Ernest Hemingway stated, concerning this book, that “‘The Sun Also Rises’ is a damn tragedy with the earth abiding as hero forever”. Unfortunately, we have not really understood how he explained this in his writings because we have not understood the character of Brett- what she symbolizes- in this novel. Brett is not to be seen as a separate, individual character in her own right but rather she symbolizes an element within another character. We can only understand the true significance of Hemingway’s declaration if we begin to see Brett as Hemingway intended her to be seen, namely as the personification of the “need to believe element” within Jake. Once we begin to read this novel with this understanding, then we will truly begin to empathize with Jake in his “impotency” to believe in anything (Hemingway’s “nada” concept).
Brett, who has a multitude of “affairs” with “people” who represent different ideologies/beliefs, cannot “believe” in any of them for long. Why? Because her master- Jake- is impotent. His faith had been shattered on account of, and during, the war. Every time Brett begins to believe in something, she invariably becomes disillusioned and returns to Jake, who believes in nothing. Brett’s final affair is with Pedro Romero, a Christ figure. Even though it seems like this relationship/belief is going to be a lasting one, Brett, alas, ends up leaving him, too, because he criticized her on account of her “hair being too short”, which is an allusion to Christianity. The New Testament specifically says that it is “shame for a woman to have short hair”. There are many, many allusions to Christ in this portion of the novel when describing Pedro Romero. At the end of the book, when Brett (= the need to believe element within Jake) once again returns to the “nada” concept/Jake, she states, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damn good time together”. Jake responds with, “Isn’t it pretty to think so”- the last line of the novel. What critics have failed to perceive is that Brett and Jake are not talking about their relationship with one another here (which has been assumed by ALL of the critics) but rather are referring to Brett’s latest relationship with Pedro Romero. Brett, upon returning to Jake this last time, had continued to bring up, in her conversation with Jake, her relationship with Pedro Romero, and is doing so again this final time. When Brett states, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damn good time together”, she is not talking about her relationship with Jake, for they are inextricably bound to each other! Rather she is once again bringing up her relationship with Pedro Romero- the Christ figure- and her regret over losing him. Jake knows his tragic situation- that he is incapable of believing in anything, and so he states, “Isn’t it pretty to think so”. This is the “damn tragedy” that Hemingway was referring to in his comment about this novel. Jake is doomed to believe in “nada/nothing” as a result of what he experienced on earth. Even though the “Sun” (a pun on the word “Son”- Pedro Romero, the Christ figure) had risen in the life of Jake, the “earth” and it’s hard lessons (the injustices) abides forever in the life of Jake. He believes in “nada”/nothing. Yes, it is “pretty to think” that belief in something meaningful is possible, but unfortunately, no, tragically, it is not possible.
My suspicion is that this is, in a way, an autobiography of Hemingway, who, in his youth, was a zealous believer in Christ, and who, during the war, was wounded and lost his faith in Christianity. It is interesting to note that one of Brett’s “affairs”, brief as it is, is with a group of homosexuals. I believe some have suspected that Hemingway may also have had a short-lived homosexual encounter. Everyone knows that Hemingway killed himself by shooting himself in the skull with a shotgun. Maybe he wanted his life to be seen, like “The Sun Also Rises”, as a “damn tragedy with the earth abiding as hero forever”. His own “need to believe in something” element (Brett) was shattered/crippled by “the earth” and all the tragedies and sin which occur in it, and even though the “Sun (Son= Pedro Romero/Christ figure)” rose in his own life, the Son also set in his own life with the Earth abiding as hero forever.