Questioning Spurred by The Sun Also Rises
I simply cannot get away from Hemingway it seems. I fear that like many fellow clichés before me, I have developed a great attraction to the idea of the Lost Generation. I find a subtle appeal to this somewhat fantasy Paris, this place caught in the stillness of a post-war era, nearly existing outside of time itself. It is this curiosity that led me to read another one of Hemingway’s works relating to this time of expatriate Americans in Paris. I have read The Sun Also Rise
before, however, it is, not surprisingly, quite different this time around now that I am actually living in Paris.
Unlike the first book I read (A Moveable Feast), The Sun Also Rises
focuses much less on Paris. Instead, the novel transports us to Spain for nearly ¾ of the story. However, through reading, we are still indulged in a snapshot of Paris, one that at times very much resembles the personal Paris that Hemingway described in A Moveable Feast.
Yet, even with the details of the free flowing alcohol, the cafes, the hotels, the people, I am left baffled by what exactly Paris represents in this novel. Ultimately, the Paris portrayed in the novel lacks a proper and explicit definition. Rather, The Sun Also Rises’
Paris exists in an indeterminate state. Our brief encounters with Paris throughout the novel coupled with Hemingway’s rather vague style, make me question Paris’ identity. Frankly, its reputation seems to teeter throughout the whole story: it is a haven, it is a prison, it is wholesome it is toxic, etc. Take this exchange in the third chapter between Georgette, a prostitute, and Frances Clyne, a social climber:
"No, I don’t like Paris. It’s expensive and dirty."
"Really? I find it so extraordinarily clean. One of the cleanest cities in all Europe."
"I find it dirty."
"How strange! But perhaps you have not been here very long."
"I’ve been here long enough." (Georgette)
This passage is a perfect example of the haziness that is Paris throughout the novel. This vagueness in the place itself somewhat mirrors the somewhat aimlessness of the characters, more specifically, of this supposed “Lost Generation” that Paris so captivated. Hemingway, in a sense, seems to be critiquing Paris, especially through his main character, Jake, who, while not wealthy, seems to be the character that works the most, and always treats wealthy “friends” to the bill. Here, we see Paris as an impersonal, undirected, and overly indulgent city. Yet, while Paris and her inhabitants seem to be floating in a somewhat disoriented and possibly morally unhealthy or unstable state, there does seem to be a since of freedom in Paris, or at least the idea of it. For, in this post-war era, unlike the U.S., at least for these supposedly wandering souls, Paris represented a haven for creativity and free flowing ideas (along with liquor).
I am truly in love with the city of Paris (in fact, I am truly dreading leaving in a month), however, at times, this unstable identity of the city does seem apparent. While most of the times I see the city as a rousing and stimulating nucleus for originality, at times, I cannot help but see it as one big tourist trap that sacrificed it soul to the industry long ago. Yet, in saying this, I think it is nearly impossible to find a place that exists in an utterly pure state, and likewise for people within the place. However, at least for me, I think a place’s identity becomes simply what you personally attribute to it. This may be far fetched, but it is just food for thought. And for me, Paris is untainted.