Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Alcoholism in Ernest Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises': A Wine and Roses Perspective on the Lost Generation

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Alcoholism in Ernest Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises': A Wine and Roses Perspective on the Lost Generation

Article excerpt

THE SUN ALSO RISES is a remarkable portrait of the pathology of the disease of alcoholism. As a description of the alcoholic mentality, it has none of the high drama and tragic despair of works like Days of Wine and Roses or Under the Volcano, but this makes the story all the more realistic and compelling. Indeed, like the disease of alcoholism itself, the plot may be quite deceptive because it presents no images of addictive self-destruction on a grandiose scale.

The novel describes how Jake Barnes and his expatriate friends spend a good deal of time in Paris drinking and talking about drinking, how some of them make a hectic trip over the Pyrenees to Pamplona to go fishing and watch the bullfights, and how, after an astonishing series of affairs, foul-ups, and misunderstandings, they straggle back to Paris to talk some more and do some more drinking. A great deal of the novel is focused on liquor, discussions about liquor, hangovers, drunkenness, and finding more liquor (Gelderman 12). The following remarks are drawn from just five pages of The Sun Also Rises:

"You were quite drunk my dear."

"I say, Jake, do we get a drink?"

"He loves to go for champagne."

"Let's have a drink, then. The count will be back."

"You know he's extraordinary about buying champagne. It means any amount to him."

"I think you'll find that's very goodwine, ... we don't get much of a chance to judge good wine....

"This is a hell of a dull talk, . . . How about some of that champagne?"

"You're always drinking, my dear. Why don't you just talk?"

"I like to drink champagne from magnums. The wine is better but it would have been too hard to cool."

"There, my dear. Now you enjoy that slowly, and then you can get drunk."

"She is the only lady I have ever known who was as charming when she was drunk as when she was sober."

"Drink your wine." (SAR 54-59)

It might be assumed that at least three of the characters - Jake Barnes, Brett Ashley, Mike Campbell - are only heavy drinkers; but there is a considerable difference between heavy drinking and the kind of self-destructive, alcoholic drinking that we read about in the novel. Indeed, Hemingway himself may have felt obliged to acknowledge the alcoholic focus of the story. When asked about its libationary focus, he appears to have grudgingly conceded that it was a "book about a few drunks" (qtd. in Dardis 163); but, as Tom Dardis notes in his excellent discussion of the writer's alcoholism, the drinking behavior described in The Sun Also Rises was pronounced and addictive, regardless of the motives (163). Hemingway may have thought that imbibing on such a monumental scale simply classified the inebriate as a sort of generic "rummy," but, as Dardis writes, he was ignorant of the fact that "alcoholism breeds its own kind of pressure, that of alcoholic depression" (163).

Of course, in defining Mike, Brett, and Jake as practicing alcoholics, we ought to consider exactly what it is that fleshes out the portrait of someone who is alcohol-dependent; that is, we might want to consider what it is that characterizes someone whose life is dominated by an obsession with liquor.

Most social scientists have concluded that alcoholics have a higher level of anxiety, dependence, and defensiveness. This is sometimes reflected in a remarkable degree of moodiness, impulsivity, hostility, and distrust (See, for example, Ward 168 and Weston, 39-40).(1) A good number of studies have also concluded that alcoholics have lower self-esteem, are more goal-oriented, strive more for a superficial feeling of achievement, and consistently exhibit an intense need for personal power (See, for example, Ward 169). Such problems may be manifested by the development of facades suggesting a great deal of uncertainty regarding sexual identity (Ward 176).

If we critique The Sun Also Rises with these criteria in mind, it should come as no surprise that Jake, Brett, Mike, and even Robert Cohn and Bill Gorton match the alcoholic profile in no small measure. …

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