The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is widely seen as a critique of the “Roaring Twenties” and the Lost Generation. The 1920s were a time of economic prosperity and technological achievement, but the younger generation were characterized as cynical despite the surrounding progress, a cynicism seen as a result of the war. This cynicism was expressed in loose sexual mores and a “party” culture. And the Lost Generation was a pan-Atlantic phenomenon; young people who had come of age during and just after World War I participated in much the same zeitgeist in the United States and in post-war western Europe, a zeitgeist that was considered to be crass and materialistic by older observers. The book follows an American correspondent and his group of friends through Paris and then on a trip to Spain, where the group watches the annual bullfighting festival in the town of San Fermín.
The book is based on an actual trip Hemingway and his then wife, Hadley Richardson, went on in 1926, watching the bullfighting festival with a group of friends on whom the characters in the book were later based. The Lost Generation is represented by Lady Brett Ashley, a promiscuous British woman with whom the main character, Jake Barnes, is in love. She feels the same, but Jake witnesses and even facilitates her dalliances with other men. This causes conflicts between Jake and Robert Cohn, his friend and one of Ashley’s lovers, between Robert and Ashley’s indulgent fiancé, Mike Campbell, and between Jake and Romero, a young bullfighter. The conflicts cause the group to break up, and Ashley runs off with Romero, only to seek out Jake again when she is in need of help by the end of the book.
Hemingway may not have been simply documenting the styles and attitudes of the Lost Generation in western Europe. He may actually have been describing or even working through his own post-traumatic stress, and Jake Barnes is widely considered a semi-autobiographical character. Even though the book is written in the first person from Jake’s perspective, we know very little about him. He’s American, he served in the war, and he writes for a living. The reader doesn’t even get a physical description of Jake except for one fact: Jake was wounded in the war in such a way that makes him impotent.
Jake’s impotence is not just a literary device to make the character deeper or more interesting. It may be symbolic of Hemingway’s inability to connect with the materialistic and superficial culture of the Lost Generation. Maybe Hemingway could not be as carefree as his friends. He had seen too much. He had borne responsibility and seen others live up to their duty. He better knew both the value of life and its fragility. But Hemingway, due to the shallow understanding of “shell shock” in the 1920s, could not describe it clinically. No one could at that time. And if Lady Brett Ashley personifies the Lost Generation as a whole, even though Jake loves her and she loves Jake, his inability to connect with her—physically and emotionally—because of his wound completes the metaphor. She is cartoonishly superficial, something Jake wants to overlook but cannot. He still wants her, but knows he can never connect with her. The last lines of The Sun Also Rises make clear there is no solution for Jake’s plight, a plight that neither he nor society understands. His road is one he travels alone.
The first lines of Carrie Morgan’s novel, The Road Back From Broken, are a quote from none other than Ernest Hemingway (from A Farewell To Arms rather than The Sun Also Rises). But Morgan’s story is vastly different. It is said that true creativity is the result of art created under limitations. Morgan was limited in The Road Back From Broken by the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcoholism, and their treatment. She had to depict them honestly. What makes the book impressive is that Morgan weaves an accessible and entertaining story within these limitations. The story also moves along snappily as Morgan shifts between the present, the recent past, and the very distant past at exactly the right places to weave three divergent storylines into one.
The Road Back from Broken is a better option than much of the support literature generally available to servicemembers dealing with PTSD. It identifies problems with which many servicemembers struggle, illuminates them, and most importantly shows that there is hope. And Morgan does this all in a way that is immediately accessible and relatable to servicemembers without even a hint of condescension. Viewing a journey to recovery, acceptance, and healing through the eyes of Fitz, her protagonist, and the eyes of those around him is of inestimable value, and perhaps a stack of The Road Back From Broken should be in every Chaplain’s or counselor’s kit.
The Sun Also Rises is written in the first person. We are locked in with Jake; we know his thoughts and feelings, or at least we know as much as Hemingway lets us know. Jake's inability to connect with those around him is as emotional as it is physical, and the first-person narrative allows the reader to experience some measure of that isolation. Fitz, however, is not alone in his head with the reader. His failing connections with those around him are not completely severed lifelines. The third-person omniscient perspective allows Morgan to explore not just Fitz's feelings but how his injuries affect those around him, those trying to help him, and those who depend on him. The shift in perspective from one to the other underscores a shift in our own perspective on the injuries of war since Hemingway's own experience: no one should have to travel the road alone.
Captain B. A. Friedman is a field artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps. He has written for numerous military journals and sites and is the author/editor of 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy from the Naval Institute Press. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the official position of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
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