The Sun Also Rises

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The Lost Generation Theme Icon
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Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sun Also Rises, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sex and Love Theme Icon

The romantic partners in The Sun Also Rises change suddenly and frequently. The relationships are made and broken along the journey from country to country and, though marriage is sometimes mentioned, it is never actually attempted other than Cohn's disastrous and unhappy first marriage. The characters do not establish domestic lives for themselves. The nightly drinking parties and long leisurely meals in public places serve as the primary domestic activity of the novel. The occupations and movements of the characters are aimless and restless. So, too, is love. It is avoided and ignored. But while the insecurities of the male characters cause them to avoid love and sex, Brett excels as a sexual being. She is healthy, charismatic, and lives like the ideal bachelor. She has sex without being married and without feeling ashamed. The typical attitudes of men and women have been troubled and upturned by the changes of wartime. The men have been shackled. Brett has been liberated.

At the same time, in her last lines of the novel, even Brett is revealed to yearn for love, with Jake. At numerous points in the novel it seems that Jake and Brett share a real love, and could be a true couple, if only Jake did not have the injury that made him impotent. And yet Jake, in his response, "Isn't it pretty to think so," dashes even that idea. In his response he is saying that the only reason Brett, Jake himself, or anyone else could imagine that their love might be perfect, might be an answer to all the meaningless of postwar life, is because his injury makes it impossible. If Jake was not injured and a relationship between he and Brett were possible, he is saying, it wouldn't end any better than any of her other relationships. And so The Sun Also Rises ends with the suggestions that just like all the other ideals obliterated by World War I, love, too, is no answer to the emptiness of the lost generation and perhaps, more broadly, to the emptiness of life.

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Sex and Love ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sun Also Rises related to the theme of Sex and Love.
Chapter 6 Quotes
"Just try and be calm. I know it's hard. But remember, it's for literature. We all ought to make sacrifices for literature. Look at me. I'm going to England without a protest. All for literature." – Frances
Related Characters: Frances Clyne (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines appear in the middle of a sharply sarcastic rant Frances directs towards Robert Cohn, who, after two years of promising marriage, has decided to leave her. He has agreed to pay her 200 pounds to leave for England and stay with friends, while he continues to hone his writing.

Frances sees through Robert’s motives, claiming that Robert is prioritizing “literature” and the ideal of romantic love over its messy reality. She believes that what Robert desires—sexual liberation—has more to do with career aspirations than any worthwhile romantic agenda. If Robert were to settle down and get married, he would (he seems to assume) lead a conventional, uninspiring life. Leaving Frances gives him license to explore new women, and to pretend as if Frances was only ever a scandalous mistress—the kind of story that might, in other words, make for juicy novelistic material.

Insofar as Frances intends to mock Robert’s decision, her lines target the new attitudes towards sex and love that we’ve seen up to this point in the novel, embodied most clearly in the character of Brett. Frances’s comments, in this sense, seem to shed light on Robert’s attraction to Brett (revealed in chapter 5): perhaps what attracts him most to Brett is what she represents, an exemplary figure of the progressive woman of the 1920s, whose promiscuity is more a measure of confidence than submissiveness. Brett is able to keep sex separate from love; she lives life impulsively, without much regard for others. If Cohn runs away from Frances, he risks throwing away conventional love, validated by the ritual of marriage, for a chance to fall in love again, or perhaps to begin a romantic life worth writing about.


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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 19 Quotes
"Oh, Jake,' Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together." Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
"Yes," I said. "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Lady Brett Ashley (speaker)
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

These are the final lines of the novel. Jake has come to Madrid to save Brett; here the two are in a taxi after dinner, both quite drunk. Brett, in spite of all she’s been through in the past few weeks, continues to feel the same way about Jake. When she says they could have had a great time together, the implication is that Jake's impotence has prevented them from consummating their relationship. As if to address any doubts about the sexual undertones of this line, Hemingway describes,at this very moment,the policeman holding his baton. The baton is on the one hand, and perhaps most obviously, a phallic symbol, but it also seems to signal the novel’s conclusion: with its movement, the policeman signals the car to halt, effectively signaling to us the end of the novel’s drama.

In Jake’s final lines, we sense traces of emotional maturity. He has struggled greatly with the fact that he could not be with Brett, and has been troubled, in particular, by his war injuries. He has seen Brett run off with Robert Cohn for a couple of weeks, and watched, too, as Brett had a brief affair with the champion bullfighter (who attempts to pin her down and marry her). Both relationships ended shortly after, and caused great pain to the male characters involved. Jake’s realization here is that sex with Brett may have left their relationship in tatters as well. Without sex, the two can maintain a friendship, and can share in the comforting, though perhaps illusory idea that they would have been good and happy together, if only circumstances had allowed.