The Price of Objectivity

The Price of Objectivity

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The Price of Objectivity

     The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is one of the pre-eminent works of modernist literature. It set the tone for the several decades of literature that was to follow. It delves deeply into the 'lost generation' that was created after the first wold war. A generation that lost any idealism that their predecessors had. A generation that lost any emotional attachment to the world around them. This is a trait that is predominant throughout Hemingway's novel as the narrator, Jake Barnes, remains clinically detached from the events that transpire around him.

     Jake was an ambulance driver in the first world war and as with many of his peers, his experiences left him with a severe emotional disillusionment with the world as a whole. Not to mention the lack of functioning genitalia which certainly didn't help him identify positively with the world. Essentially, if it didn't involve Jake, he couldn't care less. For example, Jake watches a man get gored through the back by a stampeding bull and die, then waits for the rocket to go off signaling that the bulls were coralled and then simply walks off. He doesn't concern himself with the health of the (then) wounded man, he doesn't contemplate whether the running of the bulls was a worthwhile risk in the name of fun and games. He simply watches, then leaves without the slightest tint of subjectivity to his narrative. He remains perfectly objective, simply a watcher in the grand scheme of life.

     And what does Jake watch exactly? He watches as everything goes around in circles, always ending up in the same place as it started. The group as a whole heads out drinking, only to wake up the next morning to repeat the process with nothing changed. Brett, although engaged to a man who loves her, is hopelessly in love with Jake. Jake is forced to watch as she passes along
from Mike, to Cohn, to Romero and then back to Mike before finally ending up right back where she started with Jake. Jake watches as every event he witness returns full circle. A cycle that the title, 'The Sun Also Rises', refers to. Just like the sun also rises only to hasten to the place where it arose, so do the events of the characters in the book, giving off the image that life is futile and nothing ever gets accomplished.

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(An effect that goes doubly for Jake who must watch dispassionately the futile efforts of others)

     This idea is even tied into the original cover art of the book. In that picture we see an intoxicated woman (presumably Brett, as she is the only female of any significance in the story) lying with her head on her shoulder, sleeping beneath the eye of the sun. This juxtaposition of the sun and the woman shows a link between them. As if the woman's life is forever tied into the
movements of the sun, circular, never-changing. Always forced to repeat the same mistakes, never having the subjectivity to learn from her mistakes. All of these can be summed up in Gertrude Stein's now famous quip, that they are all a 'lost generation'.

     And why is this generation as a whole 'lost'? Let's take Jake as a perfect example. He went off to fight in the first World War in an effort to find himself, but came back a shell of a man. Not only did he fail in finding himself, he lost nearly everything he had. His ideals were shattered, his
genitals left on a battlefield in Europe with his ability to be subjective and involve himself emotionally with the world around him. His life (as viewed in his narrative) is simply moving from one place to the next, with no deep thought about the people he meets. Merely a simple statement of the facts.

     Objectivity as a whole depends upon distancing a person from the events and simply watching with a clinical disattachment as Jake did. And as Jake is the narrator of The Sun Also Rises, this creates a definite lack of caring in the reader for the events that effect those outside of Jake's circle. Just as when a tragedy is reported in a newspaper and the reader says 'that's a shame'; then turns the page, so too does this book deal with life. An objectivity that borders upon the pathological is shown to be self-destructive as without being able to empathize with and learn from the mistakes of the past that subjectivity would bring, Jake and his friends are doomed to forever repeat the same events without change; just as the sun will always rise.
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