The knowledge I gained by reading The Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises
The Sun Also Rises, written by Ernest Hemingway in 1926, tells the story of a group of expatriates that live in Paris and that decide to go to San Fermín, in Pamplona, to watch the bullfights. This serves Hemingway as context to write about the death of love that happened after WWI, which was a pretty common theme for authors at this time. Precisely, that is what “The Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises” by Mark Spilka focuses on. I found the article very interesting and useful since it made me realized you can actually see this death of love in the novel through the characters of Robert Cohn, Jake Barnes, Brett Ashley and Pedro Romero, and I had not realized this until I read the article.
In his essay, Spilka writes about the different aspects of the novel that symbolize the change of the view of love the period was experiencing According to him, “one of the most persistent themes of the 1920´s was the death of love in World War I. All the major writers recorded it, often in piecemeal fashion, as part of the larger postwar scene; but only Hemingway seems to have caught it whole and delivered it in lasting fictional form” (33). The author explains how all the characters, expatriated in Paris, are incapable of love, the only exception being Robert Cohn. According to Spilka, “Cohn still holds a romantic view of life” (p.34) and challenges the rest of the characters because of it. He symbolized the chivalric code: he is “armed” since he is a boxer, he is manly, he has a mistress. But “this generation’s boredom has become more plausible than love”, so even though he defends his views as a chivalric hero, his behavior turns out to be absurd (34-5).
Furthermore, the article states Brett as the representation of the new woman: “with a man’s felt hat on her boyish bob, and with her familiar reference to men as fellow ‘chaps’, she completes the distortion of sexual roles which seems to characterize the period” (36). Due to the war, there is a change in how women (represented by Brett) act and behave. They start being promiscuous and they drink in bars typically frequented by men. Thus, women start to act like men, and since men no longer “command respect” and women start being more masculine and going out more etc., “there can be no serious love” (37).
Finally, there is a contrast between Robert and Romero. According to the author, “Cohn is always willing to suffer in public and to absorb insults for the sake of true love”, but “there is a difference between physical and moral victory, between chivalric stubbornness and real self-respect” (40). As a chivalric hero, Robert is willing to fight not only for his standards but also for his “lady.” That is why he fights Romero, but he loses because Romero has another moral code and focuses on his own dignity: “thus, where Cohn expends and degrades himself for his beloved, Romero pays tribute without self-loss” (40). Also, there is a difference in the way they behave in front of Brett. Robert shows his manhood by fighting with everyone for Brett; Romero fights with the bull without looking at Brett, showing that his manhood does not depend on women.
As I have written, the article helped me understand why all the characters drink so much and so often in the novel: because they are trying to forget that love is no longer possible for them. Moreover, reading about Robert Cohn and what he represents made me understand so much about him and the way he behaves. When I was reading the book, I thought he was just in love with Brett, maybe even obsessed with her, and that was why he acted the way he did–trying to defend her, following her around and so on. However, the truth is that he represents chivalric love. When you think about the type of love he feels and the way he feels it, in contrast with the other people’s view of it, you understand him, and you also understand why he cries after his fight with Romero:
“He nearly killed the poor, bloody bull-fighter. Then Cohn wanted to take Brett away. Wanted to make an honest woman of her, I imagine. Damned touching scene.
” He took a long drink of the beer.
“He is an ass.”
“Brett gave him what for. She told him off. I think she was rather good.”
“I’ll bet she was,” Bill said.
“Then Cohn broke down and cried, and wanted to shake hands with the bull-fighter fellow. He wanted to shake hands with Brett, too.”
“I know. He shook hands with me.” (205)
Robert is crying because he realizes his type of love is no longer possible in this time, and he has been defeated by a man that sees love in a different way which adapts more to the times they are living in than Robert’s does. That is why he tries to shake hands with everyone, because he is accepting he–and his type of love–has lost.
Regarding Brett as a new woman, while I was reading I thought she behaved the way she did because it was just who she is. Thanks to the article, I understood so much about her character, especially when she is talking to Jake about her leaving Romero and when they are in the cab at the end of the book. She tells Jake this:
“He wanted me to grow my hair out. Me, with long hair. I’d look so like hell.” “It’s funny.” “He said it would make me more womanly. I’d look a fright.”
“He wanted to marry me, finally.” “Really?” “Of course. I can’t even marry Mike.” (246)
Now I understand that she does not want to be a conventional woman; she does not want to have long hair or marry anyone. She would never marry the bullfighter, or even her fiancée, because new women are not supposed to do so; they are supposed to behave like men. She is as incapable of true love as the other characters of the novel, so she and Jake would have never had a healthy relationship. I know that because I understood the end if the novel so much better, when Jake says, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” (251). By using the word “pretty,” Jake is linking it to “fantasy,” something that is beautiful but that is not real. So what Hemingway was trying to convey by using this article in particular is that it would have never been possible for them to be together, because real love, the kind that surpasses all hardship, such as Jake’s wound, no longer exists.
In contrast with this new woman, personified by Brett, we have the male characters of the book that use sports as a relief valve. We can see this especially with Jake when he goes fishing with Bill. When they are alone fishing, they talk about different things and it helps Jake forget about Brett, if only for a little bit. Although, he still remembers her even if he is trying not to, when Bill asks him about her, as we can see here:
“Say,” Bill said, “what about this Brett business?”
“What about it?”
“Were you ever in love with her?”
“For how long?”
“Off and on for a hell of a long time.”
“Oh, hell!” Bill said. “I’m sorry, fella.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I don’t give a damn any more.” (128)
With Jake being injured, he tries to convince himself that he is no longer in love with Brett, and sports serve as a love substitute for him. But nothing can substitute for real love, and that is why he still remembers Brett. And he not only remembers her, but, in another fishing passage, he dreams about this fantasy with her, where they would be married and love in the countryside as a happy family. In my opinion, he uses bullfighting as an escape too, but it is more difficult for him to disconnect there because Brett is with them. Interestingly, she is the only female character that is with the group of men; once again the new woman is behaving like men. She is like this ghost that haunts Jake wherever he goes.
Finally, there is a difference between Romero and Robert, with Jake being in the middle of both. I learned that there is a connection between Jake and Robert regarding love, since Jake also has this fantasy about living with Brett and so on. The difference between them is that Jake’s feelings make him lose his principles and self-respect whereas Robert does what he does to defend his principles. I also learned that Romero is another kind of love hero:
Everything of which he could control the locality he did in front of her all that afternoon. Never once did he look up. He made it stronger that way, and did it for himself, too, as well as for her. Because he did not look up to ask if it pleased he did it all for himself inside, and it strengthened him, and yet he did it for her, too. But he did not do it for her at any loss to himself. (220)
Everything Romero does, he does for both Brett and himself, but first of all for himself. In contrast, everything Robert does, he does for Brett. This is why Romero does not look at her even once, because he does not need her approval. He is a “grown-up” and Robert is still a “child”.
In conclusion, there were so many things I missed when I read the book that make so much more sense now after having read Mark Spilka’s article. Anyone who would like to have a better understanding of the novel instead of staying on a superficial level should read his article. Besides teaching you about what the different characters represent, why they behave the way they do and the consequences because of it, it makes you realize what a genius Hemingway was in creating all these characters to reflect the situation that love and people were in after the war. Brett acts the way she acts not only because her character has that personality, but because Hemingway was using her to represent the behavior of women after the war; there were still some “romantics” that had hope in real love, such as Robert; some people were still in between everybody else, like Jake. War changed everything, but you do not realize to what extent it changed the conception of love until you read this article and see all those changes reflected in the characters of the novel.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1954.
Spilka, Mark. “The Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises”, Ernest Hemingway’s
The Sun Also Rises A Casebook. Edited by Linda Wagner-Martin, Oxford University Press, 2002.