The Sun Also Rises, and the Sun Goes Down: Hemingway and the Lost Generation

I recently finished Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises.  It is widely considered one of his best and most recognizable works.  While I did enjoy it, A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea will always have a special place in my heart as my favorite Hemingway novels.  That being said, comparing his first work to his others is a tad unfair.  A Farewell to Arms is an epic war novel and The Old Man and the Sea is an enduring fable in the form of a novella.  The Sun Also Rises does not contain a strong plot, however, it is a character study of the so-called “Lost Generation”, which I found was something I could still relate to in a book that was published in the 1920’s. 

“The Lost Generation” was the name dedicated to the generation of young adults that went through a coming of age during World War I.  It consisted of writers and artists such as Hemingway himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Franz Kafka, James Joyce and several others. Gertrude Stein, a mentor of Hemingway’s, is attributed to coining the phrase.  She claimed to have heard the phrase after a young mechanic who was working on her car was being ridiculed by his boss, accusing him of being a part of a “generation perdue (or, lost generation).”  Stein elaborated to Hemingway, “Lost means not vanished but disoriented, wandering, directionless – a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war’s survivors in the early years.”  Ernest Hemingway expanded on the idea in The Sun Also Rises, but explained to his editor that the point of the book was centered on the characters being “battered”, not lost. 

 I can definitely see where Hemingway comes from in his statement.  The characters in his novel are not exactly lost, but simply living.  They spend their time in France and Spain enjoying themselves, recovering physically and mentally from their involvement in the war.  They are not lost, but merely standing still.  The characters are not completely sure of what to do with themselves, and they are not too eager to find an answer. 

In a way, every generation goes through that period of time.  Every person at one point or another has experienced the pressure of trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their life.  We’ve all had society breathing down our necks to “find ourselves” and/or to find a place to fit into the world.  We are all part of a lost generation at one point in our lives, but as Hemingway pointed out, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are “lost”.  We’ll find our way in our time, and there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy ourselves in the process. 

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