Hemingway’s Speaks for the Lost Generation Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The novel changed forever when Ernest Hemingway evoked the lives of disillusioned “lost generation” expatriates in a novel of brilliant dialogue and understated style.

Summary of Event

By October of 1925, Ernest Hemingway was identified as a rising literary star with the publication of his unified short-story collection In Our Time. In Our Time (Hemingway) Hemingway’s collection alternated autobiographically derived stories of the Michigan woods and war-torn Europe with miniature pieces that seemed the distillation of prose fiction under the influence of the principles of the Imagist poets, who preached attention to the moment of perception and the presentation of poetic images in a minimum of words. The collection’s title was taken from a line in the Book of Common Prayer: “Oh Lord, give us peace in our time.” It was an impressive beginning to Hemingway’s career as a popular but artistic writer, yet cementing his reputation required that he write in that most commercial but also most difficult of forms, the novel. [kw]Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation (Oct. 22, 1926)[Hemingways The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation (Oct. 22, 1926)] [kw]Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation, Hemingway’s The (Oct. 22, 1926) [kw]Lost Generation, Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the (Oct. 22, 1926) Sun Also Rises, The (Hemingway) [g]France;Oct. 22, 1926: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation[06730] [g]United States;Oct. 22, 1926: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation[06730] [c]Literature;Oct. 22, 1926: Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises Speaks for the Lost Generation[06730] Hemingway, Ernest Stein, Gertrude Fitzgerald, F. Scott Perkins, Maxwell

This would not be so easy. Hemingway had begun his literary efforts by burlesquing the sports fiction of Ring Lardner for his high school newspaper and had moved on to work as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. After being seriously wounded during a stint with the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps on the Italian front during World War I, he had written fiction unsuccessfully and then turned to journalism, becoming a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star by the age of twenty-three. In the atmosphere of literary Paris, he had continued his efforts in fiction, internalizing the influences of such literary expatriates as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ford Madox Ford. Yet his pieces seemed more like sketches than stories to many editors to whom he submitted them at the time, despite the fact that he was working with Stein’s emphasis on psychological insight and the economy of language urged by the Imagist Pound. The subtlety of his achievements began to be realized in In Our Time, which also owed a considerable debt to American regionalist Sherwood Anderson’s Anderson, Sherwood Winesburg, Ohio (1919). Winesburg, Ohio (Anderson, S.)

Vacation trips from Paris to the religious and bullfighting fiesta in Pamplona, in the Basque Navarre region of northern Spain, provided the setting (and some of the characters) for The Sun Also Rises, which Hemingway began writing on or about his twenty-sixth birthday, July 21, 1925. For his participating narrator, he was indebted to the example of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose classic short novel The Great Gatsby Great Gatsby, The (Fitzgerald, F. S.) had appeared on April 10 of that year. He also would be indebted to Fitzgerald for his influential new editor, Maxwell Perkins of Scribner’s, who at Fitzgerald’s insistence lured Hemingway away from the publisher of In Our Time, Horace Liveright. Both Perkins and Fitzgerald would contribute valuable advice on the polishing of The Sun Also Rises. In particular, Fitzgerald counseled against a rambling, discursive introduction that attempted to explain rather than directly to present the characters and their situation; Perkins curbed Hemingway’s satiric tendencies.

Like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby, Hemingway’s journalist-narrator Jake Barnes was a fairly ordinary person out of place among the fast-living set in which he traveled. Jake’s sensational war wound (he has had his genitals shot away) and his thus doomed love affair with the alcoholic Lady Brett Ashley helped to assure the novel’s notoriety and popular success, as did the sensational aspects of Brett’s successive sexual alliances with a Jewish American novelist, a bankrupt Scottish war veteran, and a young Spanish matador, affairs that Jake Barnes witnesses and sometimes abets. That many of these characters were based on real people from Paris’s colony of literary expatriates increased interest in what some critics saw as a story of meaningless drinking and fornication. An epigraph to the novel taken from Gertrude Stein, “You are all a lost generation,” Lost generation seemed to sum up the meaninglessness of it all. The epigraph certainly did name the rising young writers of the 1920’s; they became known as the lost generation, wounded forever.

Still, the work struck a chord with readers who had experienced the war or its aftermath. It was for a time a campus fad in the United States, with young men adopting Jake Barnes’s stoic persona, if not his sexual incapacity, the young women copying Brett Ashley’s brilliant, tense conversation.

More important, attentive readers and critics recognized that there was more to the novel than a crude summary might indicate. It was not a popular potboiler but a literary work of art. Read perceptively, it was in many ways like a prose version of T. S. Eliot’s Eliot, T. S. resonant long poem The Waste Land (1922). Waste Land, The (Eliot) In Eliot’s modernist poem, meaning is sought in an exploration of civilization and history, both of the East and of the West. Similarly, The Sun Also Rises is a quest for meaning in which the novel’s main characters leave behind the modern world, broken by the world war, to travel to a seemingly more innocent, rural Spain. To these pilgrims, such sports as fishing and bullfighting marked a return to pre-Christian rituals of control and unity with the natural world. A parallel control is seen in Hemingway’s prose style, in which dialogue is precisely rendered and in which description is designed not only to set a scene but also to evoke an emotional response on the part of the reader.

A major theme of the novel involves “knowing the values.” At first, this seems merely a matter of knowing how much things cost. As the novel progresses, however, it becomes clear that the characters ultimately may be judged by how well they know real values, values that might have some hope of enduring even in a modern world in which all traditional, received values have lost their force. Such a view of the novel balances the Stein epigraph with the novel’s second epigraph, taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which emphasizes the cyclical renewal of the earth’s promise: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. . . . The sun also ariseth. . . .”


The Sun Also Rises launched Hemingway’s subsequent career as novelist, short-story writer, journalist, and public personage. That career took him to fame as the author of such American literary classics as A Farewell to Arms (1929), Farewell to Arms, A (Hemingway) “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936), “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), For Whom the Bell Tolls (Hemingway) and The Old Man and the Sea (1952). Old Man and the Sea, The (Hemingway) As a public figure, he was often somewhat misidentified as a macho man: World War I veteran, big-game hunter and deep-sea fisherman, amateur boxer, war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War and World War II, connoisseur of fine food and drink, world traveler. He was all these things, but unlike the reputation that sometimes seemed to imprison him personally as he grew older, his fiction often made clear the psychic cost of such roles to twentieth century man.

His protagonists, including Jake Barnes, usually are vulnerable men, wounded psychically if not physically. Their plight is often seen as existential in nature, a matter of discovering how to live day to day when conventional structures of meaning have lost their power to compel belief. They also are usually American innocents meeting the far from innocent world and finding they have lost the ability to return to the innocent America in which they were nurtured. Yet, over time, Hemingway continues to chart his heroes’ search for meaning. Jake Barnes finds it in work. The hero of A Farewell to Arms, a World War I deserter, places all his belief in the woman he loves—and loses her, ending the novel wandering the streets alone. The protagonist of For Whom the Bell Tolls begins as a loner, a saboteur in the Spanish Civil War, yet finds by novel’s end that “no man is an island” and sacrifices himself in the cause of humanity. Santiago, the impoverished Cuban fisherman of The Old Man and the Sea, suffers months without a catch yet survives his greatest defeat with dignity and optimism. In Hemingway’s work, some meaning finally is found.

In addition to describing the modern dilemma, Hemingway influenced and reshaped Americans’ way of writing. Hemingway’s skill in dialogue and narration (for which he admitted a debt to Mark Twain’s 1884 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and his artistic integrity made him a hero and model to American writers ranging from Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer, who wished to tell the truth without hiding behind conventional literary devices and values. Hemingway’s apparently simple sentences and clarity of style influenced writers for magazines as diverse as The New Yorker and the pulps; hard-boiled detective fiction owes him a considerable debt for its manner and subject matter. The Beat generation writers of the 1950’s who went “on the road” in America and abroad in a sense were following in the footsteps of Jake Barnes and his friends. Indeed, Hemingway’s influence on modern writers, particularly in style, is so ingrained and nearly ubiquitous as to seem invisible, save to literary scholars comparing the mainstream writing that went before and that followed his work. His emphasis on the value of the ordinary person and ordinary experiences—a part of a line of influence passing through Mark Twain and Gertrude Stein—continues to have its effect as well. Sun Also Rises, The (Hemingway)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969. The standard full-length biography of Hemingway remains one of the best introductions to his life.
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    xlink:type="simple">Bruccoli, Matthew J. Scott and Ernest: The Fitzgerald/Hemingway Friendship. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978. Pays primary attention to the personal aspects of the famous friendship, but also discusses Hemingway’s literary debts to Fitzgerald, who read and commented on The Sun Also Rises before publication. Includes lengthy excerpts from a number of the authors’ letters to each other.
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    xlink:type="simple">Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Judith S. Baughman, eds. The Sons of Maxwell Perkins: Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Their Editor. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004. Collection of more than two hundred letters written by Perkins and his three famous authors to one another, in which they often discuss one another’s work. Offers insight into the personalities of all four men. Includes chronology and index.
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    xlink:type="simple">Griffin, Peter. Less than a Treason: Hemingway in Paris. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Imaginative re-creation of Hemingway’s life in Paris evokes the spirit of creation in the 1920’s, but, unfortunately, sometimes blurs the distinction between Hemingway’s life and his writings.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. New York: Scribner’s, 1964. Published posthumously, this highly fictionalized memoir of the life of Hemingway as a young artist in 1920’s Paris makes clear the dedication that he felt to his art. Accounts of his relationships with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and others are best taken with a grain of salt so far as the facts are concerned, but their emotional resonances are revealing.
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    Hemingway Review 6, no. 1 (Fall, 1986). Special issue devoted to The Sun Also Rises includes articles addressing questions of religion, the treatment of women, and bullfighting in a reader’s understanding of the novel. Also gives accounts of the novel’s composition, Hemingway’s use of language, and the reactions of a more traditional writer, Western novelist Owen Wister, to the book’s subject matter.
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    xlink:type="simple">Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1989. Meticulous re-creation of Hemingway’s life in Europe during the composition of In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises. Includes detailed maps and chronology.
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    xlink:type="simple">_______. “The Sun Also Rises”: A Novel of the Twenties. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Evaluation and close reading of the novel in the context of its time. Explains particularly well how to avoid common misreadings and examines many of the subtleties involved in coming to a full understanding of the novel.
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    xlink:type="simple">Sarason, Bertram. Hemingway and the Sun Set. Washington, D.C.: NCR Microcard, 1972. A good guide to The Sun Also Rises as roman à clef. Discusses the novel’s many sources among the real people of Paris whose characteristics Hemingway adapted in constructing his fictional characters.
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    xlink:type="simple">Svoboda, Frederic. Hemingway and “The Sun Also Rises”: The Crafting of a Style. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1983. Analyzes the composition of the novel and the development of Hemingway’s prose style through the examination of manuscript drafts and revisions. Includes a number of facsimiles of manuscript pages as well as the text of the first chapters cut from the novel at Fitzgerald’s urging.
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    xlink:type="simple">Tyler, Lisa. Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001. Presents a brief biography of the author and then addresses individual works, discussing plot, character, theme, literary devices, and social and historical context. Intended to introduce Hemingway to high school students and college undergraduates.
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    xlink:type="simple">Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. New Essays on “The Sun Also Rises.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Useful collection of commentary tends to discount the macho Hemingway reputation in favor of discovering what in his work will withstand rigorous literary scrutiny.

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