The True Heroes in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises
The imagery of bulls and steers pervades Hemmingway's novel, The Sun Also Rises. Bullfighting is a major plot concern and is very important to the characters. The narrator physically resembles a steer due to the nature of his injury. Mike identifies Cohn as a steer in conversation because of his inability to control Brett sexually. Brett falls for a bullfighter, who is a symbol of virility and passion. However, there is a deeper level to the bull-steer dichotomy than their respective sexual traits. The imagery associated with bulls and steers is more illustrative than their possession or lack of testicles. In their roles and in the images associated with them, bulls are glorious, exciting and dangerous. Steers are humble, impotent and safe. Hemmingway's treatment of these associations favors an ethic of weakness prevailing over strength. Despite the seeming advantages to being a bull and the explicit statements in their favor, steers are the true heroes in Hemmingway's novel.
The imagery associated with bulls and steers is confusing, since it is clearly supportive of bulls over steers. Bulls are associated with passion. Those who identify with bulls through their enthusiasm for bullfighting are called "aficionado" from the Spanish word for passion (131). Those who lack aficion are valueless while a true aficionado is a "buen hombre" (132). The bulls are "beautiful," muscular, aggressive and "dangerous" (139, 141). Because of their physical prowess and their sexual potency, bulls are capable of ascending to the heights of glory. They arouse passions in the crowds who gather to watch them run and fight. In sharp contrast, the steers are weak and emasculate. The steers at the unloading of the bulls back away with their "heads sunken" in deference to the superior power of the bulls (139). When the bulls enter the ring they "tear in at the steers and the steers run around like old maids trying to quiet them down" (133). Jake and his companions witness a bull gore a steer upon unloading, prompting Cohn to observe "it's no life being a steer" (141). Mike's supreme insult to Cohn is to compare him to a steer. Clearly, this treatment shows how inferior steers are to bulls. Steers lack not only testicles, but also the ability to inspire passion. No one goes to the bullfight to watch the steers. Steers are cut off from the heights of glory to which the bulls ascend. The diction is clearly on the side of the bulls. The bulls are the more attractive and "noble" of the two images. However, I feel that Hemmingway prefers the less dazzling, but more stable, life of the steers.
Hemmingway's preference for steers is shown in the implicit and explicit critiques of bulls. One such critique is implicit in Robert Cohn's actions. When he trades the steer's role for that of the bull, unhappiness and pain result. Jake, Mike and Pedro are physically injured and Cohn is emotionally...