Lost Generation in 'The Sun Also Rises': Critical Essay

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The National Institute of Mental Health describes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the person having frightening thoughts that are persistent, and memories of tragic events, they experience sleep problems, feeling detached or numb, or maybe easily started. Events that can lead to PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, combat, and other forms of violence. During WWl PTSD wasn’t classified as a mental disorder. So during this time period where the novel, The Sun Also Rises takes place, they had a term for it coined ”shell shocked”. The characters from this novel are part of the lost generation.

The characters from the novel are part of a group known as the lost generation. This label for this generation was created by the writer Gertrude Stein, the meaning of the label is to describe a generation of men who took part in World War I and are deprived of emotional, moral, physical, and spiritual values. This group of men came out of the war taking the next couple of years taking advantage of every open opportunity to eat and drink to try and compensate for all the losses that they endured. This generation lived an immoral existence, which lacked emotions.

Mike Campbell, a short-tempered drunk Scottish war veteran. Mike became bankrupt through his business with false friends. Mike’s behavior is nothing usually but inappropriate, especially when drunk. “I think I’ll stay rather drunk. This is all awfully amusing, but it’s not too pleasant for me. It’s not too pleasant for me (205). Mike finally admits that he is indeed an alcoholic and it is because of psychological reasons. however, unlike Jake and Bill, Mike never moved on past the war. “What times we had. How I wish those dear days were back (139)”. His debatable sarcasm wish was quite peculiar. He could possibly be wishing for the war to never end because it gave him a sense of belonging. Which is missing during the time period of the novel. Mike is going to obtain his inheritance one day from his family. Mike has no goals in life or any apparent reason to get employed. He lives off his family’s wealth and fortune, along with the big generosity of his friends. Until Mike is given his inheritance, he is carelessly floating through life. With the end of the war comes the sudden disappearance of his purpose in life.

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Lady Brett Ashley is an independent woman. She exerts massive power over the men around her. Her beauty captivates everyone she comes into contact with. Mike even contrasts her to a famous seductress in Greek mythology Circe. Circe would lure men to her island and turn the men into pigs. Mike describes it as “she turns men into swine” (148). This comparison Mike makes between Brett and Circe hints at they both don't commit to a singular man. As a result, every male character in the novel is in love with Brett. They all love her to different degrees but they are still all in love with her. Yet she is waiting to get a divorce from the court, engaged to Mike, in love with Jake, slept with Cohn, and is fascinated with Romeo. Brett is not your typical woman, she has admitted fondness for parties and is wildly promiscuous. Just like Mike and Jake, Brett is also a veteran. She did not see combat, unlike the others because she served in a military hospital. An experience that is still undoubtedly just as disturbing as all the male characters have gone through. Brett is still very unsatisfied with her life. She quite often complains to Jake about how aimless her life seems. “I told the driver to go to the Parc Montsouris, and got in, and slammed the door. Brett was leaning back in the corner, her eyes closed. I got in and sat beside her. The cab started with a jerk”(32).

War carved Jake and his friends into the people they are now. In a similar way, it played an essential role in forming Brett into the person she is now. During the war, Brett's true love died from dysentery. Her actions following the death can be described as wanting to search for his first love again. This personal search of hers perfectly represents the label “Lost Generation” that Gertrude Stein described, a person looking for pre-war values like love and romance after coming out of war.

Jake Barnes, the narrator of The Sun Also Rises novel, is an American expatriate who works for a newspaper in Paris. Jake served in WWI and was injured while fighting in a battle in Italy. Although he does not directly say so, there are many moments in the novel where Jake hints that he is unqualified as a result of this injury. Jake and Brett establish a relationship while in the hospital. They come to the realization that they both love each other. Despite this, they cannot be together because Brett loves sex more than she loves Jake, and in Jake’s physical condition, he would never be able to satisfy Brett. This leads to Jake watching Brett going around and having affairs and relationships with other men. This causes Jake to become more like his friends, and he is slowly becoming a heavy drinker and lives irresponsibly. Physical conditions like Jake's can cause psychological consequences. In Jake's case, he finds himself insecure about his masculinity and takes it out by being hostile towards Robert. Additionally, Jake’s character is a classic example of the “Lost Generation”. It might seem that he is just like Brett and Mike. wandering through Paris going from bar to bar to dull their pain with alcohol, he is also very different from the others. He possesses a legitimate passion and enthusiasm, which allow him to distance himself from the skeptical world he lives in. Jake distances himself by showing his love of fishing bullfighting and the natural world. These differences allow him to see right through the superficial attitudes and frail relationships all around him. Jake tells Cohn in Chapter II “You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another(19)”. The message to take away from this is no matter where you travel in the world, one’s problems will always remain the same. This brief conversation between the two brings to light that Jake is both an outsider and an insider. Jake views the world from a different perspective he views the world from the center, but with detachment from it.

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Lost Generation in ‘The Sun Also Rises’: Critical Essay. (2023, August 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/lost-generation-in-the-sun-also-rises-critical-essay/
“Lost Generation in ‘The Sun Also Rises’: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 17 Aug. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/lost-generation-in-the-sun-also-rises-critical-essay/
Lost Generation in ‘The Sun Also Rises’: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/lost-generation-in-the-sun-also-rises-critical-essay/> [Accessed 15 Apr. 2024].
Lost Generation in ‘The Sun Also Rises’: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Aug 17 [cited 2024 Apr 15]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/lost-generation-in-the-sun-also-rises-critical-essay/

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