Analysis: What’s Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
You are all a lost generation.
– Gertrude Stein in conversation
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever… The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose… The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to its circuits… All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come thither they return again.
Like Doublemint gum, The Sun Also Rises gives us twice the bang for our buck. Unlike Doublemint gum, Hemingway ain't exactly giving us double pleasure or fun here.
Do the words "Lost Generation" sound familiar? Gertrude Stein coined this name, which applies to the young people who grew up in the shadow of World War I (1914-1918). In terms of pop culture, the images that usually spring to mind of this group are those of the Roaring Twenties: fast cars, flappers, and wild parties. Historically speaking, the First World War—also known as the Great War—was a kind of breaking point for the people of Europe and America. Nobody had ever imagined that a global event so apocalyptic would possibly happen, and when it did, it changed everything; suddenly, the beliefs and practices of the prewar world no longer seemed adequate.
Fusty Edwardian value? Hah!
On top of that, the beginning of the twentieth century was a time of profound technological change (Airplanes! Cars! Gee, whiz!)… suddenly, the world seemed like a much more accessible place. The Lost Generation is commonly characterized by the figures of Hemingway himself and his famous pal F. Scott Fitzgerald, who both partied hard, traveled incessantly, but were never quite happy.
Okay, on to epigraph number two. This quote from Ecclesiastes (a book of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) basically reminds us that nature is a constant, while we humans are not. Generations come and go, but our measly lifespans are all insignificant compared to the eternal cycle of sunrise and sunset, the movement of rivers into the sea and back again, and the movement of the wind around the earth.
Hemingway himself noted that he included this bit to balance out the somewhat melodramatic nature of Gertrude Stein’s statement. Way to achieve balance, Hem: pairing a bleak epigraph with a slightly less bleak epigraph.