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The Sun Also Rises | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does Hemingway comment on America's Prohibition movement in Chapter 12 of The Sun Also Rises?

Jake and Bill discuss Prohibition during their fishing trip in Burguete. They refer to key figures in the Anti-Saloon League behind Prohibition, such as William Jennings Bryan and Wayne B. Wheeler, who were instrumental in getting the Prohibition amendment passed in 1920. Bryan and other advocates of prohibition argued Prohibition was in line with religious teachings and would improve individuals' physical and moral well-being. There is dark humor in the fact Bill and Jake mock these men and the Anti-Saloon League while consuming quite a bit of wine. One reason the two men became expatriates is they were denied the pleasure of imbibing legally in the United States. Bill and Jake's postwar despair also points up Prohibitionists' folly in relying on faith to guide them in a world in which science and the horrors of war called faith into question.

What evidence is there that Bill is homosexual in The Sun Also Rises?

There is no inarguable evidence that Bill is homosexual, but there are grounds to guess he may be. Primarily, unlike the other major characters in the book, he is not in love with Brett. In fact he shows no romantic interest in any of the women in the story. Also in Chapter 12 he tells Jake, "I'm fonder of you than anybody on earth," which some interpret to mean he is in love with Jake. However, after Bill says this he adds, "I couldn't tell you that in New York. It'd mean I was a faggot." Bill may make this comment to throw Jake off any suspicion Bill is homosexual; on the other hand he may be simply pointing out that in the United States, unlike Europe, men are prohibited from sharing true emotion toward one another because American society—like Hemingway himself—values male bravado and emotional stoicism.

Why is it important to the plot of The Sun Also Rises that Jake went to war and Cohn did not?

That Jake fought in World War I and Cohn did not is a central conflict in the plot. While Cohn was at Princeton winning an award for boxing, Jake was getting wounded in the war. Though Jake pretends Cohn's boxing award is no big deal, Jake mentions the award at the very start of the book, which suggests it is in the forefront of his mind. Clearly Jake covets Cohn's achievement. More importantly Jake's war injury is the reason Brett will not commit to a relationship with him, even though she says she loves him. Instead she spends time with Cohn in San Sebastian, which makes Jake outrageously jealous and depressed about his impotence. Jake resents Cohn because he was able to avoid the war and the lifelong consequences Jake suffered as a result.

Why does Hemingway include the brief account of the man and his assistant who sell boxer toys outside Jake's office in Chapter 5 of The Sun Also Rises?

In Chapter 5 Jake describes his walk to work in the morning. He makes note of "the man with the boxer toys ... [and] his girl assistant [who] manipulated the boxers." While this can be read as an inconsequential detail of his morning walk, Hemingway is not one for inconsequential details. The significance of boxing has already been established through Jake's early commentary on Cohn's boxing record. The boxing toys are being manipulated by a female assistant; this serves as a metaphor for the way Brett manipulates both Jake and Cohn—as well as many other men—into a fight to win her affections.

How does Hemingway explore anti-Semitism in The Sun Also Rises?

One of the first instances of Jake's anti-Semitic views comes in Chapter 1, when he explains Cohn, a Jew, got his nose flattened in a boxing match, and notes the injury only "improved his nose." This microaggression draws on the stereotype of Jews as people with large noses. In Chapter 15 Bill also expresses anti-Semitic views about Cohn, saying, "He's got this Jewish superiority." Mike too expresses anti-Semitic views throughout the story. He is openly hostile toward Cohn, calling him a Jew multiple times as if this were his only defining quality and telling him to leave because he is not wanted. In Chapter 19 Mike says Brett pays 350 quid of her 500 quid a year in interest to the Jews, drawing on the stereotype of Jews as lenders who profit on interest—a practice once considered unethical. Mike fully reveals his prejudice when he admits the debt collectors he refers to aren't really Jews; they are Scotsmen whom Mike refers to as Jews because they collect interest. The Sun Also Rises reflects prevailing beliefs and prejudices about Jews in 1920s Europe, yet his narrative makes Cohn a sympathetic character, suggesting the novel is a criticism of anti-Semitism, not an endorsement.

How is the word blind used in Chapter 18 of The Sun Also Rises?

The word blind comes up a number of times in Chapter 18, during Jake and Mike's conversation after Romero's bullfight—the one in which he makes a big show of winning Brett's love. During their conversation Mike asks Jake if he is blind, and Jake responds, "Yes ... I'm blind." In the context of this conversation being "blind" means Jake is very drunk, "drunker than [he had] ever remembered having been." But in the novel's larger context Jake is blind in the sense that he is unwilling to see reality—the reality that Brett will never truly love him. While alcohol enhances his ability to remain blind to the truth, he knows he cannot stay drunk—or blind—forever.

What does Bill's assertion in Chapter 12 that "sex explains it all" suggest about the characters in The Sun Also Rises?

Bill's assertion "sex explains it all" has far-reaching implications for the story and its characters. Bill goes so far as to say the Civil War happened because "Abraham Lincoln was a faggot. He was in love with General Grant. So was Jefferson Davis." While Bill's tone in this section is satirical—and stoked by inebriation—there is some truth to his claim "sex explains it all," as far as the novel is concerned. Certainly many of the characters' conflicts and motivations are tied to sex. Jake cannot have the love he wants with Brett because she will not give up sex to be in a relationship with him; Jake resents Cohn because he is able to perform sexually with Brett; Brett moves on to Romero because she is sexually attracted to him.

Why does Brett insist on bathing when she returns from San Sebastian in Chapter 8 of The Sun Also Rises?

When Brett returns from San Sebastian, where she has spent a romantic getaway with Cohn, she makes a big to-do about bathing before Mike shows up. Her urgent desire to bathe may represent an effort to purify herself after engaging in sexual acts with multiple men. However, it is important to keep in mind Brett is a "new woman," one who does not adhere to prescribed social rules. She has suffered tremendously at the hands of her husband, and as a result she has come to eschew traditional gender roles and notions about modesty and purity. Therefore it is possible Brett makes a point of showering before Mike shows up not because she wants to wash away sin but because she wants to be fresh and prepared to resume their sexual relationship.

Who or what is the main antagonist of The Sun Also Rises?

While it is clear Jake is the novel's protagonist, it is not so clear who or what is the antagonist. While Cohn certainly antagonizes Jake, as does Brett, it's hard to view either of them as the main source of his torment. Both Cohn and Brett have conflicts with Jake for reasons related to World War I. Jake resents Cohn because Cohn did not serve in the war; instead he went to college, where he won a boxing title and kept his male anatomy intact. Jake and Brett have troubles because Jake loves Brett and wants to be with her, but she cannot be with someone who cannot perform sexually. This, of course, goes back to the war, which rendered Jake impotent. Thus in the big picture, war itself is the novel's main antagonist.

Why does Bill say Jake's war injury story should remain a mystery like "Henry's bicycle" in Chapter 12 of The Sun Also Rises?

Bill brings up the subject of Jake's war injury and then he immediately regrets doing so, saying, "That's the sort of thing that can't be spoken of. That's what you ought to work up into a mystery. Like Henry's bicycle." "Henry's bicycle" is an allusion to Henry James, an American-born British writer who is rumored to have suffered an injury similar to Jake's. The rumor remains just that and has persisted as a point of speculation even among James's biographers. Bill suggests Jake keep his injury a mystery for two reasons. First Bill wants to lessen his friend's suffering by reminding him he is not alone in his injury; other great men have suffered similarly. Second Bill excuses Jake from confessing to or confirming any details by saying the injury ought to remain a mystery.

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