The Sun Also Rises

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Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Analysis

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Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon
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Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon

There is only one main female character in The Sun Also Rises, and the men circle around Brett like bees to honey, creating an atmosphere of rivalry between the male characters. The competition between the men is won and lost in different, often unpredictable, ways. Sometimes it is physical vigor that wins out, in the case of Romero. But sometimes physical strength is a liability. Robert Cohn strikes out at Mike, Bill and Romero, overpowering them physically, but later is found alone and crying. For men in The Sun Also Rises, to win seems impossible.

In this way, The Sun Also Rises shows how men have been changed by the experience of war, and World War I in particular. Honor, courage, stoicism, glory—none of these traditional masculine traits meant a thing huddled in the trenches as mortars fall from the sky. There was no glorious clash of skill between two warriors. There were just men getting cut down by machine gun fire in a futile effort to move their trench forward another inch. All of the men have been damaged by the war, their sense of selves demolished because none of what they were taught about themselves as men seems to apply any more, and they are all made so insecure by this loss that they can't even discuss it. The cruelty of the men toward Cohn emerges not just because Cohn is so obviously acting in non-manly ways in his desperate pursuit of Brett, but rather because the men know that they themselves, secretly, are just as unmanned. Jake himself is a symbol of all of these dynamics of masculinity and insecurity. He has literally, physically been emasculated by a genital injury in the war, but that injury is never directly mentioned by anyone. Brett's behavior further brings into play the idea or value of manliness. Just as the men display traditionally feminine behavior, Brett, with her short haircut, bantering conversation, and constant desire for sex, is the most traditionally "masculine" character in the novel, and the fact that she comes off as something of a heartless monster raises questions about whether those traditional manly virtues were even virtues at all. And yet, without them, what are the men?

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Masculinity and Insecurity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Masculinity and Insecurity appears in each chapter of The Sun Also Rises. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Masculinity and Insecurity Quotes in The Sun Also Rises

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sun Also Rises related to the theme of Masculinity and Insecurity.
Chapter 1 Quotes
I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together, and I always had a suspicion that perhaps Robert Cohn had never been middleweight boxing champion. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Robert Cohn
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

The Sun Also Rises opens with an account of Robert Cohn’s boxing career at Princeton. The novel’s narrator, Jake Barnes, seems intent on belittling Cohn’s middleweight title: he suggests that Cohn’s “simple” story is not to be trusted, and wonders whether Cohn’s “flattened nose” was really a boxing-related injury.

Though Jake goes on to dismiss these doubts (citing reports from Cohn’s coach at Princeton, Spider Kelly, who corroborates Cohn’s story) he remains unimpressed by Cohn’s purported title. By targeting Cohn’s successes as a boxer, Jake calls into question Cohn’s masculinity. Competitive sports seem to Jake to be a proxy for strength and honor: the lesser fighter, in Jake’s mind, is perhaps the lesser man.

Though Cohn’s collegiate fighting career is the subject of these lines, Hemingway here reveals as much about Jake as he does about the man Jake describes. Jake is deeply cynical. He claims to be skeptical of anyone who appears honest, believing that stories which “hold together” best are the least likely to have actually happened. Perhaps it is Jake’s own history – rarely mentioned but hardly forgotten – that has left him suspicious of any simple truths or straightforward answers. While Cohn was fighting in the controlled environment of a boxing ring, Jake was in the trenches of World War I. Cohn’s most severe injury is a broken nose; Jake’s is lifelong impotence from a war injury. Though such comparisons are rarely drawn by the narrator himself, they are never too far beneath the surface of Jake's competitive, and often disdainful, accounts of his "friend."


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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.

Chapter 3 Quotes
"Who are your friends?" Georgette asked.
"Writers and artists."
"There are lots of those on this side of the river."
"Too many."
Georgette and Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Georgette (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Paris was a hub of artistic movements in the 1920s; some of the greatest writers and artists of this “Lost Generation” (Hemingway included) came from all over Europe and America to live and work in the city. Georgette’s comment that “there are lots of those” suggests that even Parisians uninvolved in the world of art felt the presence of young expatriate creatives.

Jake’s two-word response reveals a great deal about his positioning within this generation of Parisian artists and expats. Though he is certainly one of these “writers and artists” living in Paris, he seems to not identify with the crowd—as someone who actually does work for a living, he seems bitter about artists like Robert Cohn, who has come to the city with plenty of money and only marginal artistic merit. “Too many” seems, then, a possible jab at his generation’s lack of direction, targeting those who moved to Paris without significant creative ambitions.

But Jake’s cynicism here is not simply a neutral judgment about the quality of his peers’ work. He feels competitive, perhaps even insecure, and means to give Georgette—his companion for the night—the impression that he is above these other men, or at the very least deserving of her admiration.

Chapter 4 Quotes
I passed Ney's statue standing among the new-leaved chetnut trees in the arc-light. […] He looked very fine, Marshal Ney in his top-boots, gesturing with his sword among the green new horse-chetnut leaves. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

This observation of Jake’s comes not long after a critical conversation with Brett in which the two confessed their love for each other and tried, uncomfortably, to inject some humor into the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Jake’s war injuries.

Jake’s insecurities about his masculinity are still on his mind.This scene finds Jake admiring a statue of Marshal Ney, paying particular attention to the way Ney’s image interacts with the surrounding trees. Marshal Ney is a famous French military commander, noted for his tremendous bravery. Ney is thus an historical figure who seems to epitomize masculinity; Jake’s appreciation (even if it seems somewhat bitter) for this statue betrays a sense of awe, even envy, at Ney’s typically masculine characteristics. In particular, Jake seems taken by Ney’s sword—the quintessential phallic symbol—and says that the man himself is looking “fine” as he proudly wields it. Having just escaped a conversation with Brett that reminded Jake of his impotence, this statue, though subtler in its impact, accomplishes something similar.

It’s worth considering where we find this emblem of masculinity—Ney’s statue is removed from the scene of socializing, drinking and partying, and is instead alone in the middle of some chestnut trees, as if in a forest. Idealized masculinity and nature often appear together in The Sun Also Rises, perhaps most clearly in Jake’s love of bull fighting.

It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night is another thing. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

In Jake’s most vulnerable moments, he expresses a pain common to many WWI veterans of the “Lost Generation” but rarely spoken of. Spending time out and about during the day, working and socializing, shields Jake from these dangers of introspection. He puts on a tough front, giving the impression of strength to those around him—acting "hard-boiled about everything." His wounds are, quite literally, hidden—with clothing on no one can see his injuries from the war.

Nighttime solitude enforces a kind of self-reflection, however: when you’re alone, you have to face your reality, and what you may be able to hide from others, you can’t hide from yourself. Jake has to face his wounds as he changes into bedtime clothes and sleeps alone, at least in part, out of shame. Though able in some respects to conceal the lasting effects of war, the physical and psychological damages persist.

Jake may hope to appear thoroughly masculine at every turn, but his emotional fragility here seems more closely associated with (what he might deem) femininity. And just as Jake is crying alone in his bed, a boyish, short-haired Brett—also a boy’s name—comes barging into his room after making a ruckus downstairs, and gives the impression of being more in control of her emotions than Jake. Hemingway seems to be deliberately undermining our expectations about gender. Brett, here, is the source of emotional strength: when she departs, Jake goes back to feeling awful, expressing in this final sentence his struggle for any kind of stability.

Chapter 10 Quotes
I have never seen a man in civil life as nervous as Robert Cohn – nor as eager. I was enjoying it. It was lousy to enjoy it, but I felt lousy. Cohn had a wonderful quality of bringing out the worst in anybody. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Robert Cohn
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

Jake, Robert Cohn, and Bill Gorton are eating dinner in Pamplona when Brett and Mike’s train is scheduled to arrive, so Jake and Cohn head to the train station to pick the fiancées up. As the two men are waiting, Jake offers these words about his companion. By this point tensions between the two are high—Jake is extremely jealous that Cohn has not only fallen in love, but has already had an affair with Brett. Disdain and insecurity are likely behind Jake’s observations here. But his comments are not simply jealous half-truths: he’s seen Robert bring out a disrespectful side of Harvey Stone, nasty spite in Frances, and, most recently, flirtatious treatment from Brett, which Jake can’t help but resent. Cohn is a character whose attempt to do the best for himself directly brings out the worst in others.

When examining Jake’s portrayal of Cohn, here and elsewhere in the novel, it’s important to consider the role of anti-Semitism. Cohn is the only Jewish character in the novel, and his heritage is mentioned more than a few times. It seems to be no coincidence, then, that he is the most marginalized character, and that in spite of his niceness he just can’t seem to do anything right, managing to seem a threatening presence to Jake no matter his intent.

Chapter 12 Quotes
"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 your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see. You hang around cafés."– Bill
Related Characters: Bill Gorton (speaker), Jake Barnes
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

Jake and Bill wake up in the small town of Burguete where they will be staying during their fishing trip, and as they are having their coffee, Bill launches into a humorous rant about American perceptions of expatriates.

Here, “soil” most directly refers to America, but it also connotes nature, meaning that Bill’s use of the word “expatriate” takes on an interesting double meaning—it seems to connect their departure from a nation (“country” in one sense) to a departure from the land itself (“country” in another sense). Out in nature, these two men find some sense of purpose, lost in the aimlessness of urban life: when they commit themselves to fishing, for example, their work provides tangible rewards. Bill opines that life in Paris promotes the opposite—laziness—and provides nothing but meaningless distractions. If the expatriates seem lost, it’s because they’ve lost touch with their roots, so to speak.

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.

Chapter 14 Quotes
That was morality; things that made you disgusted afterward. No, that must be immorality. That was a large statement. What a lot of bilge I could think up at night. What rot, I could hear Brett say it. What rot! – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Lady Brett Ashley
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter 14 we find Jake in his bed, inebriated, thinking about Brett, and struggling to define his moral precepts. Night seems once again to bring out Jake’s anxious, insecure, and, here, over-analytical tendencies. Jake retracts these general, ethical guidelines almost as quickly he defines them. The difference between friendship and love, the way life works, how one ought to behave—these questions remain unresolved. Just one chapter ago, "aficionado" Jake was explaining the rules and nuances of the art of bullfighting; these he understands perfectly. Outside of the sporting arena, however, rules are much harder to explain and hold to.

Chapter 19 Quotes
I hated to leave France. Life was so simple in France. I felt I was a fool to be going back to Spain. In Spain you could not tell about anything. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker)
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

Jake, finally alone after the week of the fiesta, has begun making his way back to France, but decides to extend his vacation by returning to Spain. The complicated impact of the festival warrants some unpacking here. Initially, Jake seemed to eager to get to Spain; now, he is hesitant to leave life in France. While in Paris, Jake was critical of the superficial social scene, and felt tortured by his situation with Brett. Spain represented something different: a chance to detach himself from that uneventful, un-inspired, and unnatural life.

Spain used to be a place where Jake could “tell” about everything—he understood the language, and perhaps even more impressively was an aficionado of the Spanish bullfighting culture. He seemed at home when he arrived in Spain, and began to reclaim his masculinity, or what was left of it, through his passion for bullfighting. But by the time he leaves Spain, his relationship to the country (and to its festival) seems different. Recall how he left Montoya, a friend and fellow aficionado, who felt disappointed in Jake for having helped to corrupt Pedro Romero, the symbol of all that was good and pure in their beloved sport. Jake’s half-hearted return to Spain only cements his place as a member of the “Lost Generation,” wandering now between countries.