English Literature » Notes » The Sun Also Rises: The Lost Generation

The Sun Also Rises: The Lost Generation

When we carefully study the main trends and events of the 19th century it becomes quite clear that the advancement of science and industrial rise transformed man’s outlook and affected every walk of life. Darwin’s epoch-making theory of evolution added fuel to fire which crumbled the powerful roots of Christianity because it challenged the very fundamental teachings of the Bible. During this century mankind enjoyed global peace and stability and almost for one hundred years there had been no large-scale continental war. The scientific and industrial evolution made physical life more comfortable, complacent and social and it as thought that man had conquered the beast in himself and learned to live with his fellowmen harmoniously. On the other hand, this century is also remarkable for the mass-production of the fatal weapons of war which made modern war no longer a matter of man’s facing his enemy and with the out break of the first world war both the opponent groups do played such horrible weapons which wiped out humanity and devoured Europe like a horde of locusts. Whatever the steps were taken was undone by the unexpected development in the techniques of war because man had no experience of battle against machines. Daily newspapers were full of mass-rapes, child-slaughters and reports of poison gas. So, the men who had entered war with patriotic ideas to assert their honour, courage glory and manhood were stunned at man’s inherent barbarity. When they realized this horrible uncertainty, pettiness and meaninglessness of life, they were desperately disappointed and disillusioned. This generation which had witnessed the utter debasement of life, hollowness and emptiness of the high-sounding slogans of religious and political leaders was called “the lost generation”.

The phrase “The lost generation” got attention when Hemingway used Gertrude Stein’s remark “You are all a lost generation” in the front piece of “The Sun Also Rises”. After his exploits in the First World War Hemingway was unable, like Jake Barnes, to settle down and seek in activity some cure for the loss of faith and idealism. Instead of returning to America, he became an expatriate and settled in Paris, like several other young writers, with thousands of other expatriates who had taken part in World War I. These rootless members of ‘lost generation’ had fought so well but now they had been found useless in peacetime world. They were naturally embittered at the treatment they had received for having risked their lives in combat. They went through heart-breaking anguish and relied upon each other for support because their agony was impenetrate to the comprehension of others. They were fully aware of the illusory nature of social ideals. Having nothing, no code, no belief, which would serve in place of those social ideals, this generation, found itself morally a flout and each member of this generation was trying to create his own ideal or rules of conduct. In Hemingway’s work the meaning of the lost generation is not the generation that is lost in the sense that it is ruined and destroyed but the generation that is unable to find the way and which is in the quest of values. If we want to have a true understanding of The Sun Also Rises, we are to understand the nature of the ‘lostness’ of lost generation. Jean Paul calls this ‘lostness’ as ‘forlornness’ which follows when we understand that:

“God does not exist and we have to face all the consequences of this”.

For Jean Paul:

“Man is forlorn because neither within him or without does he find anything to cling to”.

The Sun Also Rises is mainly opted by this lost generation but the characters are not helpless, profane and dissipated, rather, they constitute a kind of a modern version of man. They assume certain heroic proportion but fall short of any recognizable ideal. Their heroism lies in the extent of their struggle to establish some mode of existence which may fulfill their own vision of good. The Sun Also Rises mainly focuses members of the lost generation who have the courage to see that they are forlorn but they struggle to achieve a way of life that is honourable in the midst of their forlornness.