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The Sun Also Rises Study Guide sample essay

The Aimlessness of the Lost Generation (for Text to text comparison) World War I undercut traditional notions of morality, faith, and justice. No longer able to rely on the traditional beliefs that gave life meaning, the men and women who experienced the war became psychologically and morally lost, and they wandered aimlessly in a world that appeared meaningless. Jake, Brett, and their acquaintances give dramatic life to this situation. Because they no longer believe in anything, their lives are empty. They fill their time with inconsequential and escapist activities, such as drinking, dancing, and debauchery.

It is important to note that Hemingway never explicitly states that Jake and his friends’ lives are aimless, or that this aimlessness is a result of the war. Instead, he implies these ideas through his portrayal of the characters’ emotional and mental lives. These stand in stark contrast to the characters’ surface actions. Jake and his friends’ constant carousing does not make them happy. Very often, their merrymaking is joyless and driven by alcohol. At best, it allows them not to think about their inner lives or about the war. Although they spend nearly all of their time partying in one way or another, they remain sorrowful or unfulfilled. Hence, their drinking and dancing is just a futile distraction, a purposeless activity characteristic of a wandering, aimless life.


Jake Barnes – The narrator and protagonist of the novel. Jake is an American veteran of World War I working as a journalist in Paris, where he and his friends engage in an endless round of drinking and parties. Although Jake is the most stable of his friends, he struggles with anguish over his love for Lady Brett Ashley, his impotence, and the moral vacuum that resulted from the war. Jake positions himself as an observer, generally using his insight and intelligence to describe only those around him, rarely speaking directly about himself. However, in describing the events and people he sees, Jake implicitly reveals much about his own thoughts and feelings.

Lady Brett Ashley – A beautiful British socialite who drinks heavily. As the novel begins, Brett is separated from her husband and awaiting a divorce. Though she loves Jake, she is unwilling to commit to a relationship with him because it will mean giving up sex. Indeed, she is unwilling to commit fully to any of the many men who become infatuated with her, though she has affairs with a number of them. However, she does not seem to draw much happiness from her independence. Her life, like the lives of many in her generation, is aimless and unfulfilling. Robert Cohn – A wealthy American writer living in Paris. Though he is an expatriate like many of his acquaintances, Cohn stands apart because he had no direct experience of World War I and because he is Jewish. He holds on to the romantic prewar ideals of love and fair play, yet, against the backdrop of the devastating legacy of World War I, these values seem tragically absurd.

As a Jew and a nonveteran, Cohn is a convenient target for the cruel and petty antagonism of Jake and his friends. Bill Gorton – Like Jake, a heavy-drinking war veteran, though not an expatriate. Bill uses humor to deal with the emotional and psychological fallout of World War I. He and Jake, as American veterans, share a strong bond, and their friendship is one of the few genuine emotional connections in the novel. However, Bill is not immune to the petty cruelty that characterizes Jake and Jake’s circle of friends. Mike Campbell – A constantly drunk, bankrupt Scottish war veteran. Mike has a terrible temper, which most often manifests itself during his extremely frequent bouts of drunkenness. He has a great deal of trouble coping with Brett’s sexual promiscuity, which provokes outbreaks of self-pity and anger in him, and seems insecure about her infidelity as well as his lack of money. Pedro Romero – A beautiful, nineteen-year-old bullfighter.

Romero’s talents in the ring charm both aficionados and newcomers to the sport alike. He serves as a foil (a character whose attitudes or emotions contrast with, and thereby accentuate, those of another character) for Jake and his friends in that he carries himself with dignity and confidence at all times. Moreover, his passion for bullfighting gives his life meaning and purpose. In a world of amorality and corrupted masculinity, Romero remains a figure of honesty, purity, and strength. Montoya – The owner of a Pamplona inn and a bullfighting expert. Montoya sees bullfighting as something sacred, and he respects and admires Jake for his genuine enthusiasm about it. Montoya takes a paternal interest in the gifted young bullfighter Pedro Romero and seeks to protect him from the corrupting influences of tourists and fame. Frances Clyne – Cohn’s girlfriend at the beginning of the novel.

A manipulative status-seeker, Frances was highly domineering early in their relationship and persuaded Cohn to move to Paris. As her looks begin to fade, she becomes increasingly possessive and jealous. Count Mippipopolous – A wealthy Greek count and a veteran of seven wars and four revolutions. Count Mippipopolous becomes infatuated with Brett, but, unlike most of Brett’s lovers, he does not subject her to jealous, controlling behavior. Amid the careless, amoral pleasure-seeking crowd that constitutes Jake’s social circle, the count stands out as a stable, sane person. Like Pedro Romero, he serves as a foil for Jake and his friends.

Wilson-Harris – A British war veteran whom Jake and Bill befriend while fishing in Spain. The three men share a profound common bond, having all experienced the horrors of World War I, as well as the intimacy that soldiers develop. Harris, as Jake and Bill call him, is a kind, friendly person who greatly values the brief time he spends with Jake and Bill. Belmonte – A bullfighter who fights on the same day as Pedro Romero. In his early days, Belmonte was a great and popular bullfighter. But when he came out of retirement to fight again, he found he could never live up to the legends that had grown around him. Hence, he is bitter and dejected. He seems to symbolize the entire Lost Generation in that he feels out of place and purposeless in his later adult life.

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