My on-line Book Club recently finished reading and discussing Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” During one summer in my college years I read a lot of Hemingway—“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Moveable Feast,” and if my memory serves me well, “The Sun Also Rises.” I looked forward to reacquainting myself with the book.
The novel explores the lives of five men and a woman who represent the “Lost Generation.” The book was narrated through the eyes of Jake Barnes, a World War 1 Vet, who became impotent because of a war injury. The novel follows Barnes through his experiences in Paris, a fishing trip in the country, his attraction to Lady Ahsley, Brett, along with the attractions of the other men, and finally a festival and bull fight.
The plot moved too slow for me. It wasn’t until the Hemingway’s description of the festival and the bull fight that I started paying attention to the book.
I really started paying attention to the novel when my Dad shared with me that I shouldn’t look at the novel through the lens of plot, but instead through the lens of character development. He was so right. As an English Professor who taught for almost 40 years in a Community College, I’m not surprised he shared such wisdom.
Nothing earth-shattering happened in the novel. Five men were attracted to a woman; all of the characters drank and caroused; they traveled on a fishing trip and experienced a festival and bull fight. In terms of plot the novel is inconsequential.
But the characters are interesting. And their responses to their life situation and to each other was fascinating.
I think that the characters of the book would be most interesting to folk who have more understanding of post-World War I life. I don’t—and thus I struggled.
In our on-line book club discussion I shared that the novel seemed to explore the theme of aimlessness—principally aimlessness among the characters. I shared that this is a topic that doesn’t grab me. I’m not all that interested in learning more about aimlessness.
Another member of our book club passionately responded that Hemingway’s description of the characters fits within our Reformed Tradition. Calvin taught Total Depravity—and these characters were depraved. The book club participant believed that Hemingway allowed us to understand better the human condition.
I think that’s true. But I guess I’m looking for more when I read a novel. When I look out at the world today I see a lot of depravity—I don’t need Hemingway to understand it. The newspaper chronicles depravity daily.
I am looking for some solutions to depravity.
I guess I won’t give up on my daily Scripture reading. The responses in the Bible to depravity trump any novel.