The Sun Also Rises: How the Lost Generation’s Lives Changed Forever


A quote from Gertrude Stein, the person who coined the term “Lost Generation,” says, “That is what you are. That’s what you all are...All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.” The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway was published in 1926. The story happens after World War One, and it captures the feelings and activities of veterans from both America and Britain. These veterans became known as the Lost Generation after the war because people viewed them as disoriented and directionless in their lives. The main character of this novel is Jake Barnes who was an injured war veteran as well as a journalist. Jake, his friends, and love interest, Brett, are all lost morally, emotionally, and mentally. They are always drunk which leads to fights, one night stands, and lack of foundation. Alcohol is used as a distraction from their actual lives and their feelings from being in the war. Hemingway holds back on the characters mental states, which overall makes them seem empty and lifeless. The theme of this novel is how World War One led to the destructiveness, aimlessness, and insecurities of the Lost Generation.

The Lost Generation became destructive after they returned from the war. The first example of this destructiveness is from Frances when talking to Robert and Jake, “Yes, that’s the way it’s done in the very best families. Robert’s sending me. He’s going to give me two hundred pounds and then I’m going to visit friends. Won’t it be lovely? The friends don’t know about it, yet.” Frances is explaining Robert’s plan to leave her and their relationship peacefully. The main reason why the two cannot be in a relationship with each other any longer is because Robert has commitment issues and refuses to marry Frances although they have been together for years. This is a problem because Frances does want to marry him and have a future together. This quote is the perfect example of the war leading to destructiveness in relationships because most of the men that survived and came back home did not want a serious or long term relationship, they wanted flings and noncommittal relationships with one another. After every war, men come home and no longer want the relationships they had before serving. The main cause of this is because either the men cheated while stationed somewhere away from home, or the women cheated while the men were gone. This was destructive for the creation of families. Another example of this destructiveness is when Mike yells at Robert, “Don’t just sit there looking like a bloody funeral. What if Brett did sleep with you? She’s slept with lots of better people than you.” Mike’s lashing out was a product of alcohol fueled aggression and resentment. His conversation with Robert started because Robert followed Brett around everywhere she went, even if he was not wanted there. This quote is also showing how Brett slept with many people to serve her sexual needs, none of which led to a more serious relationship. This is destructive because Robert is stuck on a person that does not want him back, and Brett is leading people on by having sex with them. The final quote for this section is at the fiesta, “Some dancers formed a circle around Brett and started to dance. They took Bill and me by the arms and put us in the circle. Brett wanted to dance but they did not want her to. They wanted her as an image to dance around.” Jake is explaining how the fiesta turned into a sex fest, and how Brett was the center of attention. Brett is a fertile female, so the men are naturally attracted to her. Many men end up falling in love with her, but they never make it past one date with her usually. Since Brett runs around with every man in town, she is ultimately making the process of dating and marrying very difficult. All in all, the Lost Generation is destructive in the sense of relationships, or lack thereof. 

The Lost Generation experienced many insecurities, especially men, after World War One. The first example of an insecurity is when Jake’s companion, Georgette, is in a restaurant dancing with gay men, “I was very angry. Somehow they always made me angry. I know they are supposed to be amusing, and you should be tolerant, but I wanted to swing on one, any one, anything to shatter that superior, simpering composure.” Georgette and Lady Ashley are at the restaurant dancing around with a group of gay men. This upsets Jake because during the war, he experienced an injury that led to him to no longer have sex. This is an enormous insecurity of his because he views it as no longer having his manhood. The scene at the restaurant angers him because the gay men are successfully flirting and touching the women, and he feels inadequate as a male. This anger urges Jake to fight and destroy his so called competition, even if they are not a threat to him or his love life at all. Another example of insecurity is when Jake says, “Then I thought of her walking up the street and stepping into the car, as I had last seen her, and of course in a little while I felt like hell again. It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.” This is Jake explaining how his insecurity is easy to hide during the day, but at night, when he is alone in bed, he feels most insecure. He is lonely without a companion, but no female would want to be with him and not be able to have sex. Not having intimacy with Brett upsets Jake and reminds him of his broken pieces. Jake’s insecurity leads to him seeing himself as a disappointment and less of a man. The final quote showing insecurity is when the novel turns into a bullfight story, “The steer who had been gored had gotten to his feet and stood against the stone wall. None of the bulls came near him, and he did not attempt to join the herd.” Bulls and steers are symbolism of masculinity, whether they are powerful or weaker. The herds are compared to the insecure veterans in the sense that that stick together for support as well as competition within the group. This comparison to nature could allude to how only the strongest and fittest survive whether it is humans or animals. To conclude, these three quotes all show how insecurities were very common among the men that served in World War One, mainly resulting from injuries. 

Finally, the Lost Generation lived their lives aimlessly and recklessly after the war. The first quote to show aimless behavior is when Frances talks to Jake about her relationship ending, “You see, he was so busy all the time that we were living together, writing on this book, that he doesn’t remember anything about us. So now he’s going out and get some new materials.” This is Frances explaining why Robert is leaving her from her own perspective. She believes that Robert wants to gain freedom and leave the relationship in order to meet someone new. After the war, people lost interest in other people very easily and constantly needed to be with someone newer and fresher. This is most likely a result of commitment issues and living on the edge in fear of another war happening. This is aimless and reckless because during the time, men went from woman to woman creating babies, but leaving instead of making a family. Many relationships were ruined by cheating as well as secret babies. Another example of this behavior is Bill recommending drinking alcohol to solve life problems, “Certainly like to drink,” Bill said. “You ought to try it sometimes, Jake.” Bill relies on his alcohol addiction to overcome daily issues in life as well as his past, which is why he recommends it to Jake. He figures if it works for him, it would work for anyone with problems. People often drink together to relieve their stresses from life as well as their feelings. The Lost Generation, especially the characters in the novel, drank alcohol excessively and aimlessly to block out their real lives and feelings. The last quote to show aimless and reckless behavior is after a fight, “I stood up. I had heard them talking from a long way away. It all seemed like some bad play.” This quote happens after Robert fights and beats up Jake. Jake compares the entire fight to a bad play because he tries to understand the disorientation he feels every day of his life. He does not feel like he is living his own life, he almost feels like a character. This fight brought back war memories because of the violence, and it allowed for him to be isolated, both physically and mentally. Overall, the members of the Lost Generation lived their lives aimlessly and recklessly when they returned home from the war.

In conclusion, the characters in the novel, also known as part of the Lost Generation, experienced many changes after they returned from war. These included male insecurities, aimless and reckless behavior, and destruction within relationships. Many males, including Jake, experienced injuries during World War One that hindered their ability to function sexually, which overall led to insecurities about their manhood. Many men and women were involved in flings and one night stands during this time, which led to the inability to create lasting relationships or even friendships, which became destructive in their lives as well as the lives of those around them. Aimless and reckless behavior such as drinking excessively were also a result of the war and it led to many consequences for the characters in the novel. All in all, this generation suffered from isolation and apathy within their lives.

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