The Sun Also Rises

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Bullfighting Symbol Analysis

Bullfighting Symbol Icon
Hemingway uses bullfighting as an ongoing metaphor for war and the nature of masculinity. The bullfight represents, in part, the ideals of war that were destroyed by the mechanized war of World War I. The bullfight is a battle of skill, of two beings coming face to face in search of victory and glory. As such, the bullfights fascinate the characters: the fight has rules, it has honor, it has skill all the things that they no longer believe in out in the "real world."

The bullfight also represents the dangers of sex and love. The bullfights are described as seductions, in sexualized language (it is a fight after all, in which a man tries to stick a long hard object into the bull), and yet it always ends in destruction, of either the bullfighter or the bull. Similarly, Belmonte is cast aside in the affections of the fans as soon as someone better comes along, in this case Romero. The fickleness of the crowds mirrors Brett's behavior, as she jumps from lover to lover.

Bullfighting Quotes in The Sun Also Rises

The The Sun Also Rises quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bullfighting. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of The Sun Also Rises published in 1954.
Chapter 2 Quotes
"I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it."
"Nobody ever lives life all the way up except bull-fighters"
Cohn and Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Robert Cohn (speaker)
Related Symbols: Bullfighting
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Cohn and Jake discuss plans to travel to South America. Cohn has the vague desire to be “living” more, and Jake seems suspicious of any such attempt. Though Jake can certainly relate to Cohn’s lack of direction, it’s unlikely that Jake shares with Cohn a sense that life is “going so fast” – as a veteran of World War I, Jake has perhaps experienced too much. Jake seems to think that Cohn’s aspirations are naïve, and that life by its very nature is unfulfilling. If Cohn worries about feeling aimless, Jake asks what one can even hope to aim for.

This exchange provides the novel’s first reference to bull fighting, introducing a metaphor that much of The Sun Also Rises is committed to developing. Bull fighting represents to Jake the ideal that war never lived up to: its violence is controlled, its rules set, and its victories legitimate cause for celebration. Bull-fighters have the glory and romance of face-to-face conflict without the lasting traumas of war. To be sure, Jake’s claim that bull-fighters alone know how to live well is perhaps not to be taken at face value. Still, it’s telling that Jake looks to these men – fearless actors in a spectacle of violence – as examples of what “really living” can look like.


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Chapter 13 Quotes
Those who were aficionados could always get rooms even when the hotel was full. Montoya introduced me to some of them. They were always very polite at first, and it amused them very much that I should be American. Somehow it was taken for granted that an American could not have aficion. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Montoya
Related Symbols: Bullfighting
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jake and Bill arrive back in Pamplona, they find that Montoya's hotel is filling up with people who are there to see the running of the bulls, and Jake begins to explain the true passion many men have for the sport. Jake appears, perhaps more than ever, connected to the people of Spain. He is comfortable, and his being accepted as an "aficionado" (someone with true passion for and knowledge of bullfighting) works to his advantage: his friends may seem like intruding foreigners, but Jake is treated with respect, even reverence.

Afición is here associated with a kind of masculinity. These men favor a sport in which other men display spectacular bravery in their fight against a real force of nature, a raging (and male) bull. When discussing and watching the sport together, they focus solely on the event, engaging themselves fully in the beauty—and violence—of sport.

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Bullfighting Symbol Timeline in The Sun Also Rises

The timeline below shows where the symbol Bullfighting appears in The Sun Also Rises. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Sport Theme Icon
Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...his life and that he needs to go to South America. Jake responds that only bullfighters live their lives to the fullest. (full context)
Chapter 4
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Sport Theme Icon
Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Jake goes to bed and reads through two bullfighting newspapers. He then turns out the lamp, but is unable to sleep and he thinks... (full context)
Chapter 16
Sport Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
...leaves Brett and Romero at the table, and as he does so he notices that bullfighters and critics with whom Romero was speaking earlier look at him disapprovingly. When Jake returns... (full context)