Metaphors and Matadors; Symbols, Some Bulls, and Steers
The novel The Sun Also Rises, written by Ernest Hemingway, flaunts one of Hemingway’s great writing talents, specifically, the ability to create deep and meaningful metaphors. One of these metaphors is the extended metaphor of a steer, a young castrated ox used to pacify bulls in bull-fights, which appears frequently in the second half of the book. In a general sense, the steer represents the main character, Jake Barnes, but there are far more intricate similarities. In essence, the steer embodies Jake Barnes as an emasculated being who attempts to pacify his peers and is wounded by them in the process.
One of the first significant details Hemingway reluctantly divulges to his reader is that Jake is impotent due to an accident in the war. This is our most obvious connection between the steer metaphor and Jake Barnes, as steers are castrated before being put into the ring with the bulls. However, this is much more than a simple physical wound, as another character tells Jake, “’You, […] have given more than your life,’” (Hemingway 39). Jake’s impotence carries such a heavy weight in the novel because it is the source of all Jake’s internal problems with himself. Because of his impotence he cannot acquire Brett, the woman he loves, he fails to hold his confidence around other men, and he loses purpose in his life. This makes sense of Jake Barnes fascination for bull-fighting in the novel because it represents a life completely different than his own, a life filled with passion and purpose. As Jake Barnes puts it: “’Nobody lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters,’” (18). Jake spends so much of his time dwelling on bull-fighting because he yearns for the same intensity in his own life. Instead, his life is filled with mundane activities that never seem to satisfy him: “‘You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink...
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