Study Guide

The Sun Also Rises Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Ernest Hemingway

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Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Bulls and Bull-fighting

Bulls and bull-fighting are the two most critical symbols in The Sun Also Rises. The bulls symbolize passion, physicality, energy, and freedom. As a combination of these factors, in their interactions with the bull-fighters, they also come to symbolize the act of sex. Each bull-fight involves seduction, manipulation, maneuvering, and penetration by the bull-fighter of the bull. It is significant that, of all the characters, Jake, Brett, Romero, and Montoya are the most stirred by bull-fighting.

Romero’s status as bull-fighter suggests that, unlike the novel’s other male characters, he is capable of passionate love and sex. Although Cohn clings to an illusion of love for Brett, he is repelled initially by the bull-fights as boring, then later as gruesome. Brett is undisturbed by the gore of the bull-fights and, like Jake, is entranced by the interaction between bull-fighter and bull. After watching the bull-fights, Brett is determined to be with Romero. Jake, it seems, strives to experience sensuality vicariously through the bull-fights, as he is unable to have sex himself. As an aficionado, Jake recognizes and loves the passion of bull-fighting, suggesting that he, too, is a passionate man. Jake’s knowledge of bull-fighting empowers him to authoritatively describe the bull-fights to Brett. Although we do not learn much about Montoya’s personal life, it is apparent that he views bull-fighting as the highest, purest art form, one that exceeds all else in love, beauty, and passion. As discussed briefly in the above character analysis, the bull-fights can also be read as paralleling the characters and events of the novel. During the running of the bulls, to take just one example, a man is gored and killed the same day that Cohn leaves Pamplona.


Water appears on multiple occasions as a symbol of purification and relief. On Jake and Bill’s fishing trip, water seems to have the therapeutic effect of soothing Jake. While the men drink loads of wine while fishing, they first chill it in the river. This seems not only to cool the wine’s temperature but its effect; rather than creating a sense of drunken chaos, the wine rejuvenates them and stimulates Bill’s creativity (which he expresses verbally at a breakneck pace). When Jake leaves Pamplona for San Sebastian, he wants nothing more than to swim in the ocean. The water relieves and strengthens him, and he feels buoyant and supported. Finally, Brett is always going off to bathe, signifying her own innate desire to purify herself and perhaps disassociate herself from her actions.


Hemingway’s descriptions of the natural world are boldly sketched out in bright, clear colors. White roads, green fields, and the red tiled roofs of villages fill out the idealized landscape of Bill and Jake’s trip to Burguete, in contrast to the largely colorless, dimly lit interiors of Paris. This symbolizes the reawakening of the senses that Jake experiences as he leaves city life behind him, and heads toward the rejuvenating milieu of the country.

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