Thematic Elements of "The Sun Also Rises"

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In “The Sun Also Rises,” the bullfighting scenes are one of the most powerful symbolic elements used by Hemingway in developing the book’s central themes of sexual power, masculinity and the destruction of morals. The passage is laden with symbolic imagery and word choice, and metaphorically parallels several of the story’s significant plot threads. In short, the bullfights are a condensed, abstract and poetic rendition of the book’s central ideas.

Hemingway’s language in this passage can be seen as very similar to the bullfighter Romero’s fighting style. His sentences are short and descriptive, just as Romero’s movements are efficient and elegant. The passage is also laden with subtle sexual tension and suggestive language (the bull is always “penetrating” or being “penetrated” by the sword). The sexual language used suggests a parallel between Romero and Brett. The bulls symbolize the dejected, angry war veterans which Brett manipulates easily through sex, just as Romero manipulates the bulls with his cape and sword.

Some events which occur elsewhere in the book are also symbolically represented in this passage. For example, when the bull killed the steer towards the beginning of the fiesta is clearly a foreshadowing event representing Mike’s attack on Cohn. Also, the old bullfighter Belmonte’s bitterness and sense of obsolescence is a parallel to Jack and his friends’ postwar condition, as well as their situation regarding Brett. Both have seen their heyday, but have become relatively unimportant and forgettable compared to Romero. Belmonte lost the crowd’s affection to him, and the war veterans lost Brett’s interest to him

The symbolic elements of this passage may be linked to Hemingway’s insecurities about his own masculinity, and to his fears of strong, independent women. If Romero is a projection of several of Brett’s characteristics, then the bulls clearly represent the men she so easily manipulates. While the bulls are fearless and virile, they...
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