Considered one of the definitive novels of the “Lost Generation,” The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, examines the aftermath of World War I through a group of American and English expatriates living in Europe. The term “Lost Generation” is attributed to writer Gertrude Stein in reference to the young adults who came of age during the war. Students can explore themes relating to identity, love, friendship, and more. In addition, they will view an important period in time through the lens of Hemingway, who experienced it firsthand.

Learning about Hemingway’s life and the historical context of the novel are essential to understanding the story. Background information on other expatriate writers (e.g., F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot) will aid students in understanding the characters, who live in post-war Paris and travel to Spain for the San Fermín festival in the summer of 1925.

The novel exposes social issues that are worth analyzing, especially in comparison to modern American society. Immorality, alcohol abuse, anti-Semitism, racism, animal cruelty, and gender roles and stereotypes are some of the weighty issues that can be examined through class discussion and debate, using appropriate guidelines. The maturity of your students should be considered when determining how to approach these topics.

The Sun Also Rises provides opportunities to explore other elements as well—most notably Hemingway’s spare writing style. Comparing passages from the novel to some from other writers of the time is a great way to examine how style affects the telling of a story. Students can experiment with writing dialogue and descriptions in different styles. Hemingway’s liberal use of allusion gives students ample material to research, which could lead to creative projects such as mapping the characters’ travels through the locations in the novel. Students could also make collages by theme, character, setting, mood, etc.

Read on to learn more about teaching The Sun Also Rises.

Summary of The Sun Also Rises

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 1926
  • Length: 256
  • Lexile Measure: 610L
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9–12

Journalist Jake Barnes lives in Paris along with a group of friends and acquaintances. They spend their time in cafés and nightclubs, aimlessly trying to fill the void in their lives. The war has left Jake impotent, and the woman he loves, Lady Brett Ashley, has made it clear that their relationship must remain platonic because of it. Brett is engaged, but she’s not faithful and has affairs with several men, including Jake’s friend Robert Cohn. Despite this situation, Jake and his friends embark on a trip to Pamplona, Spain, for the annual San Fermín festival, where the highlight is watching the bullfights.

Jake has a true passion for bullfighting, and he shares it with the group as they immerse themselves in the culture of Spain and one of the sports most associated with it. During their time there, Jake and the others expose their true feelings and personalities, causing pain and damaging relationships. When the festival ends, everyone departs for their separate destinations, changed by the experiences of their time together.

Content Warning: The Sun Also Rises contains anti-Semitism, racism, racial slurs, and derogatory descriptions of homosexuals. Immoral behavior and heavy drinking are prevalent. The maiming and killing of animals during bullfights is described in detail. This novel is better suited for older readers.

What Your Students Will Love About The Sun Also Rises

  • The realistic portrayal of the characters
  • The travel log feel of the descriptions of Paris and Spain

Potential Student Struggles With The Sun Also Rises

  • Unlikeable and unsympathetic characters
  • Outdated slang and racially charged language
  • Hemingway’s sparse, direct, dialogue-driven writing style
  • Graphic descriptions of violence and cruelty toward animals
  • French and Spanish words, which might be difficult to pronounce and understand

Learning Objectives for The Sun Also Rises

  • Identify allusions and explain how their inclusion enhances the story
  • Comment on the way anti-Semitism affects how Cohn is treated by others
  • Define Roman à clef and explain how the novel is an example of this genre
  • Consider the meanings of the novel’s epigraphs and how they relate to the story
  • Explain how the collective existential crisis created by World War I manifests in each character
  • Discuss how the settings of Paris and Spain give the story a sense of romance, adventure, and escapism
  • Understand the qualities of a Hemingway “code hero” and discuss whether Jake Barnes fits that definition
  • Describe how Hemingway characterizes Lady Brett Ashley in reference to female gender roles and stereotypes
  • Discuss Hemingway’s use of short, simple sentences and dialogue to reveal character traits and motivations

Literary Elements in The Sun Also Rises

  • Allusion
  • Epigraph
  • First-Person Narration
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Roman à Clef
  • Sarcasm
  • Satire
  • Style
  • Theme
  • And more!

Major Themes in The Sun Also Rises

Identity/Disillusionment — The generation who came of age during World War I experienced trauma and a loss of innocence that left them feeling cynical and without a sense of who they were and how they fit into the world. Jake and his fellow expatriates wander aimlessly through Europe in search of meaning in their lives.

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Masculinity — Hemingway’s male characters are usually ultra-masculine, and some of the men in this novel are, but Jake and his friends exhibit insecurity that causes them to compete for the affection of Lady Brett Ashley, the only female main character. The war has changed the men, especially Jake, and the idea of masculinity.

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Love — Jake and Brett love each other, but their love will never result in a romantic commitment, a reality that makes both of them miserable. Love, attraction, and friendship are complicated and often misunderstood among the characters.

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Other Resources for The Sun Also Rises

Order The Sun Also Rises Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
The Sun Also Rises Paperback Student Edition
The Sun Also Rises Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
The Sun Also Rises Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

This free guide was originally posted in April 2016. It has been updated as of December 2021.