The Role Of Bull-fighting In Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises

Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun also Rises, is a novel which depicts American expatriates travelling from Paris to Pamplona for the festival of San Fermín, in order to watch bulls and bullfights. It is based on his own trip to Spain in 1925 in which he experienced the life of European cafes and the running of the bulls. 

The Sun also Rises portrays the lives of the ‘Lost Generation’. Lost generation is a group of American writers who grew up during the First World War and established their literary reputations in the 1920s. This term is commonly used to represent the generation after the First World War. ‘Lost’ means that their values are no longer vital. According to Michael S. Reynolds, they are the people who “temporarily lost hope, abandoned ideals, and discarded dreams … they particularly fond of their prospective future”. So, this novel is mainly talking about Hemingway’s own experience.

Bulls and bullfighting are the two most significant symbols in The Sun also Rises. In this novel, bullfighting is frequently and deeply used as a symbol of masculinity, passion and the destruction of love. The young characters are part of the ‘lost generation’, who are deeply fascinated by courage, skill and honor. These are the basis of the fight, and they are cynical about these. When people read how the author describes each bullfight, the language he used is quite sexual and reflects the stages of intimate contact which includes temptation, manipulation and eventual penetration, as the bullfighter kills the bulls with a sword.

The relationships between bulls and bullfighters seems like sexmates, they also symbolize the act of sex. All bullfight contains temptation, manipulation and penetration of the bullfighter. Also, the bullfighting plots are rich in symbolic possibilities. In this novel, bulls and bullfighters are represent the main characters like Jake Barnes, Lady Brett Ashley, Robert Cohn, Mike Campbell, Pedro Romero, etc. Bullfighter refers to Brett, the bulls refers to the male characters. In terms of sexuality, the bullfighter who wears elegant costume represents females.

Now, I would like to talk about how bull and bullfighting relating to the main characters and their relationships. Jake, Brett, Romero, Mike and Cohn are affected by bullfighting.

Lady Brett Ashley is a beautiful British socialite who likes drinking. She is waiting a divorce at the beginning of the novel. Although she loves Jake, she does not want to establish a relationship with him, she cannot give up sex. She sleeps with many people but did not make a full commitment to those men. However, she does not seem to have gained too much happiness from her independence. Her life is purposeless and unachievable. Brett is not plagued by bull battles. Like Jack, the interaction between the bullfighter and the bulls has also attracted them. After watching the bullfight, Brett was determined to be with Romero who killed the animals.

Jake Barnes is the narrator and protagonist. He was a veteran of the First World War, and later became a journalist in Paris. He got trouble into Brett’s love because of his incompetence. He seems to work hard to experience sex through bullfighting because he can't make love himself. As an avid fan, Jake knows and loves the passionate bullfighting which shows that he is also a passionate person. Jake's knowledge of the bullfighting enabled him to authoritatively describe it to Brett in order to make him more masculine.

Pedro Romero is a very young bullfighter. He has great talent in this sport so he attracts many people. He has always been a foil of other characters because he is confident and safeguard his dignity. Unlike other male characters, he has passion and sexual ability. Moreover, his enthusiasm for bullfighting makes his life meaning significant. He still maintains honesty, cleanliness and power in a world which is full of morality and masculinity.

Robert Cohn is a wealthy writer in Paris. He is an expatriate who did not experience in the World War I. He insisted on romantic pre-war love and the ideal of fair competition, but in the context of the devastating legacy of the First World War, these values ​​seemed ridiculous. As a Jewish and non-senior person, Cohn is a convenient target for the cruel and small confrontation between Jack and his friends. He is the role who inspired the whole book. Although he is not a hero, not even a particularly compassionate figure, he is crucial to the plot of the novel.

Mike Campbell is also a veteran who often drunk. He encountered a lot of trouble in dealing with Brett's sexual promiscuity, which aroused his self-pity and anger, and seemed to have no sense of security for her disloyal and lack of money.

The interaction between Brett and the male characters seems like bullfighting. The bullfighter (Brett) passed a few quick passes from the bull to test his courage. Jake got a success pass, no matter in the taxi at chapter 7 or at the end of the book. Jake’s movement makes them closer and Brett confuse with him. They danced together in the ring. “Throws [the bull] off balance and makes him pause for a second, giving the matador a chance to walk away” Jake always making Brett out of balance and leaving her in different directions in the last moment.

'Good night, Jake. Good night, darling. I won't see you again.' We kissed standing at the door. She pushed me away. We kissed again. 'Oh, don't!' Brett said. 

Bulls and bullfighting correspond to their real lives. Almost every plot involving bulls or bullfights will happen or has occurred among the main characters. For example, at the beginning of the festival, a bull drove into one of the steers and bruised it. This movement may predict the attacks between the men (bulls). In addition, we can find out Brett’s destruction of Cohn and his values.

Bull and bullfighting symbolize different aspects, I will talk about it as follow.

Sex and Love

Bullfighting symbolizes the change of love. The couples or partners in The Sun also Rises change constantly and unexpectedly. Their relationships are established and broken during the journey from one country to another. Brett keeps changing lovers, from Jake to Mike then the young bullfighter Romero. Marriage is mentioned in this novel, but Robert Cohn’s unfortunate first marriage and grievous marriage makes people not to try. They cannot build up their family. Drinking alcohol in nightly drinking parties and leisurely dining in public places are the main activities for them in the novel. They have no idea what they have to do. Their careers and movements are purposeless and unstable. So they ignore love. However, although the insecurities of male characters have prevented them from loving and sexual behavior, Brett has performed well in terms of sexual life. She is healthy, glamorous and lives an ideal single life. She still has sex with male without love and marriage. This shows that the First World War has tied up all the people except Brett, she has released.

In the last few lines of the novel, “Oh, Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together.' Brett is looking forward Jake. In numerous plots in the novel, it seems that Jake and Brett have true love. If Jake did not have the trauma which made him inability, they would be a real couple. However, Jake responds that “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so?” Everyone can imagine that their love would be perfect, but the war makes everything become worthless. The only reason for the answer is that his injury made him impossible. It brings out that all ideals erased by the First World War, and ‘love’ cannot solve the emptiness of life and the lost generation. 

Bullfighting also represents the destructiveness of sex. Sex is a main theme of this novel. Jake is fascinated by things which he cannot have, this is a topic that is constantly being discussed in the novel. Brett can sleep with almost every man to replace Jake's sexual gratification. Jake is the guy whom Brett actually fell in love with. Jake got wound so he cannot have sex but Brett cannot accept this. She is a lady who want sex with guys. 

The First World War left horrible scars to all affected people. Jake also has no exemption. His scars are not only mental but also physical: When Jake and Georgette went to restaurant by a horse-cab,

Georgette looked up to be kissed. She touched me with one hand and I put her hand away. 'Never mind.'

'What’s the matter? You sick?'

'Everybody’s sick. I’m sick too.' 

Jake was always mentioned that the war renders him impotent, which explodes his image as a hero. Even if women want him, they can’t own him. Men respect and esteem him, but they definitely don’t want to be him because he cannot have sex with women. We can see that sex is an important activity in people’s lives during 1920s.

When watching the bullfighting games, the characters deliberate the bull’s violence in sexual perspective. For example, in Chapter 18, during the bullfight, they talked about the topography of the bull and the bullfighter. If the bullfighter stays in his place, he is relatively safe. But when the bullfighter enters into the bull’s terrain, he becomes hazard. (ch.18) They over considering their masculinity or femininity temperament, or still “entering the ring”, so they got into danger. The characters use non-sexual terms to refer to sexual performance topic which they always think about and wants to talk about. This situation also represents Brett and her suitors. Brett is a very adept bullfighter who stimulates the hearts of Jake, Robert and Mike. Brett close to every guy but she never establishes real connection with them. Just like a bullfighter close to the bull but never get touches except for the contact which is harmful. This is the only way which can make Brett in safe. If she associated with them, she will become vulnerable. She is worried that interpersonal relationships change in her approach.


In general, bullfighting is not only described sexuality but also ‘beautiful’. The matador Romero is highly sexualized. The main important sexuality character Brett is attracted by the bullfighting and Romero. Her physical appeal to Romero provides a practical form of bullfighting. Moreover, the San Fermin Festival can be seen as a period of profligacy and overindulgence. Drinking and promiscuity indicate a preference for certain stimuli that are often considered unhealthy and indulgent. The focus on sex bring about tension and uneasiness between male characters struggling in masculinity.

Bullfighting is analogously depicted as an intrinsic male movement. It comes from the boy’s ancient inheritance ceremony and moves to young people. The powerful and formidable bull is a token of masculinity. By reading this novel, we can find out the male characters always compete with each other who has more masculinity. For instance, in chapter 4, “I watched him walk back to the café holding his paper. I rather liked him and evidently she led him quite a life.” Because of the life which controlled by his wife, Jake indicates that Cohn lack of masculinity. But Jake could not do anything since he is impotent. In addition, Cohn’s masculinity is attacked by Mike. He said that Cohn is a steer which follows Brett all the time. Subsequently, Cohn went to fight Brett’s new lover Romero, to show his masculinity. It is obvious that the male characters are paying great attention to masculinity.

Brett also has a masculinity image. She broke the stereotype of women at the time. She called herself a “chap”.

Brett was damned good-looking. She wore a slipover jersey sweater and a tweed skirt, and her hair was brushed back like a boy's. She started all that. She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey. 

“When the taxi stopped I got out and paid. Brett came out putting on her hat … She pulled her man's felt hat down and started in for the bar. ” 

Although Brett has many masculine qualities that made her unappealing in the 19th century. But her charm increased her sexual appeal in 20th century. These men don’t mind her short hair can dressing style except Romero. Her sexuality is masculine too, as greedy as a bull.


The violence in bullfighting metaphorizes the volatile nature of the group (bulls – Jake, Chon, Mike). It also ties with the other two themes – sex and masculinity – both of them are used to harm others. The complex relationships between Brett and the men in the group and her hobby of promiscuity have caused men’s tensions. Due to the anxieties with Brett, these people fight with each other. For example,

'Did you see the one hit that steer?' Mike asked. 'That was extraordinary.'

'It's no life being a steer,' Robert Cohn said.

'Don't you think so?' Mike said. 'I would have thought you'd loved being a steer, Robert.' 'What do you mean, Mike?'

'Come off it, Michael. You're drunk,' Brett said.

'I'm not drunk. I'm quite serious. _Is_ Robert Cohn going to follow Brett around like a steer all the time?'

'Shut up, Michael. Try and show a little breeding.'

'Breeding be damned. Who has any breeding, anyway, except the bulls? Aren't the bulls lovely? Don't you

like them, Bill? Why don't you say something, Robert? Don't sit there looking like a bloody funeral. What if Brett did sleep with you? She's slept with lots of better people than you.'

'Shut up,' Cohn said. He stood up. 'Shut up, Mike.'

'...Tell me, Robert. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don't you know you're not wanted? I know when I'm not wanted. Why don't you know when you're not wanted? ...' 

Mike is fear of losing Brett to Romero, his unsafe relationship with Brett led him cast the same feeling on Robert Cohn and attack him.

I swung at him and he ducked. I saw his face duck sideways in the light. He hit me and I sat down on the pavement. As I started to get on my feet he hit me twice. I went down backward under a table. I tried to get up and felt I did not have any legs. I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him. Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair. Mike was pulling at my ears. 

In chapter 17, Robert Cohn came to find Jake while Jake and Mike were at the cafe. Cohn asked Jake where Brett is, but Jake did not tell me, as a result, Cohn fight Jake down.

During the conversation between Jake, Bill and Mike, we know that after Cohn hit Jake, he went to Romero’s room and fight him.

'Why he went in and found Brett and the bull-fighter chap in the bull-fighter's room, and then he massacred the poor, bloody bull-fighter.'

'He nearly killed the poor, bloody bull-fighter. Then Cohn wanted to take Brett away. Wanted to make an honest woman of her, I imagine. Damned touching scene.'

'It seems the bull-fighter fellow was sitting on the bed. He'd been knocked down about fifteen times, and he wanted to fight some more. Brett held him and wouldn't let him get up. 

The World War I is violence, it caused profound and lasting tensions in the group of people. These tensions are reflected in the masculinity of them. For example, Jake was slashed by a violent war. Although in men’s mind, Jake is a brave man and his masculinity has been upgraded. It has declined in Brett’s heart based on his impotent. In addition, Robert Cohn, who is the only non-war experiencer, has been repeated attacked by others (bulls) for his lack of masculinity. The violent behavior described in the bullfighting portrays the chaos based on characters' insecurity and resentment. Hemingway using the bullfight metaphor in the context of this novel demonstrates that resentment and sexual and gender insecurity play an important role in the chaotic nature of the group. 


Bulls, bullfighters and bullfighting are quite important in The Sun Also Rise. Hemingway use these terms to depict the relationships between the main characters (the lost generation). It also tied with sexuality, love, masculinity and violence. Bullfighting dominates the second half of the novel and represents the annoying relationships between the male characters (Jake, Cohn, Mike and Romero) and Brett. In this novel, Brett’s appeal made the men fight for their love, just like the bullfighters shows off the red banner to confront the bulls. If Brett is a bullfighter, then these men are the bull. Jake, who can't have sex with Brett, trying to be friend with them. He always concerns Brett, makes travel plans, and invites people to join the trip in order to draw Brett’s attention. He cares about building friendships and making everyone happy, even if he sacrifices his own happiness. After the bulls ran in Pamplona, Jake and his friends evaluated the power and aggressiveness of the bulls. He uses the same way to evaluates other guys. Jake believes that Robert Cohn does not match Brett. He also thinks that the duke and Mike are over masculine because they were veterans during the war. And the bullfighter Romero is the one who is worth to Brett. He is young, handsome and has great talent. But he was rejected at the end of the novel. It seems like a strong bull eventually killed by a proficient bullfighter.


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16 August 2021
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