Friday, March 14, 2014

The Lost Generation: A Loss of Identity

Ernest Hemingway (Wikipedia)
For those of you who are not familiar with Ernest Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises,' I'll give you a little rundown and then expound on how it relates to my thesis.

The story takes places in Paris, France some years after the Great War. Set in the mid-1920's, the world is new and different from the old fashioned pre-war world. The main characters are all American or British expatriates living life to the fullest extent. Due to the deflation caused by the war, American and British money goes a long way which results in a decadent lifestyle of partying and adventure. The main character is Jake, a former soldier and newspaper man. He suffered a brutal injury that has left him impotent. He is surrounded by his opulent friends, the most attractive and lively being Lady Brett Ashley. She is the life of the party and the most provocative (i.e. she gets around). Ironically, she shares a mutual affection for Jake, but is aware of his injury and knows that he could never satisfy her needs. It's a sad story about how these lovable characters suffer at the hands of their circumstances. Their new world leads them to question their identity. The search for themselves in all the wrong places. Eventually, their search results in a loss of innocence.

Much of the characters' ideas about themselves and others stem from their environment. They live in a world where people are liars and cheaters. Everyone wishes to get ahead and no one can be trusted. Their preconceived ideas about human goodness had been shattered by the Great War. They are left to constantly wonder about people's sincerity. This is evidenced in the way Jake talks about seemingly honest people:

I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together [...]. (1.2)

Jake has a hard time trusting people that are seemingly honest because they seem too good to be true. This idea that no one is honest affects Jake's own perception about the kind of person that he is. If no one is honest, then can he be honest? Jake comes to the conclusion that he is not, and therefore, he cannot be honest with himself.

Jake also suffers from his constant search for meaning. The War has shattered his ideas about goodness and mercy. The world around him worships excess and pleasure. Nevertheless, he still cannot seem to find meaning as he searches in all the wrong places. An interesting scene takes place when he comes to a Catholic church in Spain:

[…] as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and I regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time […]. (10.21)

Jake attempts to find some kind of genuine connection to a higher power. However, his ideas about his own identity, calling himself a "rotten Catholic," impede him from actually making a connection. He believes that he is too far gone to make any sort of effort, and he is left wanting.

Something very interesting about the story is the way in which Hemingway portrays the feeling of Post-war life. There is a psychological tension that exists that affects the way that people think. Here is an example:

It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. (13.57)

In this passage, Hemingway likens the setting to the past. The psychological feelings of war have carried over into the lives of the living. The war did not die with the surrender of the Axis powers. It lives on within the people it affected. The physical brutality of war may have ceased, but the psychological and emotional battles are yet to be fought.

These are just a few examples of how the primary texts has given me ideas about how the environment in which the characters lived influenced their decisions and led to a search for identity and an eventual loss of innocence. I think I can make the same claim about Alice because her strange circumstances lead to her to certain self discoveries.

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