of the book, my first thought was, “What was the point of all that?” Did Hemingway really waste two weeks of my time to tell me a series of bar and fishing stories? I mean, seriously, the book only described my last two years of college.
Perhaps the book was autobiographical. Perhaps Hemingway wrote the book merely to explore his own thoughts, emotions and struggles. Hemingway himself drove an ambulance in World War I, was seriously wounded, and worked as a journalist in Paris. He was a known drinker, carouser, and lover of pleasure.
Perhaps, unlike authors Ayn Rand or Harper Lee, Hemingway was not writing to convey a certain wisdom upon us. Perhaps his writing was a selfish attempt to self-counsel, and to work out his own insanity.
Or, perhaps there was meaning to The Sun Also Rises. Starting with the title.
The Sun Also Rises could be a tongue-and-cheek jab at Jake’s lifestyle of late night drinking and carousing. A lifestyle like that does not witness many sunrises. Usually, the sun is already up, the man begins his day, and continues until long after the sun has set. No doubt Jake saw many sunsets, but not many sunrises. Having witnessed many sunsets, perhaps the title is a reminder to Jake that “the sun also rises.”
Or, perhaps there is more meaning to The Sun Also Rises, and that Hemingway is more covert in conveying his messages to us.
The Sun Also Rises takes place in Paris during the roaring 20s, as young veterans of the first World War seek meaning to life, but wander aimlessly as members of “the lost generation.” Indeed, having won the war, one would expect the 1920s to be a time of great hope and prosperity. And to an extent it was, but after having survived the bloodshed and ensuing famines and plagues of World War I, many wondered, “What’s the point?”
In a time of great hope and prosperity, the lack of meaning and purpose lead many down a road of hopelessness and despair. Though the allies had won the war, the sun was setting on the glory of France and western civilization. Dreams had been shattered during the war. Friends and family lost, lives ruined. The sun was setting.
This was captured in the hopelessness that Jake felt in The Sun Also Rises. He could never marry the woman he truly loved because of what the war had done to him. His abilities were limited, and he was relegated to being a foreign correspondent in Paris. After life in Paris, Jake knew that life would never be the same if he were to return to his hometown in the mid-western United States. His sun was setting.
Yet, through the labyrinth of bars, cafes, restaurants, inns and bullfight arenas, Jake comes to clarify his feelings toward his friends, Brett, and his career. As the novel ends, he begins to find peace in this clarity, thus, “the sun also rises.” In this clarity there was hope, and reason for optimism. His wounds were not miraculously healed, nor had his dreams come true, but there was peace and clarity, and therefore hope. “The sun also rises.”
While The Sun Also Rises is completely devoid of spiritual insight, there is still a lesson to be learned.
Victory and prosperity do not equal happiness. The Sun Also Rises takes place during the prosperity of the 20s in the aftermath of victory in World War I, yet the characters found themselves depressed and hopeless.
Happiness does not come in wealth or achievement. If you cannot be happy now, you will not be happy if you obtain more. Happiness comes in having purpose, and living your life by that purpose. That purpose is found in the Lord, for He was the one who created you with it. Learn this precept, and you will see that the sun also rises.