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Published: 23-10-2019

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San Fermin's Dispute: The Symbolic Use of Bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises

“Everything centers around the bull and the bullfighter. The bull can represent anything we pick: the unknown, the “other”, fear, income, sex, perform, romantic relationships, and so forth. It is anything that you have to see to comprehend. The most critical factor isn’t in just killing the bull, but in how one kills it. And it’s the very same with human experience. The most profound point is how we live out our conflicts and issues.”

-Paco Pereda

The portrayal of the ever-present conflicts for the characters in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises comes in an unexpected type: bullfighting. The group of American expatriates in Paris is forced to face their demons during a pivotal trip to Spain throughout the San Fermin festival with a robust bullfighting culture. The facets of bullfighting serve as symbols of the struggles the characters faced in post-Planet War I society. Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises makes use of bullfighting as a symbol of sex, masculinity, and violence to illustrate the way sexuality and gender contribute to the tumultuous nature of the characters’ relationships.

Bullfighting, an historic symbol of sexuality, masculinity, and violence, is examined in detail during chapters XIII-XVIII when Hemingway and his group of friends take a trip to Pamplona for the festival of San Fermin, during which bullfighting is a tradition. Significantly like the characters in Hemingway’s novel, bullfighting has lead a troubled history. Viewed by some as a sport and others as a sadistic functionality, it has been fought by governments and banned in many cities. In an write-up written for the Telegraph, the author states “I came to know the tension, worry, and the injuries suffered by these artists…One can see there is much in widespread with the troubled life of toreros” (Fiske-Harrison). This troubled life he describes for the bullfighters is not far off from the experiences of Jake and his group of buddies in the novel. Defined by their widespread struggles, the bullfighters described by Fiske-Harrison and the group of expatriates in Hemingway’s novel share a frequent need to congregate based on like troubles.

For the duration of this trip, bullfighting is portrayed as a symbol of sex. Paco Pereda, a professor at the University of the Basque Nation, interprets bullfighting as a symbol of sexuality in the following way: “In terms of sexuality, the effeminate costume the bullfighter wears represents the feminine the penetration by spears and the subsequent wounding of the bull represent the moment when the bull and bullfighter reverse roles of male and female sexuality, with the bull “bleeding” and the bullfighter becoming the aggressor” (Pereda, Baker). Not only is bullfighting in basic described in a sexual manner, and depicted as “beautiful”, but the bullfighter that the group encounters, Romero, is also highly sexualized. Brett, the principal symbol of sexuality in the novel as a result far, is riveted by bullfighting, and by Romero. Her physical attraction to Romero provides a tangible kind to the sexuality of bullfighting. Additionally, the San Fermin festival can also be seen as a time of wonderful debauchery and indulgence. The frequent drinking and promiscuity that takes place show the inclination towards particular stimuli oftentimes regarded unhealthy and indulgent. The emphasis on sex creates tension and discomfort among the male characters, who struggle with their masculinity.

Bullfighting is similarly depicted as an inherently masculine sport. It originates from an ancient rite of passage for boys, symbolizing their evolution into young males. The robust and effective bull particularly is a symbol of masculinity, and its converse, the passive steer, is a symbol of de-masculinization. All through the book, the male characters struggle with their perception of masculinity and feel the need to compete with others in regards to how masculine they are. This can be seen close to the really beginning of the novel, when the narrator, as Jake, immediately points out Cohn’s lack of masculinity. When seeing Cohn, Jake remarks, “I watched him stroll back to the café holding his paper. I rather liked him and evidently she led him really a life” (15). He indicates that Cohn’s is not extremely masculine due to the way his wife controls him. Jake can be seen as the castrated steers, because he is impotent. In regards to his implicit castration from a war injury, the liaison colonel tells him that he had given a lot more than [his] life.” His insecurities in regards to masculinity are manifested in this chapter. Furthermore, Cohn’s masculinity is also attacked by Mike, who compares him to a steer for his ineffectiveness and his habit of following Brett. It is clear by way of this passage that the characteristic of being masculine is something taken really seriously by the group.

The violence in bullfighting presents a metaphor for the volatile nature of the group. It ties with each other the themes of masculinity and sex, as the two are employed to attack and hurt the other folks in the group. The complicated connection among Brett and the guys in the group and her penchant for promiscuity causes tension. The men lash out at every other due to their insecurities with Brett. Mike, in response to his personal fear of losing Brett to Romero, yells to Cohn, ““Why do not you see when you are not wanted?” (140). Mike’s insecurity about his relationship with Brett causes him to attack Cohn in order to project the identical feeling onto him. The violence in bullfighting represents however one more massive source of conflict amongst the group members?Globe War I, where terrible violence was rampant. The war gives the deep tensions between those in the group, and these tensions manifest in attacks on the masculinity of certain characters. For example, Robert Cohn, the only non war veteran, is repeatedly attacked by other individuals for his lack of masculinity. Mike accuses him of “follow[ing] Brett about like a steer all the time” (146). Additionally, Jake is castrated in a violent war injury, displaying the really literal toll the violent war took on masculinity. The violence depicted in bullfighting offers a symbolic depiction of both the internal and external chaos that the characters faced due to insecurity and resentment.

The imagery of bullfighting in the novel supplies a tangible description of the problems faced by the characters. The facets of sexuality, masculinity, and violence in bullfighting depicted in this section of the novel supply an essential window into the characters respond to their personal individual trauma and insecurities. Amongst members of the group, insecurities relating to sex and masculinity were rampant, and tensions had been higher. The use of the bullfighting metaphor in the context of this novel proves the big function that sexual and gender insecurity and resentment played into the chaotic nature of the group.
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