The novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by Ernest Hemingway contains a large set of topics and motives mixed together. These topics are the devastating impact of war on human lives, the concept of ‘lost generation’, sense of life and itsabsence and love, intimate relations, personal tragedies of people who have lost their old values and have not found the new ones, and some other lateral and supporting treads. Among such motives, which run like a golden thread through the whole course of narration, there is the topic of guilt and a kind of retaliation, which awaits those who are at fault. It may be unreasonable to say that there are characters in this novel, which are obviously guilty of some horrible deed. Yet it is equally impossible to say that this novel features characters who are completely free of guilt, and who can serve a moral reference for others.Hemingway knew too well the very nature of people of his own generation, who suffered the atrocities and senselessness of the Great War and, as a result, lost moral landmarks which could have helped them to start living anew. In other words, ‘the lost generation’ was guilty by its very nature – guilty of living a senseless life, of not fulfilling their talents and capabilities and hence guilty of causing pain to those who were close to them. The novel ‘The Sun Also Rises’ presents a set of perfect examples of such deep-running guilt caused by various types of faults – physical abuse, emotional pain caused to others, self-promotion at cost of degrading others, betrayal of relations, treason committed against one’s own moral principles – and at the same time demonstrates how characters attempt to escape from this feeling of guilt through various activities, not always related to the direct cause of guilt.
The narrator, Jake Barnes, is not guilty of anything obviously wrong and he is probably the most decent and reasonable character in the novel, yet there are elements in his story line that reveal his inner feeling of guilt and attempts to escape from it or to reimburse the damage he supposedly caused. His first and foremost problem is love to Lady Brett Ashley, and the plot line of their interaction and futile attempts to rejoin cause troubles to the rest of characters. Jake Barnes was injured during the war, and the nature of his injury prevents him from having sexual relations with women, although he experiences masculine desires. This inability to build intimate relations with Lady Brett Ashley, along with emotional ties, is the main stumbling point in his attitude towards his beloved woman and the life as a whole. Brett Ashley is a strong independent woman who is not willing to give up physical aspects of love for the sake of prolonged platonic relations with Jake. As Jake Barnes begs her in Chapter VII “Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together? ”, Brett Ashley replies sadly “I don’t think so. I’d just tromper you with everybody”, (Hemingway 134) which means that his injury would leave her no other way out but to commit adulteries. It proves that Jake and Brett understand the futility of their efforts and desires, and suffering and guilt of both characters lead them to various dubious actions which cause them even more suffering and feeling of guilt. Jake lives in the community and associates with the company of friends in which manliness is the most important thing, and his private woe which prevents him from having close relations with Brett makes him feel guilty of his incapability and seek remedy in drinking and degrading another character, Robert Cohn. Jake bullies Robert for his old-fashioned romanticism, for his status of non-veteran and for his being a Jew. In comparison to Robert’s ‘faults’ Jake’s troubles and feeling of guilt seem less painful, yet it does not disappear completely.