In the search for hope for the protagonists of “The Sun Also Rises” Is there any hope for the Lost Generation?
Do the title of the novel and the seemingly hopeful epigraph indicate that the Lost Generation still have the possibility to regain any of the values they have lost during the WW1? The epigraph to “The Sun Also Rises” contains a quote from Gertrude Stein, saying: “You are all a lost generation”. This proclamation is juxtaposed with the passage from the beginning of the Book of Ecclesiastes: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever”. The message of the former quote clearly conveys that the WW1 generation, of which Jake Barns, Robert Cohn, Brett Ashley and Mike Campbell are the representatives, is forever deprived of moral, emotional, spiritual and physical values. On the other hand, the latter passage gives a lot of hope: “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” This statement, from which the title of the novel comes, as well as the content of the whole Book of Ecclesiastes, may be the reason for upholding this hope, the hope given by the rising Sun, the hope of forever abiding Earth. It is a common knowledge that war - “the calamity for civilization”, as the narrator Jake names it - disorganises or even destroys human’s inner life, his priorities, his code of values; that war causes a lot of chaos in the way one perceives oneself as well as others; that war deprives man of dignity and (self-)respect. The lives of the (dis)affiliates of the Lost Generation, who have gone through the tragedy of the World War1, epitomise this universal truth. They are constantly coping with finding themselves in the world after the war. It is highly probable that the ethics and morality for them is to be found in the book of Ecclesiastes. The preacher provides the reader, or rather the members of the team of expatriates, with the code of conduct they should follow to find the meaning and the purpose of their lives. However futile and vain life may be, on which Ecclesiastes insists by repeating the statement: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit”, one predominantly should put his life into the hands of God and obey Him. Do the protagonists manage to find any significance in their post-war existence? Are their lives likely to regain the meaning? Will they manage to “put together the pieces of their shattered personal faiths” (Maloney 188) to obliterate their painful memories of “that dirty war”? Book 1 presents the tragic and hopeless situation of the Lost Generation. All the protagonists belong to the degenerated society of the expatriates in Paris. The narrator Jake seems to be suffering unmerited hardships caused by the war. His drama is emphasised by his inability to control his lot, either during or after the war. His powerlessness to avert his “mala fortuna”, about which he thinks during many sleepless nights, is implied in the prosaic remark that the war “would have been best avoided”. But he did not avoid the injury that made him impotent and he does not avoid further torment resulted from the wound. This further agony is of emotional character. Jake is in love with a vain and promiscuous woman. Brett is also a victim of the war, which has dispossessed her of dignity and self-respect. Being “exposed to moral and emotional vacuum” (Spilka 84), she easily gives vent to her frustrations through living a wanton and drunken life. She attracts all the men around her and feels free to abuse them in order to satisfy her transient sexual pleasure. She declines all her post-war lovers’ love, claiming that being in love is “hell on earth”. And for this reason she emotionally destroys her men. Jake is one of her victims, and seems to be “the sinner taken by the woman,...
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