The Sun Also Rises

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Themes and Colors
The Lost Generation Theme Icon
Sport Theme Icon
Masculinity and Insecurity Theme Icon
Sex and Love Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
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.
Sport Theme Icon

From Robert Cohn the boxer to Pedro Romero the bullfighter, the characters of The Sun Also Rises compete and combat in various sporting events for honor and to impress the insatiable Brett. Whenever a trip is proposed, there is usually some sporting reason—Jake and Bill Gorton travel to Spain to fish, and the whole crowd is drawn to the bullfighting at the fiesta. Sport provides an escape for Jake and his friends from what they see as the meaninglessness of the rest of their lives. Sports have rules, and those rules define winners and losers, define beauty and skill.

And yet, like World War I erupting from the carefully balanced tensions of Europe in the 1910s, for the characters of The Sun Also Rises, the matches spill over from the arenas onto the streets of Pamplona, into the bars and cafes. Violence that should be controlled becomes threatening. A man is killed by a bull outside Pedro Romero's bullfight. And the male characters' competition over the careless, rule-breaking Brett turns them into sportsmen of sorts, competitors for her love. Rules, tactics, and victories in the form of insults or emotional injuries become "moves" in the game of social power. When Robert Cohn boxes at Princeton, he refuses to fight anyone outside of the ring. He follows the rules of sport and honor. But as Robert becomes unhinged by his obsession with Brett, he starts a brawl.

Sport ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Sun Also Rises related to the theme of Sport.
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 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 15 Quotes
At noon on Sunday, July 6th, the fiesta exploded. There was no other way to describe it. – Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker)
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

This line opens chapter 15, the point at which Hemingway formally introduces us to the San Fermin fiesta of 1924. Jake spends the rest of the chapter chronicling the festival’s happenings, here describing the opening as an explosion.

To Jake, the word “explosion” probably connotes war, and the similarities between the festival’s opening and a battle’s first attack merit further attention. Bombing opens the floodgates for mayhem, disrupting in an instant the rules that typically govern civil life. In the fiestas, such a disturbance is in the name of celebration; it is an explosion of positive energy, a necessary release of tension, as the entire city shifts its attention to sport (in bullfighting) and leisure (in dancing, drinking, song). It is not surprising that the fiesta has such appeal to our protagonists, though their release of tension may in the end more closely resemble a war than a party.

Chapter 18 Quotes
"Well, it was a swell fiesta."
"Yes," I said; "something doing all the time."
"You wouldn't believe it. It's like a wonderful nightmare."
"Sure," I said. "I'd believe anything. Including nightmares."
Bill and Jake
Related Characters: Jake Barnes (speaker), Bill Gorton (speaker)
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

After Romero’s triumphant bullfight, Bill and Jake go back to the hotel to eat, and in these lines acknowledge that the fiesta has ended. Reminiscent of how Jake struggles to really describe what the fiesta was like when it started (recall that for Jake there wasn’t any other way to describe it than as an “explosion”), Bill offers an oxymoron: the fiesta is a “wonderful nightmare”. Though it’s true that Bill seems to use the word “wonderful” gratuitously (see his description of the euro-trip in chapter 8), his description of the festival—at once awesome and frightening—contains real insight.

It seems to capture this central aspect of the festival, and, for that matter, of the novel: the meeting of positive and negative energy. Bullfighting is perhaps the most concrete example – man and nature collide in a spectacle of sport that brings great enjoyment, and yet finishes in the gruesome death of a beautiful creature. For many, this art is a “wonderful,” riveting sport, but there is no ignoring the nightmarish brutality of the bulls’ end.

We might also extend Bill’s phrase a “wonderful nightmare” to romance in The Sun Also Rises: love is, at once, intensely enjoyable and painful. By this point in the novel, love (specifically, the male characters’ love for Brett) has lifted and inspired a few men, and has also destroyed them, disrupting friendships along the way. Jake, perhaps more than anyone, seems to have experienced the nightmarish side of “wonderful” love.