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The Sun Also Rises | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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In Chapter 12 of The Sun Also Rises, what is the function of Bill's song "Irony and Pity"?

Among the lessons Bill attempts to bestow upon Jake during their fishing trip is the claim that one should always move through the world with "irony and pity." Bill turns this into a song and says people in New York are just made for irony and pity. He likens this cultural trend to the French's admiration for the Fratellinis, a circus family known for its trio of clowns; the Fratellinis brought a sense of wit and irony to the circus and gave it new life after World War I. As a literary man Bill has some ideas about what art should be and perhaps about how one should live life artfully. Hemingway himself elevated the art of infusing his characters with irony and pity in The Sun Also Rises and later works.

What is the meaning of the phrase, "We that live by the sword shall perish by the sword" in Chapter 6 of The Sun Also Rises?

In Chapter 6 Frances says she made Cohn fire one of his secretaries because Frances was jealous of her. She notes, "I suppose that we that live by the sword shall perish by the sword." This is relevant to Frances's situation, foreshadowing she will be "gotten rid of" by Brett, but it has greater implications for the other characters, primarily Jake. The sword can be seen as a symbol for the male genitalia. Most of the men in the story, particularly Jake, seem to live by their sexuality, and they "die" in some way as a result of their lust for Brett. The novel's postwar context suggests another reading of this saying, one originating in ancient Greek literature: those who conduct themselves violently will in turn be the victims of violence. Jake, a former soldier, is a victim of war's violence as well as Cohn's violence.

How does The Sun Also Rises explore the tension between knowledge gained from experience and knowledge gained from books?

Early in the novel Jake warns against the dangers of reading books and forming one's worldview around their contents. In Chapter 2 he notes Cohn has been obsessed with The Purple Land, a novel by William Henry Hudson set in Uruguay. In Jake's view this novel "is a very sinister book if read too late in life" because it fills the reader's head with notions about "splendid imaginary amorous adventures." Jake, a cynical realist as a result of World War I, considers such notions absurd and unobtainable in real life. Later in Chapter 6 Jake reflects on Cohn's hatred for Paris. He decides Cohn's "incapacity to enjoy Paris" comes from H.L. Mencken, an influential writer and contemporary of Hemingway. Jake suspects Cohn adopted this belief from one of Mencken's books rather than from his own experiences in Paris. Jake fixates on this point for some time, signaling its importance. Many of Cohn's beliefs and urges, such as his desire to flee to South America, are based on his reading; Jake, on the contrary, places value only in lived experiences.

Why does Jake experience déjà vu when dancing with Brett in Chapter 7 of The Sun Also Rises?

In Chapter 7 Jake and Brett dance close together in a club. On two occasions Jake notes he "had that feeling of going through something that has all happened before." More specifically he "had the feeling as in a nightmare of it all being something repeated, something ... I must go through again." Jake's uses of the word nightmare to describe his feeling while dancing with Brett foreshadows bad things for the two of them; yet the harkening back to "something that has all happened before" suggests he has already been through whatever Brett will put him through. That is exactly right; Brett will emasculate and humiliate Jake just as he was emasculated and humiliated as a result of the war.

In what ways is Brett objectified in The Sun Also Rises?

Brett is objectified by the novel's male characters over and over again. In Chapter 7 for example, the Count refers to her as "my dear," a phrase signaling she is his property. In Chapter 8 Mike repeatedly refers to Brett as a "lovely piece," likening her to an object. During the fiesta in Chapter 15 Brett wants to join the street dancers but Jake says no one else wants her to dance; instead "they wanted her as an image to dance around." Once again Brett is perceived and treated as a thing to be controlled and admired rather than as a person with independent will and desires. Yet she consistently exercises her will and lets her desires be known, nonetheless.

In The Sun Also Rises, what do Jake's descriptions of meals reveal about the cultures of Paris and San Sebastian?

In The Sun Also Rises Hemingway offers considerable detail about what the characters eat in Paris and San Sebastian. In Chapter 1 Jake says, "The first meal in Spain was always a shock," and he details the many courses served in a typical Spanish meal. Of particular importance are the two meat courses; these symbolize the literal carnage of the bullfights as well as the emotional carnage soon to transpire among the characters. Back in France in Chapter 19 Jake contrasts the eating customs of France and Spain, saying, "It was a big meal for France but it seemed carefully apportioned after Spain." This comparison points to the increased emotional as well as physical gluttony the characters experienced in Spain. With this comparison Hemingway may be pointing to the risks inherent in overindulgence of either kind.

What is revealed about Jake's character when he prays in Chapter 10 of The Sun Also Rises?

When Jake enters a cathedral to pray in Chapter 10 he prays for his friends, for himself, for the bullfights, and for the bullfighters, especially the ones he likes. He prays he will "make a lot of money" and then prays for himself again, but doesn't say explicitly what else he wants for himself. This chain of prayers leads him to reflect he is "such a rotten Catholic"; he then realizes "there was nothing I could do about it." Jake's superficial praying reveals he has lost whatever faith in the church he might once have had, although he continues to enact the rituals. His prayers reveal he is—at least for the time being—incapable of connecting to something deeper, something spiritual.

What does Jake mean when he says betting on bullfights "would be like betting on the war" in Chapter 10 of The Sun Also Rises?

In Chapter 10 the men discuss whether to bet on the bullfights. Bill says, "You don't need to." Jake adds, "It would be like betting on the war ... You don't need any economic interest." These comments can be interpreted in different ways. One is that bullfighting is so engaging to watch on its own that one need not put money into the game to make the stakes interesting enough to care about the outcome. The other is that as in war, someone is guaranteed to get injured or die, so to bet on the outcome would be to bet in the interest of death. This second interpretation contains a bit of dramatic irony (what is said is contrary to what is meant); in fact many parties had economic interest in the outcome of World War I.

What does Bill mean when he says Brett should have gone to San Sebastian with "her own people" in Chapter 10 of The Sun Also Rises?

When Bill and Jake discuss the time Brett spent alone with Cohn in San Sebastian, Jake surmises Brett only invited Cohn because "she wanted to get out of town and she can't go anywhere alone." While this may be true, it is also possible Brett picked Cohn because she was interested in him—a possibility Jake has trouble accepting. Bill thinks Brett's idea was horrible either way. He asks, "Why didn't she go off with some of her own people?" This could mean British people, but given the anti-Semitic bent of the novel's characters and the era at large it more likely means with someone who is not a Jew. Bill said of Cohn earlier, "The funny thing is he's nice guy, too. I like him. But he's just so awful." This statement suggests even though Cohn is a nice guy Bill doesn't like him because he is a Jew.

What does Jake mean when he says "all I wanted to know was how to live in it" in Chapter 14 of The Sun Also Rises?

Jake's internal monologue in Chapter 14 gets to the heart of his central internal conflict: how to live. He explores a theory of life concerned with "get[ting] your money's worth" and seems to be temporarily satisfied with it, even though he realizes "in five years ... it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I've had." At this point in the novel Jake has come to realize the pointlessness of being depressed and defeatist about his lot in life and attempting to find escape through alcohol. He has decided to take on the task of learning "how to live" in the world. This is the beginning of Jake's path toward self-acceptance—a critical turning point in the character's journey.

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