Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises” portrays a world in which the traditional idea of masculinity is called into question in the aftermath of World War I. The novel’s main character, Jake Barnes, is a veteran of the war who has been left impotent as a result of a combat injury. This physical emasculation is mirrored by a broader sense of emotional and psychological dislocation felt by many of the novel’s characters, who are struggling to find their place in a world that has been upended by the war.
One of the key ways in which the novel explores changing ideas of masculinity is through its portrayal of the bullfighting culture of Spain. Bullfighting is traditionally seen as a highly masculine pursuit, requiring courage, strength, and skill. However, the novel’s portrayal of bullfighting is highly ambivalent, with the characters struggling to reconcile their admiration for the spectacle with their discomfort at the violence and brutality of the sport.
The character of Pedro Romero, a young and gifted bullfighter, is a key example of the novel’s exploration of changing ideas of masculinity. Romero embodies a new kind of masculinity, one that is less overtly aggressive and more refined and aesthetic. His skill as a bullfighter is not just a matter of brute strength, but of grace, style, and precision. In contrast to the other male characters in the novel, who are often portrayed as crude, violent, and emotionally stunted, Romero is depicted as sensitive, intelligent, and attuned to the beauty of the world around him.
At the same time, however, the novel is also critical of Romero’s vision of masculinity. His emphasis on style and form is seen as disconnected from the reality of the world, and his devotion to the art of bullfighting is portrayed as a kind of self-indulgence that is out of touch with the harsh realities of life.
Overall, the novel’s exploration of changing ideas of masculinity reflects the broader cultural and social changes that were taking place in the aftermath of World War I. The traditional idea of masculinity, based on physical strength, aggression, and dominance, was called into question by the war’s massive casualties and its destabilizing effect on social and cultural norms.
Hemingway’s own experiences as a veteran of the war informed his depiction of the challenges facing men in the aftermath of the conflict. Like Jake Barnes, Hemingway was wounded in the war, and his experiences led him to question the traditional values and beliefs that had shaped his understanding of masculinity.
In “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway portrays a world in which the traditional idea of masculinity is in crisis, with men struggling to find their place in a society that has been transformed by war and social change. The novel’s exploration of these themes is complex and nuanced, and reflects Hemingway’s own ambivalence about the changing roles and expectations of men in the modern world.
Overall, “The Sun Also Rises” is a powerful exploration of the challenges facing men in the aftermath of World War I, and a testament to Hemingway’s ability to capture the complex emotional and psychological realities of his time. The novel’s portrayal of changing ideas of masculinity continues to resonate with readers today, and serves as a reminder of the ongoing evolution of gender roles and expectations in our society.