Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Road to Hell Paved With Unbought Stuffed Dogs

The Sun Also Rises

by Ernest Hemingway

Published by Scribner

5 Out of 5 Stars

This may be my favorite book of all time. At any rate, it's definitely on the top ten list and by far my favorite Hemingway (and I do love some Hemingway). The first time I read this, I loved Lady Brett Ashley. Is she a bitch? Sure, but I don't think she ever intentionally sets out to hurt anyone. And it might be argued that she has reason to be one: her first true love dies in the war from dysentery (not exactly the most noble of deaths) and she's physically threatened by Lord Ashley, forced to sleep on the floor beside him and his loaded gun (and let's clarify that, no, that's not a euphemism, just in case you're a perv). Then we have the one man who might make her happy, Jake Barnes. Poor, poor Jake, who doesn't have a gun, let alone a loaded one (yup, that's a euphemism--snicker away). I think Brett is one of the most tragic figures in American literature. Disillusioned by the war and how it irrevocably changed her life, she tries to fill the void with alcohol and sex--and destroys herself in the process.

However, upon rereading the novel, I realized how eclipsed Jake had been by Brett during my first reading. I also realized how I had misinterpreted him during my first reading. I thought Jake was as lost as the rest of the "Lost Generation," but I now believe that he is the only one who is not lost (with the exception of Bill Gorton, whose line "The road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs" may be my favorite in the book). If there's anyone with reason to give up on life, it's Jake. Does he pine for Brett? Yes. Does he come to hate Cohn for his affair with Brett? Affirmative. Does he get over Brett and realize that, even if properly equipped for a sexual relationship, a relationship with her would end as tragically as all of her other conquests? Abso-damn-lutely. After all, Brett is Circe, according to Cohn, and anyone lured into her bed will lose their manhood. The success of the relationship between Brett and Jake hinges on the fact that Jake literally has nothing to lose in this respect.

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