The Sun Also Rises

by

Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises: Motifs 5 key examples

Definition of Motif
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the central themes of a book... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of related symbols, help develop the... read full definition
A motif is an element or idea that recurs throughout a work of literature. Motifs, which are often collections of... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Boxing :

From the very beginning of the book, boxing emerges as a significant sport. At once violent and athletic, it becomes a motif that represents a potent brand of masculinity. In Chapter 1, Robert is described as a prodigious college boxer who is drawn into the sport—reluctantly—as a means to secure this masculinity:

He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose.

Throughout The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway continues to reference boxing. The reader’s first introduction to Bill Gorton, in Chapter 8, sees the character give a lengthy account of a fight in Vienna. Later in the same chapter, Bill tries to rally his friends to see a fight together:

“There’s a fight to-night,” Bill said. “Like to go?”

“Fight,” said Mike. “Who’s fighting?”

“Ledoux and somebody.”

“He’s very good, Ledoux,” Mike said. “I’d like to see it, rather”—he was making an effort to pull himself together—“but I can’t go. I had a date with this thing here. I say, Brett, do get a new hat.”

While Jake and his band of expatriates find entertainment in boxing as a competitive sport and an opportunity to gamble in Paris, any idea of boxing as a unique masculine ideal is quickly dashed upon arrival in Pamplona. There, the bullfight reigns supreme as the dominant cultural phenomenon, but Jake, Mike, and Robert still end up fighting: 

I swung at him and he ducked. I saw his face duck sideways in the light. He hit me and I sat down on the pavement. As I started to get on my feet he hit me twice. I went down backward under a table. I tried to get up and felt I did not have any legs. I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair.

This scene, though not a formal boxing match, has all the physicality of one. Hemingway creates a juxtaposition between the brute violence of boxing and the stunning elegance and athleticism of bullfighting that is omnipresent throughout the portion of the novel set in Pamplona. As a motif, Hemingway uses boxing as an opportunity to explore the competitive spirit of Jake and his friends before complicating—and threatening—their conception of its importance by introducing Romero and the world of bullfighting.

Explanation and Analysis—Robert's Jewishness:

Robert Cohn is a frequent source of ire for Jake and his expatriate cadre in The Sun Also Rises. The main reason for this irritation is his incessant pursuit of Brett even in front of her various other lovers, such as Romero, Mike (her husband-to-be), and Jake himself. Most often, the other characters in the novel either list his Jewishness as another disagreeable quality or attribute his unfavorable qualities to his Jewishness. His friends constantly remark on the fact that Robert is Jewish, to the extent that Robert’s cultural and religious identity becomes a major motif in the story.

This motif is established in the opening pages of Chapter 1, when Jake remarks that Robert must have been ostracized in college:

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton.

For Robert, boxing emerges as a means to assert himself—his masculinity and his athleticism—despite the antisemitic perception that he is inferior due to his Jewishness. Despite his prowess in the ring, however, he continues to receive accusations of his inferiority, primarily from Mike. Robert’s Jewishness becomes a frequent subject of Mike’s drunken rants, as in Chapter 13:

“He was an ass, though. He came down to San Sebastian where he damn well wasn’t wanted. He hung around Brett and just looked at her. It made me damned well sick.”

“He did behave very badly,” Brett said.

“Mark you. Brett’s had affairs with men before. She tells me all about everything. She gave me this chap Cohn’s letters to read. I wouldn’t read them.”

“Damned noble of you.”

“No, listen, Jake. Brett’s gone off with men. But they weren’t ever Jews, and they didn’t come and hang about afterward.”

In Mike’s eyes, the problem isn’t so much that Brett is having affairs with other men. The problem is that she had an affair with a Jewish person, and, further, that he—Robert—has continued to spend time with Brett even when he isn't wanted.

As a motif, Robert’s Jewishness intersects with the themes of masculinity and insecurity that pervade the novel. At once a source of insecurity for Robert himself, his very existence and fling with Brett are enough to highlight Mike’s own insecurities as Brett’s betrothed. Mike’s antisemitism, virulent though it may be, is not out of place for the era in which Hemingway set his tale. In the aftermath of the First World War, antisemitism metastasized throughout Europe and would eventually enable the conditions that led to the Nazi party’s rise in Germany and the onset of the Second World War.

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Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—The Impact of War:

No part of The Sun Also Rises is set during World War I, and yet the impression of those bloody years is felt everywhere in the novel. The trauma of the war is felt through the erratic and morally ambiguous behavior of the main characters and often goes unspoken. On certain occasions, however, Jake makes explicit reference to the experience in the war. In Chapter 3, when getting to know Georgette, Jake references his own injury for the first time:

We had another bottle of wine and Georgette made a joke. She smiled and showed all her bad teeth, and we touched glasses. “You’re not a bad type,” she said. “It’s a shame you’re sick. We get on well. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

“I got hurt in the war,” I said.

“Oh, that dirty war.”

Gradually, as the book continues, it becomes clear that the injury left Jake impotent. This is first mentioned explicitly by Bill, as a purported rumor about Jake, in Chapter 12:

“You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent.”

“No,” I said. “I just had an accident.”

“Never mention that,” Bill said. “That’s the sort of thing that can’t be spoken of. That’s what you ought to work up into a mystery. Like Henry’s bicycle.”

He had been going splendidly, but he stopped. I was afraid he thought he had hurt me with that crack about being impotent. I wanted to start him again.

For the first time, the reader begins to understand the extent of Jake’s predicament. His impotence is a floating rumor, and yet also something “that can’t be spoken of”—this, it seems, is the reality of a veteran of the war; Jake is both irreparably damaged by the conflict and unable to discuss it.

On still another occasion, in Chapter 13, Jake remarks on the similarity between his camaraderie with his friends in Pamplona and his experience with his fellow soldiers during the war:

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

With this observation, Jake reveals just how alcohol is such a potent intoxicate for him. Wine is a tool that Jake can use to ignore the tension, to ignore his own complex emotion, and to cast aside the inevitabilities of reality. For Jake, wine brings at least temporary reprieve from his suffering.

The impact of the war, though referenced explicitly only on spare occasions throughout the novel, emerges as a motif with a looming influence of the life of a member of the Lost Generation in the 1920s.

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Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Boxing :

From the very beginning of the book, boxing emerges as a significant sport. At once violent and athletic, it becomes a motif that represents a potent brand of masculinity. In Chapter 1, Robert is described as a prodigious college boxer who is drawn into the sport—reluctantly—as a means to secure this masculinity:

He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose.

Throughout The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway continues to reference boxing. The reader’s first introduction to Bill Gorton, in Chapter 8, sees the character give a lengthy account of a fight in Vienna. Later in the same chapter, Bill tries to rally his friends to see a fight together:

“There’s a fight to-night,” Bill said. “Like to go?”

“Fight,” said Mike. “Who’s fighting?”

“Ledoux and somebody.”

“He’s very good, Ledoux,” Mike said. “I’d like to see it, rather”—he was making an effort to pull himself together—“but I can’t go. I had a date with this thing here. I say, Brett, do get a new hat.”

While Jake and his band of expatriates find entertainment in boxing as a competitive sport and an opportunity to gamble in Paris, any idea of boxing as a unique masculine ideal is quickly dashed upon arrival in Pamplona. There, the bullfight reigns supreme as the dominant cultural phenomenon, but Jake, Mike, and Robert still end up fighting: 

I swung at him and he ducked. I saw his face duck sideways in the light. He hit me and I sat down on the pavement. As I started to get on my feet he hit me twice. I went down backward under a table. I tried to get up and felt I did not have any legs. I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair.

This scene, though not a formal boxing match, has all the physicality of one. Hemingway creates a juxtaposition between the brute violence of boxing and the stunning elegance and athleticism of bullfighting that is omnipresent throughout the portion of the novel set in Pamplona. As a motif, Hemingway uses boxing as an opportunity to explore the competitive spirit of Jake and his friends before complicating—and threatening—their conception of its importance by introducing Romero and the world of bullfighting.

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Chapter 12
Explanation and Analysis—The Impact of War:

No part of The Sun Also Rises is set during World War I, and yet the impression of those bloody years is felt everywhere in the novel. The trauma of the war is felt through the erratic and morally ambiguous behavior of the main characters and often goes unspoken. On certain occasions, however, Jake makes explicit reference to the experience in the war. In Chapter 3, when getting to know Georgette, Jake references his own injury for the first time:

We had another bottle of wine and Georgette made a joke. She smiled and showed all her bad teeth, and we touched glasses. “You’re not a bad type,” she said. “It’s a shame you’re sick. We get on well. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

“I got hurt in the war,” I said.

“Oh, that dirty war.”

Gradually, as the book continues, it becomes clear that the injury left Jake impotent. This is first mentioned explicitly by Bill, as a purported rumor about Jake, in Chapter 12:

“You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent.”

“No,” I said. “I just had an accident.”

“Never mention that,” Bill said. “That’s the sort of thing that can’t be spoken of. That’s what you ought to work up into a mystery. Like Henry’s bicycle.”

He had been going splendidly, but he stopped. I was afraid he thought he had hurt me with that crack about being impotent. I wanted to start him again.

For the first time, the reader begins to understand the extent of Jake’s predicament. His impotence is a floating rumor, and yet also something “that can’t be spoken of”—this, it seems, is the reality of a veteran of the war; Jake is both irreparably damaged by the conflict and unable to discuss it.

On still another occasion, in Chapter 13, Jake remarks on the similarity between his camaraderie with his friends in Pamplona and his experience with his fellow soldiers during the war:

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

With this observation, Jake reveals just how alcohol is such a potent intoxicate for him. Wine is a tool that Jake can use to ignore the tension, to ignore his own complex emotion, and to cast aside the inevitabilities of reality. For Jake, wine brings at least temporary reprieve from his suffering.

The impact of the war, though referenced explicitly only on spare occasions throughout the novel, emerges as a motif with a looming influence of the life of a member of the Lost Generation in the 1920s.

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Chapter 13
Explanation and Analysis—Robert's Jewishness:

Robert Cohn is a frequent source of ire for Jake and his expatriate cadre in The Sun Also Rises. The main reason for this irritation is his incessant pursuit of Brett even in front of her various other lovers, such as Romero, Mike (her husband-to-be), and Jake himself. Most often, the other characters in the novel either list his Jewishness as another disagreeable quality or attribute his unfavorable qualities to his Jewishness. His friends constantly remark on the fact that Robert is Jewish, to the extent that Robert’s cultural and religious identity becomes a major motif in the story.

This motif is established in the opening pages of Chapter 1, when Jake remarks that Robert must have been ostracized in college:

Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton.

For Robert, boxing emerges as a means to assert himself—his masculinity and his athleticism—despite the antisemitic perception that he is inferior due to his Jewishness. Despite his prowess in the ring, however, he continues to receive accusations of his inferiority, primarily from Mike. Robert’s Jewishness becomes a frequent subject of Mike’s drunken rants, as in Chapter 13:

“He was an ass, though. He came down to San Sebastian where he damn well wasn’t wanted. He hung around Brett and just looked at her. It made me damned well sick.”

“He did behave very badly,” Brett said.

“Mark you. Brett’s had affairs with men before. She tells me all about everything. She gave me this chap Cohn’s letters to read. I wouldn’t read them.”

“Damned noble of you.”

“No, listen, Jake. Brett’s gone off with men. But they weren’t ever Jews, and they didn’t come and hang about afterward.”

In Mike’s eyes, the problem isn’t so much that Brett is having affairs with other men. The problem is that she had an affair with a Jewish person, and, further, that he—Robert—has continued to spend time with Brett even when he isn't wanted.

As a motif, Robert’s Jewishness intersects with the themes of masculinity and insecurity that pervade the novel. At once a source of insecurity for Robert himself, his very existence and fling with Brett are enough to highlight Mike’s own insecurities as Brett’s betrothed. Mike’s antisemitism, virulent though it may be, is not out of place for the era in which Hemingway set his tale. In the aftermath of the First World War, antisemitism metastasized throughout Europe and would eventually enable the conditions that led to the Nazi party’s rise in Germany and the onset of the Second World War.

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Explanation and Analysis—The Impact of War:

No part of The Sun Also Rises is set during World War I, and yet the impression of those bloody years is felt everywhere in the novel. The trauma of the war is felt through the erratic and morally ambiguous behavior of the main characters and often goes unspoken. On certain occasions, however, Jake makes explicit reference to the experience in the war. In Chapter 3, when getting to know Georgette, Jake references his own injury for the first time:

We had another bottle of wine and Georgette made a joke. She smiled and showed all her bad teeth, and we touched glasses. “You’re not a bad type,” she said. “It’s a shame you’re sick. We get on well. What’s the matter with you, anyway?”

“I got hurt in the war,” I said.

“Oh, that dirty war.”

Gradually, as the book continues, it becomes clear that the injury left Jake impotent. This is first mentioned explicitly by Bill, as a purported rumor about Jake, in Chapter 12:

“You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent.”

“No,” I said. “I just had an accident.”

“Never mention that,” Bill said. “That’s the sort of thing that can’t be spoken of. That’s what you ought to work up into a mystery. Like Henry’s bicycle.”

He had been going splendidly, but he stopped. I was afraid he thought he had hurt me with that crack about being impotent. I wanted to start him again.

For the first time, the reader begins to understand the extent of Jake’s predicament. His impotence is a floating rumor, and yet also something “that can’t be spoken of”—this, it seems, is the reality of a veteran of the war; Jake is both irreparably damaged by the conflict and unable to discuss it.

On still another occasion, in Chapter 13, Jake remarks on the similarity between his camaraderie with his friends in Pamplona and his experience with his fellow soldiers during the war:

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people.

With this observation, Jake reveals just how alcohol is such a potent intoxicate for him. Wine is a tool that Jake can use to ignore the tension, to ignore his own complex emotion, and to cast aside the inevitabilities of reality. For Jake, wine brings at least temporary reprieve from his suffering.

The impact of the war, though referenced explicitly only on spare occasions throughout the novel, emerges as a motif with a looming influence of the life of a member of the Lost Generation in the 1920s.

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Chapter 14
Explanation and Analysis—Alcoholism:

Wine, beer, and various types of liquor are everywhere in The Sun Also Rises. Hardly a page goes by where a character is not in some stage of intoxication. In Chapter 14, as he lies in a drunken stupor, Jake thinks about each of his friends in terms of what they're like when they're drunk:

I wished Mike would not behave so terribly to Cohn, though. Mike was a bad drunk. Brett was a good drunk. Bill was a good drunk. Cohn was never drunk.

The alcoholism of the main cast of the novel reflects the changing morality and spiritual depression of the 1920s and the effects of the void left by the war; alcohol emerges as a primary coping mechanism for Jake and his compatriots to deal with their predicament. Eventually, the alcohol begins to take a toll on the relationships of the various characters. At the very end of the novel, in Chapter 19, Brett calls to Jake’s own impulse to drink:

“Let’s get two bottles,” I said. The bottles came. I poured a little in my glass, then a glass for Brett, then filled my glass. We touched glasses.

“Bung-o!” Brett said. I drank my glass and poured out another. Brett put her hand on my arm.

“Don’t get drunk, Jake,” she said. “You don’t have to.”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t,” she said. “You’ll be all right.”

“I’m not getting drunk,” I said. “I’m just drinking a little wine. I like to drink wine.”

“Don’t get drunk,” she said. “Jake, don’t get drunk.”

Brett’s suggestion that Jake not drink can be taken as more than a simple gesture; she is telling him that there's nothing forcing him to constantly drink. Yet Jake has been irreparably damaged in the war and further emotionally tormented by his inability to love Brett fully. He does not believe that Brett understands the extent to which he feels the compulsion to drink. This is the mentality of the Lost Generation: as Jake tries to find reasons to keep living, the intoxicating effects of alcohol provide an easy answer.

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Chapter 17
Explanation and Analysis—Boxing :

From the very beginning of the book, boxing emerges as a significant sport. At once violent and athletic, it becomes a motif that represents a potent brand of masculinity. In Chapter 1, Robert is described as a prodigious college boxer who is drawn into the sport—reluctantly—as a means to secure this masculinity:

He was so good that Spider promptly overmatched him and got his nose permanently flattened. This increased Cohn’s distaste for boxing, but it gave him a certain satisfaction of some strange sort, and it certainly improved his nose.

Throughout The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway continues to reference boxing. The reader’s first introduction to Bill Gorton, in Chapter 8, sees the character give a lengthy account of a fight in Vienna. Later in the same chapter, Bill tries to rally his friends to see a fight together:

“There’s a fight to-night,” Bill said. “Like to go?”

“Fight,” said Mike. “Who’s fighting?”

“Ledoux and somebody.”

“He’s very good, Ledoux,” Mike said. “I’d like to see it, rather”—he was making an effort to pull himself together—“but I can’t go. I had a date with this thing here. I say, Brett, do get a new hat.”

While Jake and his band of expatriates find entertainment in boxing as a competitive sport and an opportunity to gamble in Paris, any idea of boxing as a unique masculine ideal is quickly dashed upon arrival in Pamplona. There, the bullfight reigns supreme as the dominant cultural phenomenon, but Jake, Mike, and Robert still end up fighting: 

I swung at him and he ducked. I saw his face duck sideways in the light. He hit me and I sat down on the pavement. As I started to get on my feet he hit me twice. I went down backward under a table. I tried to get up and felt I did not have any legs. I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair.

This scene, though not a formal boxing match, has all the physicality of one. Hemingway creates a juxtaposition between the brute violence of boxing and the stunning elegance and athleticism of bullfighting that is omnipresent throughout the portion of the novel set in Pamplona. As a motif, Hemingway uses boxing as an opportunity to explore the competitive spirit of Jake and his friends before complicating—and threatening—their conception of its importance by introducing Romero and the world of bullfighting.

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Explanation and Analysis—Purifying Water:

On numerous occasions in the novel, the characters use water as a source of cleanliness, refreshment, and sobriety. Juxtaposed against the near-constant inebriation of Jake and his friends, water emerges as a purification motif that provides some respite from the chaos of the roaring expatriate lifestyle.

Brett and Jake in particular express a frequent desire to bathe as a way to reset themselves after travel, a night out, or a particularly intense experience. In Chapter 17, after Robert successfully knocks Jake to the ground, he is doused with water:

I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair. Mike was pulling at my ears.

Later that same evening, Jake’s desire for a warm bath distracts him from his reconciliation with Robert:

I stood by the door. It was just like this that I had come home. Now it was a hot bath that I needed. A deep, hot bath, to lie back in.

“Where’s the bathroom?” I asked.

Cohn was crying. […]

“I’m sorry, Jake. Please forgive me.”

“Forgive you, hell.”

“Please forgive me, Jake.”

I did not say anything. I stood there by the door.

“I was crazy. You must see how it was.”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“I couldn’t stand it about Brett.”

“You called me a pimp.”

I did not care. I wanted a hot bath. I wanted a hot bath in deep water.

For Jake, the bath offers what the conversation cannot—a chance to rest, a chance to clean up, and a chance to recharge. Later, while fishing, he will remark how the cold water up in Bruguete renders the fish he catches there especially beautiful; he describes these fish as “beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water.” The episode spent fishing with Bill, in fact, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the book due to the relative lack of intoxication and argument and distraction. In the bucolic stream, Jake gets a reprieve from his failed romance with Brett and the constant irritation of Cohn.

Toward the end of the book, in Chapter 19, Jake will again find consolation in water—this time in the sea—as he swims, alone, before rejoining Brett:

I swam out, trying to swim through the rollers, but having to dive sometimes. Then in the quiet water I turned and floated. Floating I saw only the sky, and felt the drop and lift of the swells. I swam back to the surf and coasted in, face down, on a big roller, then turned and swam, trying to keep in the trough and not have a wave break over me. It made me tired, swimming in the trough, and I turned and swam out to the raft. The water was buoyant and cold. It felt as though you could never sink.

Here, the salt water is a literal support for Jake. The ocean holds him aloft, and he swims along without thoughts of his friends or the chaotic festival or his relationship to Brett. The seawater is a source of peace and solitude, where the rest of the book is marked by the constant stream of alcohol-soaked interactions with others. As a motif, water is the opposite of alcohol—a source of an almost spiritual rest.

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Chapter 19
Explanation and Analysis—Purifying Water:

On numerous occasions in the novel, the characters use water as a source of cleanliness, refreshment, and sobriety. Juxtaposed against the near-constant inebriation of Jake and his friends, water emerges as a purification motif that provides some respite from the chaos of the roaring expatriate lifestyle.

Brett and Jake in particular express a frequent desire to bathe as a way to reset themselves after travel, a night out, or a particularly intense experience. In Chapter 17, after Robert successfully knocks Jake to the ground, he is doused with water:

I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair. Mike was pulling at my ears.

Later that same evening, Jake’s desire for a warm bath distracts him from his reconciliation with Robert:

I stood by the door. It was just like this that I had come home. Now it was a hot bath that I needed. A deep, hot bath, to lie back in.

“Where’s the bathroom?” I asked.

Cohn was crying. […]

“I’m sorry, Jake. Please forgive me.”

“Forgive you, hell.”

“Please forgive me, Jake.”

I did not say anything. I stood there by the door.

“I was crazy. You must see how it was.”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“I couldn’t stand it about Brett.”

“You called me a pimp.”

I did not care. I wanted a hot bath. I wanted a hot bath in deep water.

For Jake, the bath offers what the conversation cannot—a chance to rest, a chance to clean up, and a chance to recharge. Later, while fishing, he will remark how the cold water up in Bruguete renders the fish he catches there especially beautiful; he describes these fish as “beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water.” The episode spent fishing with Bill, in fact, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the book due to the relative lack of intoxication and argument and distraction. In the bucolic stream, Jake gets a reprieve from his failed romance with Brett and the constant irritation of Cohn.

Toward the end of the book, in Chapter 19, Jake will again find consolation in water—this time in the sea—as he swims, alone, before rejoining Brett:

I swam out, trying to swim through the rollers, but having to dive sometimes. Then in the quiet water I turned and floated. Floating I saw only the sky, and felt the drop and lift of the swells. I swam back to the surf and coasted in, face down, on a big roller, then turned and swam, trying to keep in the trough and not have a wave break over me. It made me tired, swimming in the trough, and I turned and swam out to the raft. The water was buoyant and cold. It felt as though you could never sink.

Here, the salt water is a literal support for Jake. The ocean holds him aloft, and he swims along without thoughts of his friends or the chaotic festival or his relationship to Brett. The seawater is a source of peace and solitude, where the rest of the book is marked by the constant stream of alcohol-soaked interactions with others. As a motif, water is the opposite of alcohol—a source of an almost spiritual rest.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis—Alcoholism:

Wine, beer, and various types of liquor are everywhere in The Sun Also Rises. Hardly a page goes by where a character is not in some stage of intoxication. In Chapter 14, as he lies in a drunken stupor, Jake thinks about each of his friends in terms of what they're like when they're drunk:

I wished Mike would not behave so terribly to Cohn, though. Mike was a bad drunk. Brett was a good drunk. Bill was a good drunk. Cohn was never drunk.

The alcoholism of the main cast of the novel reflects the changing morality and spiritual depression of the 1920s and the effects of the void left by the war; alcohol emerges as a primary coping mechanism for Jake and his compatriots to deal with their predicament. Eventually, the alcohol begins to take a toll on the relationships of the various characters. At the very end of the novel, in Chapter 19, Brett calls to Jake’s own impulse to drink:

“Let’s get two bottles,” I said. The bottles came. I poured a little in my glass, then a glass for Brett, then filled my glass. We touched glasses.

“Bung-o!” Brett said. I drank my glass and poured out another. Brett put her hand on my arm.

“Don’t get drunk, Jake,” she said. “You don’t have to.”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t,” she said. “You’ll be all right.”

“I’m not getting drunk,” I said. “I’m just drinking a little wine. I like to drink wine.”

“Don’t get drunk,” she said. “Jake, don’t get drunk.”

Brett’s suggestion that Jake not drink can be taken as more than a simple gesture; she is telling him that there's nothing forcing him to constantly drink. Yet Jake has been irreparably damaged in the war and further emotionally tormented by his inability to love Brett fully. He does not believe that Brett understands the extent to which he feels the compulsion to drink. This is the mentality of the Lost Generation: as Jake tries to find reasons to keep living, the intoxicating effects of alcohol provide an easy answer.

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