Set in the 1920s, The Sun Also Rises follows the lives of only a few characters who live in Europe in the aftermath of World War I. The novel explores the lives of the so-called Lost Generation, the young people whose lives were determined by the great war and its wreckage.
Generally read as a modernist novel, Hemingway’s text fits in with the literature of the age in which language and sentimentality were pared down for a sparse and at times bleak depiction of daily life and the world.
The novel is known for its sparse language and style. It often has the tone of journalistic conventions. Hemingway did work as a journalist in post-WWI Europe, and the novel is based on his personal experiences.
As a “modernist,” Hemingway famously allowed the modernist poet Ezra Pound to edit a draft of the novel. Pound had become something of an unofficial mediator of new literary talent during this time, and he helped to guide the novel toward the style we so closely associate with modernist prose.
We tend to romanticize many of the events in the novel today. The bullfights in Spain are the source of both disgust for some and romantic danger for others. The abandon and wildness of the characters is also a source of romanticized expatriate life, but the novel also presents all of these things in ways which are devoid of morality and spirit. The way the war had demoralized and entire generation comes through in the novel. The characters all live lives which are largely unfulfilling and devoid of love.
Still in all, the novel remains an example of supreme modernist American fiction.