Athenaeum Meeting Minutes – October 12, 2002 – Dog & Duck Pub

Attending:  Peter Hansen, Bob Hardister, Alan Hunt, John Mays, Eli Pickering, Steve Pickens

Book for Discussion:  The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Taking Minutes:  Peter Hansen


Eli: I got the feeling after I finished that I had missed a lot. The subtext of the story was the characters’ experiences during WWI.

John: Hemingway was part of the "Lost Generation." This label first appears in Hemingway’s Immovable Feast; a memoir of his experiences while living with a community of intellectuals and artists in Paris. Gertrude Stein’s mechanic commented that they were a lost generation that didn’t believe in anything. However, Hemingway took exception to this label. Though questioning traditional values and mores, Hemingway claimed he did believe in certain things. Many of the characters in The Sun Also Rises reflect Hemingway’s attitude toward life and the post WWI world.

Bob: It seemed like all the characters lived hopeless lives. They were always blowing important moral decisions.

John: Hemingway is attempting to put his finger on the "throbbing pulses"of life. He explores the meaningful and meaningless aspects of life. Did you note his emphasis on aficionados? They are always reaching out and touching each other. This emphasizes nobility and dignity in man. Hemingway believes in the dignity and nobility of man despite his propensity for evil.

Eli: The Bull fighting scenes were the best

Bob: The Fishing scenes were capital as well.

Alan: Jake and Bill both have a tremendous appreciation for nature that none of the other characters seem to share. While riding in the car through the beautiful Spanish countryside, Jake and Bill are appreciative while Cohn falls asleep. They comment that they were glad he wasn’t awake to spoil the experience. It seemed like Cohn was arrested in a pre war mentality. Cohn acted as a foil for the rest of the characters.

Peter: Cohn was a blithering idiot. He didn’t have a clue. He had an inferiority complex because of his Jewishness. He tried to make up for his stupidity by learning to box and chasing meaningless relationships with women who owned him. His obsession with Brett was pitiful. Hemingway makes a point of stating that none of his fellow classmates at Princeton remembered him. Cohn was the kind of guy you hardly notice except to ridicule.

Bob: The comparison between Cohn and Romero is interesting. They are both arrested in a pre war past but one is noble and the other pathetic. Regarding Hemingway’s repudiation of the label "lost generation," the scene with The Count, Brett, and Jake enjoying a bottle of wine clearly reveal’s Hemingway’s values and his love of life. The Count comments that "…all I want out of wines is to enjoy them." And again, "You see, Mr. Barnes, it is because I have lived very much that now I can enjoy everything so well." When Brett comments that The Count hasn’t got any values and is really dead, he replies, "No, my dear. You’re not right. I’m not dead at all." Hemingway seems to be saying that there are some values such as food, wine, love, etc. that never change.

Alan: The title of the book is positive and reveals an overall redemptive aspect of Hemingway’s novel. It symbolizes true meaning in meaninglessness. Despite the horrors of war and destruction of values (the sun setting), it also rises again.

John: Western Civilization has lost its traditional moorings (religion, the British empire, etc.); traditional idols have been smashed. Nevertheless, Hemingway seems to be saying that you can’t just say "to hell with everything." There is an essence of life that connects men with the visceral beauty of life. He finds this beauty in the ruggedness of sports (fishing and bull-fighting) and nature.

Peter: Hemingway mines the vein of existentialist philosophy. One of his many themes is the search for meaning, authenticity, and excitement in life. In chapter II, Cohn comments that "I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it." Jake replies: "Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters." Cohn continues: "Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already….Do you know that in about thirty-five years more we’ll be dead?" Hemingway seems to emphasize that humans are what Heidegger calls Das Sein ("beings toward death"). They must live in the ever-present reality that death is imminent and inescapable. The search for life is only satisfied in the presence of death. This is beautifully pictured in the bull-fighter’s dangerous "dance with death."

John: For Hemingway, WWI destroyed belief in the goodness of humanity and the ideal of historical progress. It shattered his confidence and hope for humanity. Man is still as bad as he can be; he has not improved. Greater technological sophistication just means more sophisticated ways of killing each other.

Bob: Like many of Hemingway’s characters, Brett is tragic because of her past. She has been permanently scarred and jaded by the British aristocracy resulting in a kind of disillusionment represented by her alcoholism and her degrading liasons with anything in pants.

Peter: Jake illustrates this tragic disillusionment with his comment at the beginning of chapter III: "Everybody’s sick. I’m sick, too." And again, Bill comments in chapter XII that "You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil….Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafes."

John: Though many people think Jake’s "accident" made him impotent, I don’t think this is the case. Hemingway never says explicitly that Jake is impotent. He just alludes to the fact that he has had an accident. This is kind of autobiographical of Hemingway. In his novels someone always gets blown up.

Bob: I thought Hemingway was really showing off with that whole bit about irony and pity and the revisionist discourse on the Civil War.

John: Hemingway has a fascinating philosophy of writing. He constantly uses short declarative sentences without adjectival embellishment. He tries to widdle his sentences down to subjects and verbs and flat truths. He developed this style as a way to avoid writer’s block. He would compose bare factual statements.

Eli: The naked sentential structure does not detract in the least from Hemingway’s ability to convey beautiful passages and narration. One of my favorite passages was the big blow up in chapter 13 where Mike rips Cohn a new ass-hole. Cohn is like a steer that is hanging around waiting to be gored by a bull. There is this ignored tension that mounts throughout the novel that finally breaks when Mike (lousy drunk that he is) begins to ridicule and mock Cohn. This had an ominous feel to it and it foreshadows the rest of the story: "It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening."


Peter: Chapter XIV opens with a soliloquy on Jake’s philosophy of life as he is falling asleep under the heavy influence of the days drinking bouts. He says, "There is no reason why because it is dark you should look at things differently from when it is light….You paid some way for everything that was any good. I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time. Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it. You could get your money’s worth. The world was a good place to buy in….Perhaps that wasn’t true…. I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about." Jake has no moral direction b/c he has no metaphysical north star to get his bearings. He is content to float through life like a lost ship at sea.

Bob: Jake Barnes is a pimp; a spineless bastard. He is impotent when it comes to doing the right thing. He is morally flawed. He betrays Montoya which is unforgivable.

John: The loss of friendship with Montoya is indeed tragic. It symbolizes a loss of values. It is the most serious betrayal of all.

Peter: All of the moral failures should be seen in light of the fiesta. Hemingway comments that "The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta."

John: The religious themes in the novel were interesting. In chapter X, the cathedral scene, Jake says a prayer for his friends, good bull-fighting, himself, the fiesta, fishing, money, The Count, and many other things that seemed frivolous. Jake then comments that he has always been a rotten Catholic. This scene says a lot about Hemingway’s humanity. I embrace this kind of prayer; its earthiness and its portrayal of human nobility in bull-fighting. In its simplicity it is actually quite profound.

Bob: I though Steinbeck demonstrated a more profound love of humanity and tenderness toward the human condition. Hemingway seems flippant.

Eli: I agree with Bob, Steinbeck seemed to have true reverence for God whereas Hemingway seems to make light of the human heart and its need for God.

John: It is true that Steinbeck loves his characters; I got the impression though that Hemingway does not love individual particular men but rather man in general. He has this eternal and infinite hope in earthiness of man and creation; exemplifying the beauty and nobility of man without loving individual men.

Bob: The love of particular characters creates a love for humanity.

John: Hemingway seems bitter and pissed off about the world whereas Steinbeck is not. Hemingway’s attitude toward life is more complex.

Alan: Two things stand out to me that seem to underscore Hemingway's hopeful and even quasi-Christian perspective: (1) Jake exhibits respect for religion in his overt regret that he is a "rotten Catholic" and (2) the sacrament affects him even after he leaves the cathedral, as he notes feeling the chill of the water drying on his skin in the sun.

Peter: Though Hemingway’s characters reveal bitterness and disillusionment, they also reveal a unique sense of humor and unquestioning love of life. In particular, the conversation Bill and Jake have while fishing is simply a riot. Jake says, "Wonder what day God created the chicken?" "Oh," said Bill, sucking the drumstick, "how should we know? We should not question. Our stay on earth is not for long. Let us rejoice and believe and give thanks….Let us rejoice in our blessings. Let us utilize the fowls of the air. Let us utilize the product of the vine. Will you utilize a little, brother? Let us not doubt, brother. Let us not pry into the holy mysteries of the hen-coop with simian fingers. Let us accept on faith and simply say—I want you to join with me in saying—what shall we say, brother? Let me tell you. We will say, and I for one am proud to say—and I want you to say with me, on your knees brother. Let no man be ashamed to kneel here in the great out-of-doors. Remember the woods were God’s first temples.

Bob: There is an interesting section in chapter XVIII where Brett is prevented from seeing the noble and traditional Romero b/c he is being attended to by his own people after he had been beaten to a bloody pulp by Cohn. Hemingway comments about Brett’s radiance and happiness. Brett is destroying Romero and enjoying it! This is like Modernity rejoicing and reveling in the destruction of tradition.

John: Reads paper he wrote on Hemingway: (1) Hemingway is the master of the unsaid. He lets scenes speak for themselves (coffin scene of gored man is a classic example of understatement); (2) Triangle of people or things in Hemingway’s novels heightens the tension between two people ("Hills Like White Elephants"; abortion is the unspoken thing heightening tension). Conclusion: Hemingway used literary devices to explore his themes; he questions traditions; revels in the mysteries of life.

Bob: Jake is a symbol of the impotence of modernity and Brett symbolizes woman separated from her matriachical role. This separation is either conscious or unconscious explanation of the misery in her life.

John: Probably unconscious. Hemingway is writing by looking at people and how they act; He is describing not prescribing like an artist painting an accurate portrayal but not necessarily knowing what he’s painting. I like to study modern literature to discover the ubiquitous cry of the human heart for meaning and authenticity even though I repudiate the philosophy of modernism; the art is still good.

Eli: Reads passage about bull-fighting emphasizing the differences between Belmonte and Romero.

Voting for month of December:


Selected for December: The Last Gentleman, by Walker Percy.

Next Meeting:

November 9th at the Dog and Duck Pub

November The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera

December The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy

Athenaeum Meeting Minutes