Are there two sides of a person? Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, follows the story of an American man named Jake Barnes, who abandoned America after World War I to live abroad as a writer in Paris, like many modernist writers. During this time period, people’s faith in the American government and policy was shattered as they were deeply effected by wartime experiences, which drove them to distant countries and new professions as they tried to avoid their war stained past (Baym 13-18).
These people became known as the Lost Generation. In the novel, Hemingway explores the possibility of the two sides of a person, the facade they put on in public and their true self, by using aesthetics and artistic elements of contrast. It is important to understand the imagery of Hemingway’s work because Jonathan Culler, author of Literary Theory – A Very Short Introduction, says, “without aesthetics… there is no art” (Culler 130). Light and dark imagery, as well as beauty and ugliness, is applied to the difference of fakeness and reality.
Usually, light is referred to as the “good side” and purity, but in The Sun Also Rises Hemingway views light as an element that brightens and beautifies people, even when that beauty is not real or just an illusion. The others accept the characters’ acting in the daytime because they all wish to ignore flaws, even obvious ones. On the other hand, when there is no light shining on them to glorify them, the reader can see their real selves or their inner ugliness.
Even though the others in the novel avoid the truth and wish to remain in a seemingly perfect word, Jake Barnes seeks out and approves of people’s real emotions and ugliness. In The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway shows the difference between the facade made of lies and the actual truth by describing the characters as pleasant and lovely in the light, while in the dark their true ugliness emerges, additionally it is this genuineness that is attractive to Jake Barnes.
Firstly, Hemingway uses the imagery of light to signal when the characters are putting on a show or hiding the truth. In the novel, Jake Barnes is a soldier in WWI when he met Lady Brett Ashley, better known as Brett. She nursed his war injuries that left him impotent, which means he is unable to engage in sexual acts. Although the two felt a deep connection, Jake is never able to give Brett what she desires, because of his injury, so they can never be together.
When Jake is left heartbroken as Brett rejects his suggestion to live together, he realized that “it was awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing” as he cried alone in his dark room (Hemingway 42). In this passage, Jake is remarking about how it is easy to hide his true emotions in the daylight and with friends but at night, when he is alone, he cannot fool himself. Early on in the novel, Hemingway already establishes a contrast between light and darkness by showing two different sides of the characters.
When Jake is in the light, he can convince others that he is happy and that he is not in love with Brett. But at night he reveals his true feelings about Brett and breaks down crying. Hemingway is carefully using the difference of light and dark to show the difference between lies and the truth, which could be seen when he writes, “because it is dark you should look at things differently from when it is light” (Hemingway 151). Ultimately, Hemingway is using an artistic contrast of light and darkness to show the two sides of each character.
Similarly, Hemingway uses beauty to represent the imaginary perfect life that the characters pretend to they have. One character that appears to have flawless looks and lifestyle is Lady Brett Ashley, who arrives to the pub with a group of young men. When Jake sees her, he describes her as “damned goodlooking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy’s” (Hemingway 30). When Jake first meets up with Brett, he describes her as a beautiful woman, although she is not pictured to be a conventional woman.
Throughout the novel, there are many men that flock to her because of this beauty, which is acknowledged by Sam Baskett in her article, “An Image to Dance Around,” when she writes, “the several lovers of Lady Brett Ashley fix upon her as an uncertain image of great value; to paraphrase the Lady herself, she is sort of what they have instead of God” (Baskett 45). In public and under the lights, Brett is an elegant lady with carefree and naive personality She is married into a high standing family and all could see that she is in the upper class.
The way the author describes Brett as beautiful and confident implies that she puts a great amount of effort into her mirage of perfection and the other characters completely accept her forged image. These facades that the characters create would not be successful if the others tried to look beyond appearances and forced actions, however, those like Brett, can continue fooling them because the other characters choose to blindly ignore any possible imperfections. On their way to a fishing trip in Spain, Jake and his two friends Bill Gorton and Robert Cohn stayed in a hotel in Bayonne.
When Jake and Bill were waiting for Cohn in the fancy hotel lobby Jake “saw a cockroach on the parquet floor that must have been at least three inches long. [Jake] pointed him out to Bill and then put my shoe on him. [They] agreed he must have just come in from the garden. It was really an awfully clean hotel” (Hemingway 97). Both men immediately concur that it must have came in from outside because they could not imagine such a nice place being unsanitary. Instead, they accept that the beautiful look and design of the hotel is genuine throughout and that there could not possibly be any flaws in it, like a cockroach infestation.
This is exactly what the characters do for one another. They blindly accept the image that someone presents, that may be built of lies, and chose to ignore the fact that the person is less than what they seem. This idea of overlooking the ugly truth stems from the sentiments of the Lost Generation, who move to foreign countries to ignore their problems with their own. In reality, people cannot escape their issues, as they cannot change who they truly are. In times when a character is alone with Jake, away from public eyes or the light, they show their real selves.
Although Brett is undoubtedly beautiful in the light, under the cover of night’s darkness she becomes unpleasant to others. The morning after Brett arrives drunk late at night to Jake’s house and disturbed him about going have a meal with her and a count, Jake’s concierge says to him, “I’ll speak perfectly frankly, Monsieur Barnes. Last night I found her not so gentille. Last night I formed another idea of her. But listen to what I tell you. She is tres, tres gentille. She is of very good family. It is a thing you can see” (Hemingway 59).
Basically, what the concierge is saying is that when Brett came to visit Jake the previous night, which implies that it was dark at the time, she is not seen as proper and ladylike which led the concierge to have an unfavorable impression of her. However, in the morning, and correspondingly the light, when Brett made another appearance, the concierge realizes that she is indeed a lady and now respects Brett. This is another point of proof that Hemingway uses light, represented here by the scene having taken place in the morning, to show beauty and darkness to show the ugly side of people.
However, Brett was only viewed as a lovely lady in the daylight, which leads the reader to question her beauty. If her pleasant attitude and physical attractiveness were genuine then it would be a constant trait; in whatever lighting one views of her, Brett would still be beautiful. In actuality, the night’s darkness makes her lose her picturesque image, which means her perfection is a disguise for her true self. Overall, characters, such as Lady Brett Ashley, pretend to be content and joyful about life, or in other words beautiful, in the light.