The Lost of Self
“One generation passeth away, the passage from Ecclesiates began, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseh”(Baker 122). A Biblical reference forms the title of a novel by Ernest Hemingway during the 1920s, portraying the lives of the American expatriates living in Paris. His own experience in Paris has provided him the background for the novel as a depiction of the ‘lost generation’.
Hemingway’s writing career began early; he edited the high school newspaper and, after graduation, got a job as reporter on a local newspaper. After that he was turned down by the Kansas City draft boards. He wanted to get to Europe and managed to there by volunteering as an ambulance driver. After being wounded, he recalled that life slid from him, “like you’d pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by a corner”(Villard 53), almost fluttered away, then returned. This was a period in his life when he became ‘lost’ and searched to overcome his own suffering and test his courage. His experiences in finding himself provided the background for The Sun Also Rises, which is one of the most famous novel ever written about the ‘lost generation’. “It is Jake’s narrative, his story, but behind Jake is Hemingway, the artist, manipulating the action”(Reynolds 73). Soon after the war, Hemingway married and he with his wife moved to Paris. There his bride gave him a letter of introduction to Gertrude Stein. When they met, she commented that “You are all a lost generation,” a
casual remark, yet one which became world famous after Hemingway used it as an epigraph to his first major novel, The Sun Also Rises.
The term ‘lost generation’ means a great deal to Hemingway’s readers. It reflects the attitudes of the interwar generation, especially those of the literatures produced by the young writers of the time. These writers believed that their lives and hopes had been shattered by the war. They had been led down by a glory trail to death not for noble, patriotic ideas, but for the greedy, materialistic gains of the power groups. In his novels
“Hemingway recorded the changes in the moral atmospheric pressure. Home, family, church and family gave this war-wounded generation no moral support. The old valueslove, honor, duty, truthwere bankrupted by a war that systematically killed off a generation of European men and permanently scarred Americans like Jake, who fought during the last months of the debacles”(Reynold 63).
The high-minded ideas of their elders were not to be trusted; the only reality was truth and that was harsh. Life was futile and often meaningless. According to “President Harding’s ‘back to normalcy’ policy, subject seemed to its members(the lost generation) to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren”(Lost Generation 487). This demonstrates why this generation was in search of its own values. “The moral hypocrisy of Prohibition that so irritated Hemingway’s generation produced exactly the reaction that Hemingway documents in his novel”(Reynolds 62).
The term ‘lost generation’ embraces Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Archibald MacLeish, Hart Crane, and may other writers who made Paris the
center of their literary activities in the 1920s. Although they never worked together as a group, their work was at times similar:
Hemingway’s world is one in which things do not grow and bear fruit, but explode, break, decompose, or are eaten away. It is saved from total misery by visions of endurance, by what happiness the body can give when it does not hurt, by interludes of love which
cannot outcast the furlough and by a pleasure in the landscapes of countries and cafes one can visit. A man has dignity only as he can walk with a courage that has no purpose beyond itself among the fellow wounded, with an ear alert for the sound of the shell that really has his number on it. It is a barren world of fragments which lies before us like a land of bad dreams, where a few pathetic idylls and partial triumph relieve the diet of nightmare(Benson 129).
In the book, Hemingway tells the story of a group of American expatriates living in Paris, which has been the center of their literary activities. The characters all share common values, which influence them when they produce their work. The common experience from the First World War has also provided them with the same beliefs. Thus, they are reflections of the lost generation who draw ideas for their works from the pleasures they have.
Behind the term ‘lost generation’ lay the basic disillusionment of the American public, the disillusionment that was brought about by the First World War. “The generation were ‘lost’ in the sense that its inherited values were no longer relevant in the postwar world and because of its spiritual alienation from U.S.”(Bloom 487). People in America and other countries came to realize that the old concepts and old
values of Christianity and other ethical systems of the western world had not served to save mankind from the catastrophes inherent in the World War. Therefore, after the war many writers began to look for a new system of values that would replace the old received doctrines that had proved to be useless. Having endured the great tragedies of World War I, the American people could not return to the quiet countryside of America, they could no longer accept those values that had previously lived by. Instead, they searched for something based upon a sense of order and discipline that would survive any particular situation. We can conclude by saying that the values are not the morals that we have grown accustomed to in twentieth-century Protestant America, it was an era of change.
A basis for all the actions of the lost generation was the concept of death. The idea of death influenced the American expatriates. This view involves their concept that when you are dead you are dead. There is nothing more. If man cannot accept a life or reward after death, the emphasis must then be on achieving something in this particular life. If death ends all activities, if death ends all knowledges and consciousness, man must seek his reward immediately. The lost generation existed in a large part for the gratification of their sensual desires; they devoted themselves to all types of physical pleasures because these were the rewards of their lives. According to Reynolds, “about 2 million Americansone out of every fifty-fivevisited Europe between 1925-1930. Many tourists traveled immersed in a vague fog of alcohol. American Bars sprang up in Paris to cater in the American drinkers who each summer in the twenties trebled the 10,000 English-speaking residents of the French capital”(62).
Hemingway’s characters first attracted attention because they drank a lot and they engaged in many love affairs. In the beginning of chapter 3, Jake sits in the cafe watching the evening emerges. Then he had a series of drunken parties and picks up a prostitute. “She cuddled against me and I put my arm around her. She looked up to be kissed”(Hemingway 16). This is further supported as Reynolds says, “This seemingly off-hand comment(‘Everybody’s sick’) will reverberate through the novel where most of the characters are physically and spiritually sick: Brett’s uncontrollable sexual needs; Mike’s alcoholism; Cohn’s hopelessly unrealistic romantic view; Jake’s spiritual malaise”(70). These examples appeal on a simple level to the lost generation. In its most elementary sense, if man is to face total oblivion at his death, there is nothing then to do but enjoy as many of the physical pleasures as possible during this life. In The Sun Also Rises, Bill Gorton, an American friend of Jake Barnes, says to Jake, “You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all you time talking, not working. You hang around cafes”(Hemingway 115). Jake responds by saying “It sounds like a swell life”(Hemingway 115). Here it shows that Jake spends time in cafes talking and drinking, trying to enjoy his life by immersing himself into the sensual pleasures. Thus the Hemingway characters drink, make love, enjoy food, and enjoy all the sensual pleasures that are possible.
Returning to the point that death is the end of all things, it then became the objective of the lost generation to delay death for as long as possible. Their lives had to continue. They were valuable and enjoyable and were everything. With this view in mind, it might seem strange to outsiders or modern people that they would often choose to confront death. The bullfighters, the wild game hunters, people like these
are in constant confrontation with death. Here the idea of ‘grace under pressure’ is
taken into account. This concept is one according to which the people must act in a way that is acceptable when they’re faced with death. It may also be expressed in other terms by saying that the lost generation must have had a fear of death, but they were not afraid to die. By fear it means that they had to possess the intellectual realization that death was the end of all things and as such it had to be constantly be avoided in one way or another. In chapter 13 when Jake arrives in Pamplona for the fiesta, he explains that he has been recognized by the Spanish people as being one of them for his appreciative passion for the bullfight. As Jake replies to Montoya that Bill is passionate about bullfighting, Montoya says “he’s not aficionado(passionate) like you are”(Hemingway 131). Jake’s love of bullfighting is not a foreign curiosity nor is it a private passion to see blood. Jake is able to watch the bullfight and see the art and the significance of the killing.
This point is significant because of the strong implication that man can never act in a cowardly way. He must not show that he is afraid in the presence of death. This idea can be further extended by saying that, if man wishes to live, he lives most intensely sometimes when he is in the direct presence of death. In chapter 18 of the novel, Jake mentions that during a bullfight, “man’s skill and honor and courage are to be pitted against capricious death”(Hemingway 215). This will test his manhood, and it is for this reason that the lost generation often placed themselves in situations such as war or bullfights where they had to face an animal determined to kill them just like the characters in his novel. “He(Hemingway) deliberately places himself in risky situations in driving, boxing, skiing, fishing, hunting and war”(Meyers 202). It is then that the lost generation showed the courage and the discipline which have inspired the
concept of grace under pressure. The man who never encounters death or who neverfaces any danger at all, will not know if he would prove to be a true hero in his own battle and set out his own values. Hemingway’s own conduct reflected this philosophy, and “Like his protagonists, he suffered physical as well as emotional scars and, like them, tried to manifest ‘grace under pressure'”(Waldhorn 3).
Aside from death being part of the concept of the lost generation, there are certain images that are often connected with this view. The actions of the lost generation were often identified by certain definite movements or performances. They are often said to have been restless, meaning that they would often stay awake all night and sleep all day. The reason they slept is that they were attempting to escape from reality. Night was a difficult time for them because night symbolizes the utter darkness that man will have to face after death. Therefore the lost generation avoided nighttime. This was the time they drank; this was the time they caroused or stayed awake. In the novel the characters also spend the night going to cafes and then making love with someone and only at the crack of dawn do they then desire to sleep. In the novel Jake says that “it is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing”(Hemingway 98). They can do anything to avoid the combination of darkness and sleep.
In the novel, the life styles of the characters respond to the point of avoiding confrontation with reality. The characters spend nights in bars and cafes. It is said that “one of the traditional values that takes a beating in The Sun Also Rises is moderation in drinking. Today’s reader is usually skeptical about the steady and heavy drinking in the novel: no one could drink that much and still function. One response might be that the characters do not function very well, but that avoids the real issue”(Reynolds 61).
Brett Ashley’s random sexual activities were also disapproved. “They are the representatives of the women who came of age with the movie sex symbol. They are the women of the first Freudian generation for whom it was mandatory to discuss sexuality openly”(Reynolds 65). They all avoid confronting reality by numbing themselves with alcohol and wanton sexual activity. And when the dawn comes, they get to bed and stay asleep for the day. Another example of lost generation avoiding confrontation with reality is shown through chapters 13-15 during the fiesta. Days and nights are no longer separated. Fiesta is outside of time. The whole week is then divorced from reality and from consequences. Jake describes the fiesta as “it kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences”(Hemingway 155). The people immensely enjoy this rare freedom throughout the week.
In conclusion, Hemingway, being a part of the lost generation, accurately reflected the values of the lost generation through the portrait of the characters in The Sun Also Rises. His experiences, which was considered to be reprobate at that time, provided him the basis for writing the novel. The behavior of the characters demonstrates their view of life, casting back to how World War I changed their values through demoralization. They lived an aimless and dissipating life. They had deep doubt of self that was projected through an unending pattern of debauchery. They tended to live in here and now, while future and past seemed remote and abstract. Their identities were through their lack of ambition and ego, with a desperation born of the fear of the truth. On the other hand, they test their courage by placing themselves in dangerous situations. These systems and values are illustrated through the depiction of the characters in The Sun Also Rises, “a sad story about smashed people whose lives are largely beyond their own control”(Reynolds 73).