Themes of meaninglessness of life and death of love are handled by many writers, after the First World War. Among the writers who permanently make use of these themes, Hemingway’s contribution is marked by the characters he created. Hemigway’s characters are created with the idea of their living actually through the concrete example of American life style in 1920s. The characters represent different approaches to the meaninglessness of life that can be observed in The Sun Also Rises. Through them Hemingway ventures to find a possible reason to endure the sense of nothingness of human existence. In order to achieve his aim, he makes his characters bravely encounter the horrors and difficulties of life. In order to validate their existence the characters live thoroughly both the possibilities and impossibilities of life.
All the characters in The Sun Also Rises behave the way to prove Hemingway’s code of undergoing the pains and difficulties of life in order to overcome the extremeties of the highly ambiguous human condition. Their individual response to immediate situations is another striking feature of them.
Robert Cohn is presented as the first character in the novel. The narrator’s note about Cohn’s once being a middleweight boxing champion gives away some important points about this character. Stylistically the novel consists of short and simple sentences. However, these short and simple sentences and dialogues that are easy to follow may easily deceive the reader unless the meaning that they convey is missed uncautiously. Once the reader gts used to this puzzle he stays alert till the last sentence. The information given at the beginning about Robert Cohn exemplifies this situation well.
Cohn still continues to be the strong follower of the romantic view of life. He takes up boxing not because he is fond of fşghting or being beaten by othersi but he uses boxing as a way to prove hislf in society. His boxing career is a compensation for the reactions of his friends to his unpromising existence. By being a boxer he disguises his shortcomings, and tries to find a place for himself among his friends. Moreover, it becomes the only weapon by which he can harm others in defence of his own beliefs. Yet, even this does not prove to be sufficient. His platonic love to Brett makes him silently accepts the insults. He follows Brett everywhere, like a blind lover, no matter how much he is belittled by Mike Campbell, Bill Gorton and Jake Barnes. Cohn uses his strong wrists on his closest friend, Jake, which adds to his weakness. The days he spent with Brett in San Sebastian mean a lot to him, which on the contrary are forgotten the next day by Brett. Jake does not give any response to Cohn’s insistence to know where Brett is, and is beaten by Cohn in his delirium. He cannot accept the reality of Brett’s being with Pedro Romero. Only after his vain attempt to defeat Romero, Cohn leaves the company.
Cohn’s romanticism makes him a target for others. He is influenced by the books he has read and neglects reality for the sake of his own beliefs. His first marriage ends only five years later, and he can get rid of his strong mistress Frances only by escaping to the remote countries.
Mike Campbell accuses Cohn of being a coward, a scapegoat like a steer which is trying to attract the bull. The question is: “Is Robert Cohn going to follow Brett around like a steer all he time?” The image of bullfighting becomes gradually evident as the fiesta approaches. Jake Barnes’ statement “they all know each other” is significant as all the protagonists are like bulls in the arena who know each other quite well, and who continuously fight with each other to get Lady Brett.
According to Jake “the bulls are only dangerous when they are alone, or only two or three of them together.” He himself is a good example to prove this. He shares the same purpose with the others. When he is alone with Brett he seriously thinks of living with her, although he is aware of the impossibility of it. He wishes to keep her in his room as long as he can, and takes great pleasure in kissing her. At times, he seems to abandon his principles at the cost of losing self-respect for the sake of Lady Brett. He is always available for her at an arm-length distance, whenever she wants to be with him. However, unlike Robert Cohn, he never lets her to be the sole determiner of his life.
He goes to fishing with Bill Gorton who thinks life is too short to question “what day God created the chicken.” His life philosophy is best summerized in the following words: “Let us rejoice in our blessings. Let us utilize the product of vine.” This successful writer takes pleasure out of the immediate joys of life like fishing, eating, and drinking. The fishing trip has a unique importance both for Gorton and Barnes, as they share a love for sports. This is another way of overcoming the meaninglessness of existence, and it proves to be a success as they find extraordinary pleasure and beauty in fishing in cold streams and lying under the sun, the details of which are handled with utmost importance in the novel.
Being totally aware of his impotence, Jake finds different interests in life and accepts his situation as a part of reality. He manages to be frank both to himself and to others, and carries his head high in the face of love’s impossibilities. Fort hat reason, he stays calm but not passive to Lady Brett’s affairs. When Count Missipopolous is introduced to him he accepts him as a new member to their club. He is one of the bulls in the arena, that is all.
The passivity of the romantic lover, Robert Cohn who continuously hangs around is criticized by the others. Bill Gorton dislikes Cohn, and expresses his distaste for him through his worsd and behaviour; but Mike Campbell starts the fire by casting him off, and insulting him particularly in his sottish moments. Mike is aware of Brett’s love affairs and he accepts them with tolerance, just like Jake Barnes. However, differently from Barnes he waits for their wedding day with patience and lets Brett only do whatever she wishes till that day. On the other hand, Barnes is aware of the fact that Brett can never be with a person for a long time, evenif this person is Mike Campbell with whom Brett decides to get married. The tension is created by Mike Campbell, but the climax comes with the fight between Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero. Romero, the perfect bullfighter who is young, handsome, courageous and determined is presented as the ideal man by Jake Barnes. He had the greatness of spirit and behaviour, and proved to be the best by leaving Belmonte and Marcial in the shadow during the bullfight. His humility, kindness and honesty is appreciated by Barnes. Romero cannot demonstrate the same success while fighting with Cohn; however, he endures his greatness by refusing to stay knocked down. Finally, the romantic hero faces his shortcomings, and becomes aware of the vanity of his romantic ideals in the face of real manhood. Romero does not fight only for Brett’s love, either in arena, or in the hotel room, but to fulfill something inside him. This contributes to his strength and self-respect:
Everything of which he could control the locality he did in front of her all that afternoon. Never once he did look up… Because he did look up to ask if it pleased he did it all for himself inside, and it strenghtened him, and yet he did it for her, too. But he did not do it for her at any loss to himself. (Hemingway 180)
Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero present the two extremes, and Jake Barnes wishes to be like Romero. However, for Lady Brett he can only be a go-between, counselor, or a friend to rely on in the most difficult moments. In this sense he resembles Cohn. For love’s sake, he helps Lady Brett and prepares the suitable medium for Romero and Brett to come together. Brett never deserves this help, and deliberately misinterpretes Romero’s act of bringing the bull’s ear to her as a token of her own success, adding another name to her list. She carries it to her room and puts it in a drawer near her bed. Later, seh forgets all about it. On the other hand, the ear is a sign of strength for the Spanish society, as the same bull jas killed a man among the crowd before the fiesta starts. Thus, Romero’s success means something important for society, which is to be shared with them. Whereas, Brett takes it for granted and is probably proud of herself for having the ear. For Barnes, Romero becomes an ideal example with whom he wishes to be identified. He becomes very upset and takes up drinking when Brett and Romero leave the place and go to Madrid together.
In Book three, Barnes continues to be the available man for Bett when she calls him to Madrid in need of help. The news that announces the split between Romero and Brett comes as a compensation for Barnes. It relieving for him to know that Romero is not corrupted. Romero pays cost of being with Brett and from then on continues his life independently, but as an experienced man.
The end shows Barnes’ realization that it had not been fort he war, in other words, if he had not been wounded in the war, nothing would have changed. It is symbolic that the policeman stops their car, and this sudden action causes Brett to come closer to Barnes. Just like this incidence, their relationship is based on coincidence. Brett has numerous adventures and love affairs, and Barnes would be only one of those men if he had not been wounded. Yet, this idea consoles him and makes him happy. At least, it is “pretty” to think that he could have a love affair with Lady Brett.
The characters cerated by Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises explore the possibilities of a struggle in life in order to overcome the meaninglessness of existence. Like bulls in the arena they fight at the cost of being wounded and even at the cost of death. They try to do their best in this fight, but the bullfighter becomes triumphant. Romero fulfills Hemingway’s code of adjusting to the facts of life and thus validating his existence, by making self-respect and courage his only weapons.
Hemingway, Ernest. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. London: Grafton Books, 1976.Dr. Gül Kurtuluş