Hemingway’s Hero Of the segments of American society scarred by the anguish of the First World War, the damage was most severe amongst the younger generation of that time. Youthful and impressionable, these people were immersed headlong into the furious medley of death and devastation. By the time the war had ended, many found that they could no longer accept what now seemed to be pretentious and contradictory moral standards of nations that could be capable of such atrocities. Some were able to brush off the pain and confusion enough to get on with their lives. Others simply found themselves incapable of existing under their country’s thin façade of virtuousness and went abroad, searching for some sense of identity or meaning. These self-exiled expatriates were popularly known as the “Lost Generation” a term credited to Gertrude Stein, who once told Hemingway: “That’s what you all are. All you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation… You have no respect for anything. You drink yourself to death.”1 Many of these individuals tended to settle in Paris, a suitable conduit through which to pursue their new lifestyle. Content to drift through life, desperately seeking some sort of personal redemption through various forms of indulgence, these people had abandoned their old value system and heroes, only to find difficulty in finding new ones. A great deal of new literature was spawned in an effort to capture the attitudes and feelings of such individuals to reinvent a model of sorts for a people sorely lacking any satisfactory standard to follow. At the forefront of these writers was Ernest Hemingway, whose Novel, The Sun Also Rises, became just such a model, complete with Hemingway’s own definition of heroism. Many of the characters in the novel represented the popular stereotype of the post WWI expatriate Parisian: wanton and wild, with no real goals or ambitions. Mike Campbell, Robert Cohn, and Lady Brett Ashley, and even the protagonist Jake Barnes all demonstrate some or all of the aforementioned qualities throughout the novel. All seem perfectly content to exist in their own oblivious microcosm, complete with their own ‘unique’ set of moral values. While the qualities of these characters dominate, to an extent, the flow of the novel, it is important to acknowledge their contrast to Jake and the bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Unlike the others, these two characters serve as heroic figures, albeit each in a very different way. Jake is a truly realistic protagonist. Like his friends, Jake is a victim of many of the same circumstances. The difference is that Jake does not let his emotional turmoil corrupt his life to the same extent as the others. Unlike the other expatriates, he has not completely rejected all of the old values of the pre-WWI era. For example: While Jake seems to be having difficulty in completely accepting his religion, he still tries to grasp on to it, though perhaps a little fearful that his handhold will break if he grasps too tightly: “Listen, Jake,” he said, “are you really a Catholic?” “Technically.” “What does that mean?” “I don’t know.” (128-129) Along with this emotional baggage, Jake also has a physical defect in the form of a wound he suffered in the war, which has rendered him sexually impotent. Despite the way in which his injury thwarts his relationship with Brett, Jake accepts his situation with a great deal of integrity, despite the scathing pain of his unfulfilled love. As is consistent with the realistically human portrayal of Jake’s character, his role as a heroic figure is stifled somewhat by the constraints of society. Rather than exhibiting gallant feats of bravery consistent with the romantic definition of a hero, Jake’s valiance is displayed in a subtler, less tangible manner. By displaying the virtues of tolerance, honesty,...
Cited: Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Ed. Simon & Schuster Inc. New York. 1926. Author Unknown. The Kaplan Calendar of Events. http://www1.kaplan.com/view/calendar/event/preview/1,270,715-3,00.html 1999. Monahan, Kerrin, Ross. Dramatica Storytelling Output Report . “The Sun Also Rises.” http://www.dramatica.com/dCritiques_folder/dAnalyses_folder/the_sun_also_rises.html 1998
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