Friday, June 15, 2007

The Sun Also Rises

No, this isn't some big philosophical post about how better days will come. It's literal.

Aw, man. Even that sounds like a pun, in context.

Forget the whole titling thing. I want to talk about The Sun Also Rises, the Hemingway novel. If you've never read the novel and you think you might someday, then I suggest that you stop reading right now, because the rest of this post is about how the last line of the novel changes everything that came before.

That's quite a device today, especially in film. Kevin Spacey suddenly walking upright in the last frames of The Usual Suspects springs to mind, for instance. But in the twenties? It seems to me not so much. Maybe some literary scholar will read this (because all the top literary scholars read my blog, of course), and step forth to tell me how wrong I am and provide a list of other examples--I think I'd be fine with that, and probably run straight out to read those books and analyze the trend. Because what fascinates me is that Hemingway seems to have done it decades before it became a common device and no one seems to have noticed!

I've read a lot of essays on The Sun Also Rises, and engaged in a lot of discussions, some in college classrooms and some over drinks late at night and some on the truly incredible Lost Generation forum, where the knowledge base is dazzling. There's always a lot of talk, of course, about the significance of that last line, but it's always presented as a change, a learning moment, character development.

Nuh uh. I don't think so. (This is the part you won't want to read if you haven't read the book and think you might someday)

I think he knew all along.

I think that famous last line is so very powerful precisely because it shifts the context of everything that came before. He was never fooling himself! He accepts what he accepts and he makes the decisions he makes without buying into the illusion, without believing that if it weren't for his injury, it would be happily ever after.

Even Brett seems to buy into that illusion, and she's the reason it could never be. She'd be the one to find some other reason to stray, to walk away, to come and go, to hold back something...and yet she thinks, "if only". Jake, it becomes clear in that last sentence, doesn't think "if only" at all--or if he does, it's a very different "if only" from the one that's tossed in front of us throughout the book.

I love the book, but that's the thing I love most about it. The thing every other student of Hemingway I've encountered seems to think I've made up.


CK Holder said...

That's pretty funny. I wish I knew where my copy was because I can't remember the ending.

I was with a boyfriend once at an improv club and they asked the audience for the name of a book. My boyfriend yelled out, "A Son Also Rises," and the guy says, "Great, The Sun Also Rises," my boyfriend actually corrected him by saying "A Son." I assume that he meant "son" and not "sun" but who knows what he was thinking - but he didn't know the book. :)

Anonymous said...

I just finished the book and went looking for comments on the last line. I hope you are still there!
First, I agree with you that Jake does not buy Brett illusion. He has not throughout the story.
Second, my first thought when I read the last line was that the story was written to justify this beautiful last line. Hemingway started at the end and built a story.
Third, my subsequent thoughts are about sexuality and the fact that Hemingway could not comprehend the possibility that Jake could have a loving relationship with an adult woman in spite of impotence. 80 years ago it was not discussed. Today it is rarely discussed as a possibility but I have no doubt that it happens.