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The fishing trip within Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises provides a pilgrimage of rejuvenation to the novel’s participating characters, Jake Barnes and Bill Gorton. Escaping the wasteland that is Paris, the two men “shove off,” (Hemingway, VIII), to Burguete, Spain, where they fish for trout on the Irati River.
The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Jake was left impotent from an injury incurred while serving with the Italian Front in World War 1. His inability to consummate his love for the insatiable Brett Ashley, and the sterile social backdrop of Paris provide a striking similarity to the Arthurian Fisher King motif of a man generatively impaired, and his kingdom thusly sterile. Bill Gorton, an amicable ally of Jake, and one of the few morally sound characters in the novel, serves as Galahad, gently kidding Jake about his injury, promoting self-acceptance and healing.
Hemingway often depicts nature as a pastoral paradise within the novel, and the fishing trip serves as his epitome of such, entirely free from the corruptions of city life and women. Doing away with modern modes of transportation, they walk many miles gladly to reach the Irati River. While fishing, Jake and Bill are able to communicate freely with each other, unbound by the social confines of American and European society. The men also enjoy the camaraderie of English Veteran, Harris. This is quite different from the competitive relationships that can develop between men in the presence of women. Bill is able to express his fondness for Jake openly without it “mean[ing] [he] was a faggot,” (VIII), and Jake has no qualms over his fish being smaller than Bill’s, in what could be interpreted as an admission of lesser sexual virility.
The fresh air of Burguete provides clarity of mind beyond the scope of the Parisian lifestyle and it is evident within Hemingway’s prose and style. Jake’s diligence and dedication to each of the steps involved in fishing are indicative of his separation from his life and the woes that constitute it. Throughout the novel, Jake has a shrewd, practical outlook on life that is omitted here. His focus and attentiveness reveal the sensitive, reflective man that Jake is, free of inhibition. His thoughts undulating like gentle waves, Jake uses worms for bait as opposed to a fly, so he can peacefully drop his line and contemplate life instead of concentrating on the constant casting and jerking inherent to fly fishing.
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One also cannot ignore the Religious sojourn underlying the whole trip; so moved by their surroundings, Bill is driven to mimic the offertory of Mass. Though his rendition is a mockery, it serves to show the disillusionment and detachment people felt in regards to their faith. In the wake of World War 1’s staggering loss and immense destruction, where was God? Normally absent from the expatriates lives, the mention of Church here is rather significant. Within the fields of the earth, Jake and Bill are able to reconnect themselves to their deity, if only superficially. The spirituality that is lacking within the Church walls is found again within the blades of grass, winding hills and gentle breezes of the Spanish outdoors.
The function of fishing within the novel is to provide hope for the “Lost Generation” that though the sun has set in the post war era, the “sun also ariseth,” and will give birth to life again. The people of the post-World War I era had little direction, seeking to find meaning in the daily survival that was their lives. Left disenchanted by dashed Victorian notions of glory and valor in combat, the survivors of the war were casting aside the preconceived ideals of their elders in search of a more liberal and open way of life.
Doing away with the cold formality of the city, Jake and Bill are able to openly express their thoughts and feelings with each other without fear of conformity or social repercussion. They are free to explore new modes of thinking and reflection that allow for closure with their war torn pasts.
Within the lull of the Spanish countryside, Jake is able to wrest with his inner demons, and come to peace with them. Through fishing, he is able to regain pleasure in the natural simplicity of life. The anguish and dejection of his life in Paris is forgotten in the excellence of sportsmanship.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Scribner : New York. 1995