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The Sun Also Rises : Jake Barnes & Ernest Hemingway sample essay

The Sun Also Rises was Hemingway’s first novel, published in 1926, written several years after he served in World War I. It deals with the postwar life of expatriates and veterans living in Paris (Europe), who are also called the Lost Generation. They all go to Spain together, to enjoy the bullfights.

The book, like most of his early fiction, is based on Hemingway’s experiences and acquaintances, therefore many parallels can be found by comparing the novel with Hemingway’s life during the twenties. In this essay I want show similarities and differences between the narrator Jake Barnes and Hemingway himself.

1. Setting, Characters & Background

In the beginning, the story of The Sun Also Rises is set in Paris in the twenties: expatriates and veterans living an aimless and unfulfilling life with a lot of drinking and parties and travelling.

There is for example Jake Barnes, the narrator and protagonist of the story. He is an American expatriate and veteran of World War I, where he also got wounded, and works as a journalist in Paris.

Robert Cohn is a Jewish American writer and tennis partner of Jake. He used to box at Princeton. He did not serve in the war and therefore stands out of the rest of Jake’s friends. In the beginning of the novel he has a girlfriend called Frances Clyne, who is manipulative and tries to find status through their relationship. The three of them sometimes meet up for dinner or go out together, but Cohn abandons her later on.

Bill Gorton is an American writer and veteran. He is a close friend of Jakes and visits him in Paris. The main female character in this novel is the British Lady Brett Ashley. Although engaged to Mike Campbell, a Scottish war veteran and drunkard, she enjoys an independent life and has affairs with other men throughout the course of the novel. Jake and Bre tt are desperately in love with each other, but she doesn’t want to commit to a relationship with him because he can’t have sex.

Now let’s have a look at Hemingway’s life during the 1920’s. Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. In 1917, after finishing high school, he became an ambulance driver at the Italian front in World War I. After a few months of serving in the war he got seriously injured and returned home after recuperating in an hospital in Italy. A few years later he got to know Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and married her. They had a son together and moved to Paris in 1922, where he worked as a reporter. (see Meyer p.2-63)

During his years in Paris he got to know Harold Loeb, an American Jew living in Paris with his girlfriend Kathleen (Kitty) Eaton Cannell. Hemingway played tennis or “boxed for fun with Harold Loeb” (Baker p.191), who used to wrestle at college in Princeton. Loeb introduced him to his friend Lady Duff Twysden, a British expatriate. Hemingway fell in love with her and she was also attracted to him (“his sexual magnetism tested her self-control” [Meyers p.157] ), but she didn’t want to get together with him because he was married. “‘We can’t do it,’ she told him. ‘You can’t hurt people.’ She would not run off with him, even if she wanted to, because of Hadley and the baby.” (Baker p.157) Bill Smith was Hemingway’s oldest friend. He also served in the war and visited Hemingway in Paris.

If you compare this very short summary of the (beginning) setting and the main characters of The Sun Also Rises with Hemingway’s life during that time, you can already make out many similarities and also a few differences.

In the novel we don’t get to know much about Jake’s past, but we do learn that he served in World War I, like Hemingway, and also got wounded. Both Jake and Hemingway are American veteran expatriates living in Paris in the twenties, working as journalists. However, Jake is not married, nor does he live with a woman in Paris. The characters of the novel also match the people Hemingway knew during that time. In Paris they both each got to know a Jewish American who became their tennis partner, used to be a boxer at Princeton College and had a girlfriend. Both Jake and Hemingway were madly in love with a woman they couldn’t have, but there are different reasons to why it didn’t work out between them. In the novel it wasn’t Cohn though who introduced Brett to Jake. Jake already knew her from war times and it was him who introduced her to Cohn.

In the following I want to further compare Jake Barnes and Ernest Hemingway by discussing different topics that I picked out.

2. Impotence & War Wound

In the novel it is never explicitly said that Jake Barnes is really impotent because of his war injury. But it can be ‘read between the lines’. We first get to introduced to this topic when Jake picks up the prostitute Georgette and doesn’t want to be touched by her. „She cuddled against me and I put my arm around her. She looked up to be kissed. She touched me with one hand and I put her hand away. ‘Never mind.’

‘What’s the matter? You sick?’
(Sun Also Rises p.13)

Jake takes Georgette out for drinks and to a club to meet his friends. But he doesn’t take her home to make love to her. Later that evening Brett Ashley arrives and she and Jake leave the club together. In the taxi they kiss but she turns away from him. They are old lovers but probably couldn’t make it work in the past (Brett: “I don’t want to go through that hell again.” Sun Also Rises p.23). She rather keeps away from him to not torture herself too much and distracts herself with other guys, because Jake is incapable of satisfying her needs.

Hemingway first experienced only periods of impotence, mainly when he had a new wife, and he realized that it was because of psychological and physical reasons. “Don’t know if it was autosuggestion from Sun Also Rises or maybe reaction to having just divorced Hadley, but … I could’nt make love. Had had very good bed with Pauline during all the time we were having our affair, and after Hadley left me, but after our marriage, suddenly I could no more make love than Jake Barnes. Pauline was very patient and understanding and we tried everything, but nothing worked.“ – Hemingway 1927 / 1928

(Meyers p.195)

As mentioned before, the novel was published in 1926, so the problems with his impotence occured after the novel was written and was not a result of his war wound. According to Meyers (p.33), Jakes wound was inspired by soldiers Hemingway met in the hospital in Milan when he was recovering from his war wound. Many soldiers there had “seriously damaged genitals“ and Hemingway imagined what would have happened if his own wound had gotten worse.

“[…] and I wondered what a man’s life would have been like after that if his penis had been lost and his testicles and spermatic cord remained intact. … [So I] tried to find out what his problems would be when he was in love with someone who was in love with him and there was nothing that they could do about it.“

(Meyers p.190)

Hemingway himself said about Jake’s wound that he meant for him to have his penis, but not his testicles shot off, so that Jake would still be “capable of all normal feelings as a man but incapable of consummating them.“ (Meyers p.190). This means, his sexual drive is still intact, but he can’t have sex. Hemingway also sarcastically added to the title of the novel “The sun also rises (like your cock if you have one)” (Meyers p.190). So unlike Jake, Hemingway was still able to have sex – at least during the time the novel is set in – and there were also quite a few women in his life.

3. Women

Regarding Jake’s love life in the novel it can be said that he is a loner. There seems to be no woman in his life but Brett Ashley, whom he can’t be with. Unlike Jake, Hemingway had quite a handful of women. He was married to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson when he moved to Paris in 1923 and they even had a son John, nicknamed Bumby. After two years in Paris they met Pauline Pfeiffer, an American expatriate living in Paris, and Ernest had an affair with her. When Hadley found out about this, she divorced him. A few months later he married Pauline and after their marriage broke down too, he had two other wifes, Martha Gellhorn and later Mary Welsh. So when living in Paris in the twenties he actually had a wife and a son, but none of this found place in The Sun Also Rises. Hadley was not the model for the character Lady Ashley, nor was his second wife Pauline. It was Duff Twysden, a friend of Loebs, who made him lose his mind.

Lady Brett Ashley is a strong and independent woman and the love of Jake’s life. She was a nurse in England in World War I and they met in the hospital when Jake got wounded ( Sun Also Rises p.34). Brett loves Jake too, but she can’t accept his incapability of having sex. So she goes from one relationship to the next, but is never really happy and complains to Jake about this frequently, for example when they first meet and take the taxi together (“’Oh darling, I’ve been so miserable,’ Brett said.“ [Sun Also Rises p.21] ). Or when they go out with the Count Mippipopolous, another lover of hers, Brett doesn’t really enjoy that night out and rather wants to leave. It seems that being with Jake, seeing him, makes her sad, because she can never be with him and it only reminds her of how badly she wants him. “’Oh, darling,’ Brett said, ‘I’m so miserable.’

‘You were happy a minute ago.’ [Jake]
‘It’s all gone.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t know. I just feel terrible.’ [Brett]
‘Want to go?’

I had the feeling as in a nightmare of it all being something repeated, something I had been through and that now i must go through again.“ (Sun Also Rises p.56)

As mentioned before, Hemingway did only get to know Duff Twysden in Paris. But Jake met Brett in a hospital when he was wounded during war. This part of Brett’s life can be found in the person Agnes von Kurowsky. She was a nurse in a hospital during WWI.

When Hemingway got wounded in the war and recovered in the American Red Cross hospital in Milan (Italy), he got treated by her. He fell head over heels in love with Agnes. When Hemingway came back to America after recuperating in Milan „he was lonely, and missed Italy and Agnes“ (Meyers p.45). They stayed in contact and he planned to marry her as soon as she joined him in America. But eventually he received her letter of rejection and they never met again.

Both Hemingway and Jake seem to be very unlucky with women. Hemingway got married, but obviously wasn’t happy with his wife. He had affairs, was longing for other women he couldn’t have and married three more times.

Jake, too, wants a woman he will never possess. And it is no surprise that he is having a bad time accepting this and gets very jealous when he finds out about Cohn having had an affair with Brett in Spain.


Before the fiesta of San Fermín in Pamplona would start, Bill and Jake go on a five day fishing trip in Burguete. They are very successful and catch many trouts. Cohn didn’t want to join them, he wants to go to San Sebastian to get Brett and Mike and bring them to Pamplona. Before, he had spent a week in San Sebastian together with Brett. Jake knew about this through Brett.

Jake and his friends all come together in Pamplona to see the bulls and participate in the fiesta of San Fermín. They stay at the hotel of Montoya, an aficionado, one who passionately loves bullfights. A lot of aficionados always stay at his place and sometimes even bullfighters. This is also where Jake meets Pedro Romero, a young and very talented bullfighter, who Jake admires. Brett also likes him a lot. During the bullfights she can’t take her eyes off of Romero. During the fiesta they all drink a lot and dance. Everyone gets annoyed by Robert Cohn though, because of his attitude, and there are also several outbursts of anger towards him. During the bullfights Mike explodes in fury about Cohn always following Brett around (see Sun Also Rises p.123-125). And Cohn even knocks out Jake and also Pedro Romero, because Brett is having an affair with him. He can’t accept that the week he spent with Brett in San Sebastian doesn’t mean anything to her.

The Sun Also Rises really was inspired by a trip to Pamplona in 1925 (Meyers p.156). So this is where the real life happenings match the storyline of the novel a lot. Hemingway went there with his wife Hadley and his best friends, Bill Smith and Don Stewart, after fishing with them in Burguete. Harold Loeb, Lady Duff Twysden and her lover Pat Guthrie joined them later to enjoy the fiesta of San Fermín. Just like Jake and his friends, they stayed at a hotel in Spain where also matadors often stayed (Baker p.224). Unlike in the book, it was not only Hemingway and Bill Smith going on the fishing trip to Burguete before the others would join them and the fiesta would start, but his wife and Don Stewart also came along. They weren’t as lucky as Jake and Bill though, because there were no fish.

Loeb decided not to come. Instead he spent a week together with Duff Twysden “in consummation of their romance” (Baker p.224). When he confessed this later, Hemingway went crazy, he was all angry about Loeb. Probably because he was extremely jealous and wanted to spend a nice time with Duff in Pamplona and show off with his knowledge about bullfighting. He took it out on Loeb several times during their stay in Spain. The atmosphere among Hemingway and his companions was tense and everybody noticed it. It wasn’t like the fiestas before and they couldn’t truly enjoy it, mainly because of Duff, and Hemingway’s attraction towards her.

They did however see a young and passionate bullfighter, just like Jake and his friends. His name was Coyetano Ordóñez.

5. Interests & Characteristics

Fishing, bullfights and drinking – these are three interests, that both Hemingway and Jake share. When it comes to Spain, the countryside, fishing and bullfights in the second part of the book, it is conspicious that this is what Jake enjoys. He spends more time describing events and things around him.

Before the fiesta in Pamplona starts, Bill and Jake go to Burguete to fish. They enjoy five pleasent days of fishing and drinking. He seems more content, more relaxed. Hemingways interest in hunting and fishing developed already in early childhood years, when his father used to teach him (Meyers p.13). He wrote about fishing, for example in “The Old Man And The Sea”.

Jake knows a lot about bullfighting and teaches first Bill (p.116) and later Duff (p.140, 145) about it. Just like Hemingway he has been to bullfights before and is fascinated by it. They are both real aficionados and know what it needs to be a truly good bullfighter like Cayetano Ordóñez or Pedro Romero (Meyers p.118). Hemingway even wrote about bullfighting, for example in “Pamplona in July; World’s Series of Bull Fighting a Mad, Whirling Carnival” or “The Dangerous Summer”.

Alcohol seems to play a big role in The Sun Also Rises. On every occasion everybody is always drinking, even the Lady Brett Ashley is a heavy drinker. “Under the wine I lost the disgust feeling and was happy.” (Sun Also Rises p.127).

Hemingway, too, used to drink a lot of alcohol, already as a young men after WWI. “”[…] He always seemed to have plenty of money which he spent freely for Italian wine and tips to the porter who brought it.’ There was a great row when the head nurse found his wardrobe willed with empty cognac bottles.”

(Meyers p.36)

Altough Jake and Hemingway share the same interests, they should not be mistaken for the same person. Especially their characteristics differ a lot. Hemingway is described to have been a very outdoorsy person who loved not only fishing and hunting, but also adventures and constantly put himself in danger, for example during the amateur bullfighting competitions in Spain. Or when driving, boxing or skiing.

“Hemingway was always searching for fresh experience: new countries and cultures; new excitement in sports and bullfighting; new places to hung and fish; new wives and new wars.”
(Meyers p.92)

He is also said to have had a bad temper and to frequently be out of control. This doesn’t at all aply to Jake Barnes. Jake is a rather calm person and although there are several things that he gets angry or sad about, for example Cohn or his war wound or him never getting to be with Brett, he never shows it on the outside. Even when people around him get mad or shout he stays calm (for example in the restaurant with Cohn p.34). He is more observing than acting and stands aside. He does also never behave recklessly.

As you can see, a lot of parallels can be found between the novel and Hemingway’s biography. As the book is based on his experiences during that time, a lot All in all I would say that The Sun Also Rises has autobiographical character. The characters are, as he intended, based on people Heminway knew and met during his time in Paris. The narrator Jake Barnes shows similarities with Hemingway – for example concerning their service in war, friends, living in Paris and trips to Spain or their mutual interests in fishing and bullfighting.

They are, however, not to be taken as the same person, since differences between book and real life show, that changes have been made – for example concerning Hemingway’s love life or Jakes war injury resulting in impotence or their different characteristics. True events and people have been fictionalized and put together in the story of The Sun Also Rises. The novel gives us an idea of what life in Europe after World War I was like for Hemingway and the Lost Generation.


Hemingway, Ernest. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. London: Arrow Books, 2004

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1985

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1972

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