Sunday, April 29, 2012
The Sun Also Rises
Reading Hemingway in my youth gave me a lust for adventure and travel. I'm settled with a family now, but I can still dip into Papa's stories on a cool spring night with a thunderstorm building in the background.
Reading The Sun Also Rises for the hundredth time gave me an urge to return to Spain. I noticed for the first time that he mentioned Ronda, a town I had visited . And his Spanish fiesta scenes are so well painted. You fall in with a crowd of happy Spaniards and time and cares fall away. I woke up in a nice couple's house one time, embarrassed and startled on their couch. Perhaps past dirty deeds gave me an attack of conscience, but on this occasion I had done nothing wrong. They and their children laughed at the hung-over American visitor they had sheltered, as if they could see into my soul, and then they served me breakfast.
Good literature can be read and re-read, always providing new insights laid upon your accreted experiences. Hemingway is like that. I read The Sun Also Rises first as a callow teenager, the book pressed into my hands by a wonderful teacher who I hated at the time but have since grown to love. I devoured the book, taking it in superficially as one long party scene from France to Spain. Dining, drinking and carousing on every page. I escaped and did my best to emulate, from Bogota to Sevilla, San Juan to Panama, with some European scenery thrown in as well.
I wonder if Hemingway named the latecomer to the story Edna for Edna St Vincent Millay, a fellow member of the Lost Generation? Even in high school, I enjoyed and appreciated the Lost Generation writers as they transported me back to a strange time long ago. The Sun Also Rises captures the meaninglessness of life many felt in post-war Europe.
Later in life, upon rereadings, I picked up the subtleties, the unstated parallel between Barnes and the steers, etc. It took non-stop carousing of my own to realize just how worn-out, hollow and broke it can make you. Promiscuity and excess always take their toll. I had to live some life first to grasp the deeper meanings. Constant partying and socializing (or shopping, eating, watching TV, whatever) in a vain attempt to make yourself happy can have destructive consequences.
Hemingway, without ever directly commenting on it, captures the moral libertinism that World War I left in its bloody, horrible wake. The old order was gone, with nothing yet taking its place. Hemingway's novel is about friendships that sting, jealously and selfishness, and loves that cannot be sincerely consummated. It's about people whose souls have been seared by life, finding out too late that seeking the wrong refuge only makes it worse. It's about life.