Summary and Analysis
Sitting in an outdoor café, Jake picks up a prostitute named Georgette and they ride a horse-drawn cab into Paris's Latin Quarter. Sharing dinner at a restaurant there, Jake and Georgette are discovered by a group of North Americans: Robert Cohn and Frances, Jake's friend Braddocks and his wife, and some others. The group goes dancing at a nightclub, where a woman named Brett (also known as Lady Ashley, because she is a titled British aristocrat) appears in the company of a group of homosexual men. Cohn is obviously attracted to Brett, who seems to have been involved with Jake at some time in the past. (Jake admits to the reader that her arrival with the gay men makes him angry, while Brett seems jealous of Georgette.) Brett suggests to Jake that they leave the club. They hail a cab, and Brett tells Jake she has been miserable.
The plot gathers steam as Jake's love interest (Brett Ashley) enters the novel. And by chapter's end it is clear (by means of each character's jealousy of the other's companions) that Jake and Brett have a past, yet apparently they are unattached at the moment. Having introduced his narrator/protagonist, the hero's foil (Cohn), and a mysterious woman whom both seem drawn to, Hemingway has arranged the fundamental components of his story. The result: We read on eagerly, somewhat confused — but definitely intrigued — by this odd love triangle.
Regarding his famous style, examine Hemingway's introduction of Brett: "Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey." Note first of all the sparseness of the writer's description, despite the fact that Brett will occupy the very center of the story to come. (Generally, Hemingway was uninterested in cataloguing the physical appearance of his characters.) Secondly, repetition ("She . . . She . . . She . . .") creates a trancelike effect. (Hemingway learned this technique from the writer Gertrude Stein, an American expatriate in France who is quoted in one of this novel's epigraphs.) Finally, like his response to Cohn, this reaction characterizes Jake as much as it does the character he describes. Far from being indifferent to Brett's allure, our narrator feels a powerful sexual attraction to her.
The irony of Jake's condition will soon become clear, though piecing it together can challenge a reader, especially a contemporary reader accustomed to candor and explicitness in regard to matters of sexuality. But as you read on, keep in mind Jake's rebuffing of the prostitute Georgette's physical advances, and his explanation for his indifference to her ("I got hurt in the war") as well as his seemingly irrational anger at the gay men who accompany Brett to the club and then dance with the women.
Written in the early 1920s, The Sun Also Rises is as extreme an example of the Modernist approach to art as the paintings of Picasso or Stravinsky's music. One thing that Modernist artists often do in their work is to remind us of pre-Modern art before rejecting the old approach as outdated, even phony, and Hemingway is no exception. The famous nineteenth-century novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert contains a scene of a sexual liaison in the back of a horse-drawn cab that was scandalous in its day and remained notorious thereafter. Chapter III puts Jake Barnes in just such a potentially-erotic situation — with a prostitute, no less, who promptly tries to initiate sex. Jake rejects her advances. By first reminding us of Madame Bovary and then foiling the expectations that this reference inspires, Hemingway seems to be saying that the old ways of telling stories are no longer adequate.
Finally, notice Jake and Brett's dialogue in this chapter, and how much it tells us about their relationship. They talk in a kind of shorthand, and the fact that so much between them is left unsaid indicates how well they know each other — how intimate they have been. Once again, dialogue has been used to characterize. In Chapter III of The Sun Also Rises, Jake admits to us that Brett's arrival at the dancehall makes him angry. When both Robert Prentiss ("how charmingly you get angry") and Robert Cohn ("You seem all worked up over something?") notice Jake's anger, however, we know just how extreme it must be.
poules (French) literally, hen; slang for prostitute.
Pernod a particular brand of anise, a French or Spanish liqueur flavored with aniseed.
Dites garçon, un pernod (French) Tell the waiter, a pernod.
absinthe a green, bitter, toxic liqueur made with wormwood oil and anise, now illegal in most countries.
fiacre (French) hackney-coach, cab.
Avenue de l'Opéra a boulevard running southwest from the Place de l'Opera to the Palais Royal, on the right bank of the Seine in Paris.
New York Herald a now-defunct daily newspaper.
Rue des Pyramides a street connecting the Avenue de l'Opera with the Rue de Rivoli.
Rue de Rivoli a boulevard that parallels the Seine, on Paris's right bank.
Tuileries the Jardin des Tuileries, public gardens on the right bank of the Seine.
Seine a river in northern France, flowing northwest through France into the English Channel.
Rue des Saints Pères a street on the Left Bank, perpendicular to the Boulevard St. Germain.
Flemish of Flanders or its people, language, or culture.
Flamand (French) Flemish.
cocher (French) coachman, driver.
Foyot's a Parisian restaurant.
Liège a province of eastern Belgium, or its capital, on the Meuse River.
Brussels the capital of Belgium, in the central part.
Connais pas (French) I don't know.
bal musette (French) bagpipe dance
Rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève a street in the Latin Quarter.
Pantheon quarter the Left Bank district surrounding the Pantheon, a "Temple of Fame" where Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and others are buried.
white hands, wavy hair, white faces, grimacing, gesturing, talking a homosexual stereotype.
cognac a French brandy distilled from wine in the area of Cognac, France.
fine à l'eau (French) brandy and water.
tight (Slang) drunk.
his compatriot Moses, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land. A reference to Cohn's Jewishness.
her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. Jake seems to be claiming that Brett initiated the 1920s fashion for short, or "bobbed," hair on women.
Montmartre a district of Paris, in the northern part; noted for its cafés and as an artists' quarter.
patronne (French) proprietress.
C'est entendu, Monsieur (French) It is understood, sir.