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The idea of being "the voice of a generation" is now basically a punchline. Why? Well, in part because it's such an obnoxiously earnest phrase and also because there are so many voices out there that it would be hard to pick out just one from the cicada-like chorus of an average Twitter feed.
But we shouldn't hate on the idea of "the voice of a generation" too hard, because it has some absolutely illustrious roots. We have to go way back in time to find them: back through the Millennials, Gen X, the Baby Boomers and The Greatest Generation to… the Lost Generation.
What a bleak name. "Baby Boomers" sounds dumb, but at least it doesn't make us want to crawl under the covers and hide for five weeks.
But hey—it's a fitting name for the kids who came of age in the aftermath of WWI and realized that everything their parents told them about Victorian/Edwardian values, prosperity and hope was a big fat lie. These lost kids were looking around for someone to put all this angst into words. Lucky for them, a burly young man by the name of Ernest Hemingway stepped up to the plate and became their voice.
And he did that with a slim novel called The Sun Also Rises.
Don't crack this book looking for a happy-go-lucky literary romp. But if you're looking for some seriously lost souls traveling from Paris to Spain drinking like fishes, smoking like chimneys, and sleeping with all of their friends… look no further. To put it another way: running with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona is probably the healthiest and most sensible thing these characters do.
We follow Jake Barnes, a hard-drinking tortured soul whose tour of duty during WWI has left him impotent. He loves the hottie-with-a-body and hard-drinking Brett Ashley, who loves him back but is engaged to hard-drinking Mike Campbell. Robert Cohn (Jake's best friend) is also in love with Brett… and falls to pieces when Brett runs off with a studly young bullfighter. Everyone is entangled with everyone else, and no one is happy.
Yes, it's this tale of incestuous, booze-sodden misfits that gave the Lost Generation its name. Not only that, but this debut novel basically secured Hemingway's status as, well, Hemingway: a genius of modernist prose and a stylist whose minimalist writing is among the most emulated and parodied around.
Oh, the older generations. Whether they're being adorable and asking "But what is a Snapperchat?" or being out of touch in a headdesk-inducing manner ("You guys don't know what it means to work") they sometimes seem less relatable than most mammals you know—including cats that sit in front of an open door meowing to be let out.
Even their stories of wayward youth can sound antique and alien. If you're anything like us you've had more than a few moments of staring at your parents/uncle/ aunt/grandparents from across the room and wondering "Were you ever like me?"
Enter Ernest Hemingway. He's older than all your relatives put together, and pictures show him looking a bit like a hard-drinking Santa Claus. And—full disclosure here—if you met him in real life he'd probably offend you within a few seconds. But his novels, especially The Sun Also Rises, are terrifyingly relatable.
Maybe it's because Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises at the tender age of twenty-six. Maybe it's because his life in Europe was irresponsible enough (more drinking than spring break) to keep him youthful… until he became grizzled. Or maybe it's because this guy lived through WWI, which shook up the world in such a manner that everyone walked out of the trenches and into a collective loss of innocence.
It's not that we think you can relate to The Sun Also Rises because of its characters' lives. You're probably (and we're going out on a limb here) not spending all your money buying drink after drink at Parisian cafes with disgraced English aristocrats. You're probably not impotent because of a war wound. You probably don't have a death wish the size of Jupiter.
But unless you're still living in a perfect bubble of childlike serenity and think the world is full of nothing but sunshine, flowers, and puppies (in which case you probably haven't entered middle school yet) you will feel a kinship with the characters in The Sun Also Rises, because they're smack dab in the middle of that hideously painful process: ye olde loss of innocence.
Oh yeah: and most of these characters are in their thirties. So whether you're just dipping your big toe into the firestorm of coming to terms with the world or you're decades in to the swirling maelstrom of figuring out that life is a kaleidoscope of the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, and the weird and the wonderful: The Sun Also Rises knows what ails you.
You don't have to play it cool with The Sun Also Rises. You don't have to pretend to have it all together. A bunch of the characters in this book stare at the ceiling late at night consumed with loneliness or lovesickness and looking for their place in the world.
Is it depressing? Yes. Is it also relatable? Oh heck yes.
And—bonus—it will probably make you feel a smidge closer to your elders, even when they labor under the delusion that only one browser tab can be opened at a time. Even though they grew up in a time when "neat-o" was an acceptable compliment, The Sun Also Rises will let you into a secret: we've all lost our innocence. And that's a brutal and terrifying process, whether it happened when mullets were the epitome of unironic cool or today.
The Sun Also Rises (1957)
For any old movie buffs out there, this film has an all-star cast: Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Mel Ferrer, and Errol Flynn!
The Sun Also Rises (1984)
Made for TV Version—starring Jane Seymour of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" fame.
Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure (1999)
PBS did a series on the life of Hemingway – look here for lots of interesting info!
1957 movie poster
Not our favorite work of art…
Here’s a cool glossary of bull-fighting terms, courtesy of PBS.