American Masters -- PRAIRIE TO PARIS -- Exploring the Worlds of MY ANTONIA and THE SUN ALSO RISES
Prairie Paris About the Project
THE SUN ALSO RISES is perhaps Ernest Hemingway's most autobiographical novel. Published in 1926, it captures some of the elements that defined the author: the emotional turmoil of life after World War I; the lingering effects of a war wound; the appreciation of nature and other cultures; and the experience of being among American expatriats in Paris in the 1920s. This novel is a classic example of the writing style that became Hemingway's trademark: sparsely written prose and terse dialogue that introduced a unique, less-is-more approach to American storytelling.

The narrator of THE SUN ALSO RISES is Jake Barnes, and he is the character who most closely resembles Ernest Hemingway. At the start of the novel, Jake tells the reader about his friend Robert Cohn, who is trying to convince Jake to leave Paris for a short trip to South America. (Cohn is one of a number of Jake's friends who live the Lost Generation lifestyle.) This is the start of a series of restless wanderings that mark the progression of the novel. During the drunken escapades that ensue, we learn a few key things:
  • Jake and Lady Brett Ashley are in love
  • A war injury has left Jake impotent
  • Because of this injury, Brett refuses to be in a romantic relationship with Jake
  • Brett is engaged to Mike Campbell
  • Robert Cohn is falling in love with Brett
Several weeks after meeting, Brett and Robert Cohn travel to San Sebastian together. Brett hopes to escape from her feelings for Jake, and Cohn hopes to win Brett's heart. Unfortunately, when they return to Paris, neither goal has been accomplished. While they are gone, Bill Gorton, a transient friend of Jake's, arrives in Paris.

The five acquaintances plan a trip to Spain. Jake and Bill want to fish and attend the festival at Pamplona. Brett and Mike (her fiancÉ) make arrangements to meet Bill and Jake in Spain. When their arrival is delayed, Jake and Bill go to the village of Burguete to fish. Love-struck Robert Cohn decides to wait for Brett to arrive, and when she does he follows her around constantly.

The second round of inebriated waywardness occurs in Pamplona, when the five friends are together again. Major events transpire in quickly unfolding scenes. Brett falls in love with Pedro Romero, Spain's young and renowned matador. In a jealous rage, Cohn physically assaults Jake, Mike, and Pedro. Despite his wounds, Pedro performs magnificently the next day, killing the bull that fatally gored a man in the streets. After the bullfight, Brett and Pedro flee to Madrid to enjoy each other's company alone.

Brett's bliss is short-lived. Days after escaping to Madrid with her young lover, Brett telegrams Jake in San Sebastian and asks him to pick her up and take her back to Paris. She doesn't want to ruin Romero's career (or his life), and has decided to recommit to Mike Campbell. The last scene concludes with Brett and Jake, the novel's true lovers, dejectedly regretting the fact that they can never be together.
Ernest Hemingway Bio

Read more about the life and work of Ernest Hemingway.

Cast of Characters

Jake Barnes
The protagonist and narrator of the novel is Barnes. As an American soldier in World War I, Jake receives an injury that leaves him impotent. Disillusioned with his country, he relocates to Paris, where he works as a mediocre journalist. His lifestyle reflects that of the Lost Generation: slow, languid days followed by alcohol-infused nights. We see the world and its people through the eyes of Jake, who illustrates that life is extraordinary, complex, and frequently unfair.

Lady Brett Ashley
Jake's love interest is Brett, a floundering British aristocrat who loves Jake but refuses to commit to a relationship with him because of his war wound. Brett is in the midst of a divorce and is emotionally fragile -- and often drunk -- throughout the novel. Many of the events that unfold revolve around Brett and the men who love her (or think they do).

Robert Cohn
Cohn is vividly described as a rich, Jewish, boxing writer. He is often socially awkward around Jake and their acquaintances. Like the members of the Lost Generation, Robert is an American expatriat who is looking for satisfaction abroad. Cohn is one of the men who falls in love with Brett, and the results are disastrous.

Bill Gorton
Bill is a veteran of World War I and a friend of Jake's. He is often a casual observer of the social scenes in which he finds himself. Jake and Bill provide one of the rare, truly emotional times in the book when they set off to go fishing together. Unlike the other relationships in the story, Jake's and Bill's has a sense of permanence and endurance about it.

Mike Campbell
Mike is Brett's on-again, off-again fiancÉ. He is a war veteran who is extremely insecure about his financial difficulties and his girlfriend's sexual promiscuity. He gets drunk and angry often and easily, and this combination leads to tension and hostility among his acquaintances. Although he doesn't know it, at the end of the novel Brett decides to seriously recommit to their relationship and future marriage.

Pedro Romero
Pedro is a 19-year-old bullfighter who embodies the honor, dignity, and virility that is lacking in the other characters. His grace and presence both in and out of the ring win Brett's heart. Over the course of several impassioned weeks, Brett and Pedro have a tumultuous affair. In her only selfless act, Brett leaves her young lover rather than ruin his career and his life.

PRAIRIE TO PARIS American Masters