Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

The Sun Also Rises: A Memory of War

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

The Sun Also Rises: A Memory of War

Article excerpt

When strong enough to climb the hill behind Harlech [Wales] and revisit my favourite country, I could not help seeing it as a prospective battle field.

Robert Graves (287)

terrain is what remains in the dreaming part of your mind.

Ernest Hemingway, Across the River and into the Trees (92)

Paul Fussell argues that World War I was an inescapable part of postwar poetry For instance, he says that Eliot's The Waste Land--with its archduke, canals, rats, dead men, its "setting of blasted landscape," its "focus on fear"--is more profoundly a "memory of war" than one had thought (325-26). He cites similar remarks by Hugh Kenner on some of Pound's early cantos (326). The following suggests that Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is much more narrator Jake Barnes's memory of war than has been recognized, in terms of landscape, imagery allusions, and a recurring story of wounding. In this complex, poetic novel, war and wounding constitute a major pattern of allusion.

Philip Young long ago pointed out that a certain bend in the river in "Big Two-Hearted River" reminds Nick of the place in Italy where he had been wounded (47, 53). [1] Similarly, readers have noted in The Sun Also Rises, as matters of imagery and action parallels, subtle allusions to Jake's war wounding. For instance, John W. Aldridge says that Cohn's knocking Jake out in Pamplona is a reenactment of Jake's war wounding (158-59); others (noted below) see Brett's emotionally wounding Jake in similar terms. The following discussion continues this line of inquiry. It sees the novel's events as being shaped by a recurring story-of-wounding pattern. This brief, three-part sequence of action starts with going to, traveling to, a place of threat--usually climbing a steep hill, then descending. Next comes an emotional wounding by Brett, which Jake associates (perhaps during the story's time, certainly while writing the story) with his unmanning sexual wounding during the war. The sequence concludes with his departure: usually it is a retreat to a room or bed (as if to a hospital bed). (In Pamplona these unmanning emotional woundings and retreats to bed are, in a sense, reiterated by Mike and Cohn.) The Paris and Pamplona sections conclude with a major and climactic wounding, which is followed by Jake's retreat to a place of recuperation (Burguete and San Sebastian). [2]

But in terms of implied memories of war, there is considerably more in the novel than this recurring story of wounding. In a discarded preface to the completed novel, Hemingway said that it is "about something [the war] that is already finished"; there may be another war, "but none of it will matter particularly to this generation because to them the things that are given to people to happen have already happened" (Reynolds, The Paris Years 327). If this novel is about something that is already finished, this suggests that its allusions to the prestory past concern not merely Jake's wounding but other events from the war, and, as it turns out, the early postwar period too--things that have "already happened" to this generation. These allusions to things past are implied in landscape, food, statues, cafe names, and so on. Often they are "memories" of big events in the war (military offensives or breakthroughs) and the postwar period. For instance, Georgette's name may allude to the 1918 German offensive (Opera tion Georgette) in Belgium. In chapter 1, the quarrelsome scene at the Cafe Versailles seems a "memory" of the quarrelsome peace talks at Versailles in spring 1919. (Imagine a post-Civil War novel narrated by a wounded war vet opening at the Cafe Appomattox.)

Our theme, then, is this: In this novel--which transpires in a fictional year that resembles 1924-25--the prestory past, what has already happened to this generation ("in our time." ca. 1914-22). is never far from narrator Jake Barnes's mind. (Perhaps it is the emotionally wounding proximity of Brett Ashley that brings back to Jake, our thoroughly beaten-up narrator, suppressed memories of the past. …

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