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Concept of Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises

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The First World War decimated a generation, leaving behind a people disillusioned with the world. Jake Barnes, the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises counts himself among this ‘Lost Generation’ because he became impotent as a result of an injury during the war. The wound, while a physical one, affected Jake in multiple ways, making him passive and unwilling to confront his problems. Jake’s physical impotence serves as a metaphor for other characters in the novel that, like Jake, cannot overcome their cynicism and inability to act in the post-war world.

Jake, a defeated man, cannot rise above his situation because he is consumed by his injury. While trying to downplay it as funny, Jake cannot ignore that he gave ‘more than [his] life’ (Hemingway 41) in the war, that his vitality and purpose for living died on the battlefield as well. Turning to alcohol, Jake tries to drink away his feeling of loss, only to find it returns when he is sober. These attempts to push away the reality of his injury only make life more miserable for Jake, as he continues to find himself regretting what he has lost. The presence of Brett Ashley, the woman he loves, reminds Jake that because of his injury he can never care for her as other men can, and his inability to do so makes him even less than a man in her eyes. Unable to find comfort in a relationship with Brett, Jake unsuccessfully looks to abstract ideals like faith to settle his troubled soul. But since the Church offers the advice to ‘not think about’ (39) the injury, Jake wholeheartedly admits that he is indeed a ‘rotten Catholic’ (103) because he has unintentionally taken this path with no success. Ironically, Jake is comforted by the fact that there are others like him who cannot see beyond their situation. The bullfighter, Belmonte, ‘stays in his own territory’ (217) so that he can remain ‘safe’ (217) from danger, as Jake remains passive to his situation and refuses to take action. Jake sees that Belmonte must go ‘through his pain’ (219) of understanding that all he can do is dance away from the bulls without actually engaging them. Like Belmonte, Jake cannot hide the fact that he has lost his vitality and that attempting to find any comfort is futile. Thus, Jake remains disillusioned, unwilling to find a way beyond his injury and improve his life.

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Brett Ashley suffers from a similar feeling of disillusionment, which is present in her relationships with other men. Changing partners as if they were clothing, Brett finds it impossible to commit to one man. Brett justifies her actions by declaring herself ‘a goner’ (187), one who has lost her ‘self-respect’ (187) and thus can be expected to act this way towards men. Not caring for the emotional portion of relationships because of disastrous past experiences, Brett finds men that suit her physical desires instead. While Jake offers the possibility of a serious emotional relationship, Brett shuns his advances because she refuses to ‘go through that hell’ (34) of realizing that she recycles men for sex. Such a realization makes Brett miserable at heart, but because she has always ‘done what [she] wanted’ (188), she finds it impossible to change her way of thinking. Unfortunately, Brett’s actions only serve to inflame the feelings of those who love her. Jake, seeing Brett with a group of men, wants to ‘swing on one’ (28) in order to ‘shatter their superior, simpering composure’ (28). But even though Brett cannot be with Jake physically, she does nothing to soothe his anguish, kissing him after discarding her latest male prizes. Brett’s utter lack of concern for the men that she meets allows her to exchange one man for another, regardless of the circumstances. Yet when confronted with her problems, Brett tells her friends to ‘not talk about it’, dismissing their concerns as ‘rot’. Instinctively pushing her problems away like Jake, Brett does nothing to change her situation, giving her more of an excuse to enter into affairs with Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero. Thinking that an affair with Cohn ‘would be rather good for him’ (89), Brett again sets another man up for heartbreak with her dismissive attitude towards relationships. Cohn goes so far as to ‘do battle for his lady love’ (182) when he fights Pedro Romero, Brett’s successive lover, a sign that Brett’s influence over men only leads to more pain. But even in light of this Brett does not change her ways, leaving Pedro Romero on the claim that she will not be a person ‘who ruins children’ (247). Using excuses and ignoring her problems, Brett safely avoids the emotional struggles that would normally be involved in relationships and instead accepts that love for her is nothing more than a warm bed and a bottle of wine.

In contrast to other characters in The Sun Also Rises, the bullfighter, Pedro Romero, lives his life ‘all the way up’ (18) by confronting his challenges and displaying a vitality that allows him to succeed. This vitality shows itself in Romero’s bullfights, which are far different from his competitors’. Unlike Belmonte, who imposes conditions on his bulls to keep himself safe while giving a ‘sensation of tragedy’ (218) for the audience, Romero does not pick and choose the bulls that come before him. Instead, he puts his life on the line while never looking up to view the audience’s approval. In doing so he exposes the cowards who fight ‘with a faked look of danger’ (171) and never strive to engage the bulls themselves. This method of fighting gives the audience an ‘unpleasant feeling’ (171), since they see that the bullfighters simply put on a show instead of actually fighting. But while his fellow bullfighters twist themselves ‘like corkscrews’ (171) in the ring, Pedro Romero’s motions are ‘slow and controlled’ (221), his confidence and efficiency inspiring ‘real emotion’ (171) from the audience. They understand that Romero’s purpose is to fight the bulls, not to win the public’s favor with fake antics. Romero remains focused on the bullfight alone, fighting with ‘an absolute purity of line’ (171) that cannot be matched by the other bullfighters. The intensity that pushes Romero forward does not manifest itself in Hemingway’s other characters, who seem shallow and pathetic in comparison. Unlike Jake, who finds himself in perpetual sorrow over his injury, Romero perseveres and does not quit when faced with physical harm. During a fight with Robert Cohn, Romero’s ‘face [is] smashed and his body hurt’ (223), but he refuses to stay down because these injuries do not extinguish his spirit. Romero even fights with these injuries, taking on an even greater risk to himself than before. None of the other characters in the novel have such faith in their abilities; they simply give up or decide to ignore the challenge completely. Such determination to succeed is the reason Jake claims that Pedro Romero possesses ‘the greatness'(220), a quality present only in those who stand with a purpose in life, and the will to get back up when they are thrown down.

The Sun Also Rises serves to explain how an entire generation could simply be ‘lost’. In the aftermath of the First World War, nine million young men lay dead on the battlefields of Europe, with only their parents to survive them. This generation, stripped of its youth and vitality, lost faith in religion, man and country. What person could believe that such destruction was fated to happen, or that a higher power could stand by and watch without acting? Words like honor or bravery could no longer be used to describe battles fought with poison gas and machine guns. Governments, which conducted the war, no longer seemed responsible and willing to serve the people. This mass disillusionment among the war’s survivors led to an indulgence in social decadence as well as political upheaval. The Great War served to strip away the confidence and alacrity of an entire generation, leaving.

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Concept of Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Concept of Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Concept of Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2023].
Concept of Lost Generation in The Sun Also Rises [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 May 24]. Available from:
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