The Sun Also Rises is set in the 1920s and predominantly unfolds between Paris, France and Pamplona, Spain. A brief interlude also occurs in Burguete – Auritz, a small town in northern Spain where Jake and Bill go on their fishing trip. The urban locations of Paris and Pamplona host most of the chaos of the novel; Paris is home to a self-destructive litany of writers and artists, while Pamplona brings renewed debauchery thanks to its grand fiesta and bull fights.
Looming large in the recent past is the First World War, which had drawn to a conclusion in 1918 but shapes the behavior and worldview of many of the characters in The Sun Also Rises. The significance of the war is evident from the very opening of the book, where an epigraph from Gertrude Stein greets the reader: “You all are the lost generation.” Indeed, Hemingway’s work emerges as a sweeping testament to just how “lost” the generation of young adults affected by the Great War were. Popularized by the novel, the “Lost Generation” became the name especially for the men who fought in the war and emerged into the 1920s massively traumatized and searching for meaning.
In Paris, Jake's particular band of fellow veterans and friends are united by their expatriate status. As Bill Gorton characterizes this lifestyle in Chapter 12, it is a listless and perhaps even vapid experience:
"You’re an expatriate. One of the worst type. Haven’t you heard that? Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing. Not even in the newspapers.”
He drank the coffee.
“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.”
The novel's exploration of these qualities—the alcoholism, excessive socializing, and incessant courtships of the main cast of characters in The Sun Also Rises—represents Hemingway’s attempt to characterize the erratic and destructive behavior of this generation as it searched for meaning in life.