For those that don’t remember reading Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in high school literature class, the novel is about a veteran of World War I (Jake) traveling to Spain with his friends to watch the bullfighting that takes place every year. His travel companions include the woman he loves (Brett), a friend he is in silent competition with (Cohn), and a few others. At the end of the novel, the entire group splits up after a fight between Jake and Cohn over Brett.
But the final title of the book was not the first title that Hemingway considered.
At first, it was Fiesta—a name that gives away the location behind the book with (what I’m assuming is) some sarcastic flair. You can’t have a good party without a fistfight, right?
Then it became The Lost Generation—a nod to a term Gertrude Stein coined when speaking of the post-World War I generation. But Hemingway didn’t stick with that title for publication.
The final title, The Sun Also Rises, is credited with coming from the passage in Ecclesiastes that is one of the novel’s epigraphs:
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever . . . The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose . . .
While I won’t disagree that the title’s origin can be found in Ecclesiastes, I think Hemingway was also giving away a bit of underlying information to the reader.
In the novel, the group travels to Spain separately, but readers follow Jake’s path from Paris to Spain. The journey is primarily made by train, where Jake bumps into some Catholic students who are visiting Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome—a small detail that doesn’t have any clear implications to the plot.
But what Hemingway doesn’t make clear is that Jake is following the path of another old Catholic pilgrimage—the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (aka the Way of St. James). The trip that Jake makes follows the path from Paris to Pamplona, which covers more than half of the pilgrimage.
But it gets better.
For most writers (including myself), one of the hardest things to decide is what to name the characters. Even more so for the main character, because that person is usually the on-page representation of the author. So Hemingway carefully names his character Jacob, which is the Latin version of the English name James (and the Spanish name Tiago). Hemingway named his main character after the journey he is making.
When most people make the pilgrimage that Jake is on, they don’t travel by train; they travel by foot. This can be difficult, especially back when there were no maps. So, to let people know they were on the right path, land markers with seashells were placed along the route. It can be explained that since the pilgrimage ends in Santiago de Compostela, the seashell represents the Spanish coast that resides just miles from the destination. But that’s not all. The seashells are a reminder about the sun.
The pilgrimage is a journey from the east to the west. All of the hope and joy and expectation that comes with a rising sun is constantly at the backs of pilgrims. Instead, day after day, they watch the setting sun as they continue westward. And while the sun sets to close another day, the pilgrim’s journey is still not complete. And if a rising sun is a sign of happiness and rejuvenation, then the setting sun is a sign of sadness and exhaustion.
But the seashell—with the line at the bottom marking the horizon and the lines upward and outward in a circle representing the sun shining—is a reminder that the sun also rises.
Days come and go in life.
Some days we are up early, excited for what is new and exciting.
Some days (or weeks or months or years) we are on a seemingly fruitless journey. All we can see is the sun setting, mocking us for our difficulties or our apparent stagnation.
And it’s in those times that we need a seashell along our path to remind us…The sun also rises.