Life without consequence; is this possible? This was the main goal of the men and women existing after WW1. During this era of great prosperity and moral backlash the young adults of the world took to the bars and dance halls of Europe or the extravagant parties of the American east coast looking for happiness. Their lives are chronicled in the stories that came from the emerging great authors of that time period. The most notorious of these books is F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby where the exploits of the rich are articulated with great description and lavishness that complimented their somewhat insane lives well. There is another author whose stories open a window into that generation as well, Ernest Hemmingway. In Hemmingway’s books In Our Time and The Sun Also Rises we see the plights of this generation played out in a very serious way that leaves the reader with a heavy feeling of discomfort with the illogical and empty way the characters attempt to subsist.
Both authors and all three novels point to one conclusion, that if your goal is to live without suffering consequences of your actions you will in fact not live but suffer in an unfulfilling existence. Throughout the tale of The Great Gatsby the reader is treated to a vivid description of Gatsby’s parties and his prolific residence. It would appear that Gatsby had everything a person could want. Loads of money and friends and surrounded by the finer things of life. However, the book takes a turn towards its end.
Fitzgerald decides to show his readers what will happen if this sort of life without consequences is attempted. The last few chapters depict a crushing scene of death and sorrow. The main character, Nick Carraway, is left to tend to his friend and neighbor’s, Gatsby’s, final arrangements after Gatsby comes to an untimely end. Carraway thought that there would be no problem flooding the funeral with people since so many flooded his house every weekend. However, even though the patrons at his parties fought for an invitation to the next celebration, not a single one would attend his funeral.
In fact, the only people at his funeral were Nick, Gatsby’s father, a few servants, the post man and a party-goer that had only attended one function and was absolutely amazed to find out that no one else came out to the funeral. Gatsby was a victim of the generation. The generation that believed nothing and no one could stop them from having a good time. They ignored death, and the unpleasantries of the real world in order to exist in a hollow and lonely fictitious world. Hemmingway, unlike Fitzgerald, does not beat around the bush about this topic.
In Hemmingway’s In Our Time he writes one story about a young soldier back from the war, Krebs. The narrator states, “He (Krebs) did not want any consequences. He did not want consequences ever again. He wanted to live along without consequences. ” (In Our Time, pg. 71) It is evident that by the persistent repetition of this desire that it is the basis of Krebs’ new life. Krebs goes on to explain that he doesn’t want to love anyone and that he doesn’t even love his mother.
All Krebs would like to do is sit on his porch and watch the girls, since talking to them would be to complicating to his life plan of existing in the world. Basically Krebs would be completely content with watching the world pass by instead of taking an active part in it. Hemmingway devotes the entire book The Sun Also Rises to this modern lifestyle of leisure. His main characters Jake, Brett, Cohn, and Mike depict this existence in an almost tragic manner. All of these characters are adrift in life; roaming from bar to bar in search of the next blurred illusion of happiness.
Brett, the heroin of this novel, is what most would consider a modern woman. If modern is to insinuate that she disregarded all moral standards and values. Brett manages to make all the men that come in contact with her go somewhat mad. Cohn is independently wealthy since his mother gives him an allowance every month. Mike is broke but his does not stop him from living the good life in the flashy zinc bars of European cities. Jake, the true main character, and the narrator of the story, is a member of this herd too. He however, takes more of a spectator’s view to the whole scene.
Each of these people in their own way represents this non-responsibility lifestyle either by choosing to ignore them or stay completely intoxicated to numb the pain of consequence and as a result each, in their own way, is missing something. Brett is afraid of true love that she does not have control over, Cohn the freedom of being truly independent and the self pride that goes along with financial independence, and Mike can’t deal with the fact that he lost everything he had ever made for himself and instead of starting anew has elected to wallow in his misery rather then take the chance of failure.
This gang of expatriates in The Sun Also Rises ends up in the bullfights of Pamplona Spain. During these bullfights there is a large celebration, the fiesta. It is during this fiesta that Jake eludes to the fact that the denial of reality that he and his friends use to deflect responsibility of their actions and create a fictitious world cannot last forever. He states, “The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences during the fiesta.
If seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. ” (The Sun Also Rises, pg. 158). This statement encompasses all that is taking place at the fiesta. Bullfights are a perfect example of denying consequences of dangerous actions. The bullfighter must not fear the bull otherwise he will die. However, if he is not wary of the bulls’ power he will also perish. This is symbolic of the greater point that Hemmingway is trying to make.
He believes that a person should not sit idle and refuse to partake in life but rather take risks and suffer the penalties. IT is these penalties that lead to growth and this growth leads to personal happiness and satisfaction. Overall one gets a sincere feeling of loss and lacking in these three novels. Perhaps it is by paying attention to the warning that is embedded in these commentaries that the authors achieve their true goal in guiding their readers to a higher understanding of life.
Both authors are quite thorough in presenting their viewpoints on life. There are also other conclusions and lessons that can be drawn from these novels. Many people feel that they are commentaries on the wrath that war has on the young, or the tumultuous times of a new century. However, it is the false ideal that life can be lived by negating responsibility for actions that prevails and burns a sense of virility into the readers of these three important novels.