This novel is just jam-packed with people who think they have their public images worked out, but really are just big old messes on the inside. Hemingway’s characters make a big show of being confident and witty, but we quickly realize that they’re just frontin’ – nobody is really that confident, and nobody is entirely true to themselves. Even our protagonist, who is one of the novel’s more grounded characters, faces deep anxieties about his beliefs and the ways in which his actions correspond with them. All of this has to do, of course, with the destabilizing trauma of the war; just as nations have to rebuild themselves after the war, so do individual people.
The characters of The Sun Also Rises are all marked by the impossibility of claiming an identity, rather than by a clear understanding of themselves.
The postwar society Hemingway reveals in the novel is one in the midst of a universal identity crisis.