Throughout the years, many critics have emphasized the theme of the loss, loss of traditional frameworks of meaning, loss of direction in life, and the general loss of innocence of a generation, as being central to the understanding of the text The Sun Also Rises. However, one can argue that another, although somewhat connected, theme is actually at the heart of the text: the theme of mutability versus permanence. The Paris of the novel exists in a state of constant flux, both in their individual actions of the characters who rarely stay in one place for long, and in the social and moral fabric of the world itself, which is itself changing from traditional to modern. The world of Burgette, however, exists in a vacuum, as it were, separated from the constantly changing world of men and integrated into the permanence of nature. One of the principal ways in which the text integrates this theme of mutability in an almost symbolic way is pacing. That is, the pacing of dramatic representation, summary, and dialogue constructed in a way that shows the world of Paris as symbolically representing mutability, and that of Burgette representing permanence.
Brooks and Warren’s Understanding Fiction gives us this statement in regards to pacing:
“In regard to speed, we may think along these lines: summary is faster in rendering an action than is narrative; narrative tends to be faster than full rendering in terms of scene…; scene tends to be faster than analysis; and so on.” .
We might therefore classify the scenes in Paris as being characterized mostly by summary interspersed with scenic representations-however, the heading of “scenic” representations would be problematic for this portion, as they are not really “scenes” in the sense that they provide a good deal of visual input about the current actions, but more scenes in the sense of “dialogues”. Mostly, Paris segments of the text are presented by Jake in highly terse summaries of his own actions (and others actions if they affected or interested him) interspersed with long lines of uninterrupted (or only barely interrupted) dialogue. In this way, the text is able to present a great deal of places and actions in a small amount of space. For example:
“…Instead, I walked down the street and had a beer at the bar at the next Bal. The beer was not good and I had a worse cognac to take the taste out of my mouth. When I came back to the Bal there was a crowd on the floor Georgette was dancing with the tall blond youth…” (p. 20)
In this very brief space, the setting shifts from bal mussette to another bar and then back within a paragraph; indeed, at the time Jake steps out of the Bal, it has been barely a page since he arrived from Lavigne’s restaurant where he was eating with Georgette. This kind of rapid pacing of one setting shifting to another without any real ado represents the mutability of Paris itself. Jake and the other various characters cannot stay in one place for more than a few pages before they decide it is time to find someplace new to drink and talk.
When a setting is maintained for any sizable length, it is mainly as a base on which to put the dialogue; and the dialogue itself serves as an agent for accelerating the pace by often consisting of only a few words per line, as in this exchange between Jake and Georgette:
“What are you called?”
“Georgette. How are you called?”
“That’s a Flemish name.”
“You’re not Flamand?”
“Good, I detest Flamands.”
The pace of the dialogue highlights just how unimportant and transitory Jake’s interaction with Georgette is. This pattern of short dialogue does, however, recur throughout the text, and it would not be valid to label all of it this way. But, in the context of the Parisian world, these short-answer dialogues convey a sense of the rush of life in Paris, where no one stays in the same place long enough to have a real conversation. There is only enough time for the kind of empty prattle that recurs again and again without ever establishing anything that will have any kind of permanent significance.
Remarking on the Burgette scenes, it is useful to note the comments of New Critic Allen Tate in a review of The Sun Also Rises at the time of its publication. Although Tate panned the novel as a whole, he could at least say of the author, that, “His perception of the physical object is direct and accurate,” although, “his vision of character, singularly oblique.” . It is the way in which the text paces the introduction of these “physical objects”, among other elements of pacing that will be discussed further on, that help to introduce the major theme of the world of Burgette: permanence. Beginning in chapter ten, there is a long stream of events delineated one by one, with much of the details carefully focused on, such as the one of the Basques on the bus being “the color of tanned saddle-leather” (p. 104), the way another Basque “held the wine-bottle at full arm’s length and raised it high up, squeezing the leather bag with his hand so the stream of wine hissed into his mouth.” (p. 105), as well as the countless, lovingly detailed descriptions of the Spanish countryside, such as:
“We were going through farming country with rocky hills that sloped down into the fields. The grand-fields went up the hillsides. Now as we went higher there was wind blowing the grain. The road was white and dusty, and the dust rose under the wheels and hung in the air behind us. The road climbed up into the hills and left the rich grain-fields below. How there were only patches of grain on the bare hillsides and on each side of the water-courses.” (p. 105)
Here, the text takes us step-by-step on the road to Burgette, with one stop at a posada, and goes without any major shifts forward in the stream continuity until Jake and Bill have dinner that evening at the inn. The next chapter goes on in fairly the same way: it begins with Jake watching a goat attempt to climb onto an “old diligence” before he goes out to dig for worms, and ends with them walking back to the town, with the only break in the continuity being when Jake actually falls asleep. These two chapters are perhaps the slowest (though not in the negative sense) in the whole novel, in part to establish just how significant the excursion is to Jake. Though it may appear to us that the whole excursion merely diverts from what is important in the plot (i.e., the goings on in the life of Robert Cohn and Brett Ashley), it is actually a critical part of establishing some kind of counter argument to what might be thought of as the thesis of the Parisian parts of the text-that the world is contently changing and one really has no hope of finding anything of value in it, because none of the things in the world will last. Every part of the Burgette seen must be delineated in this way in order to reflect the permanence of Nature; the plot of this story, the text argues, will eventually end, but “the earth abideth forever”.
The pacing of dialogue also contributes to the theme of permanence in these scenes. Bill, as a character, is the first person the text has introduced so far who speaks in sentences that last longer than half a line on a regular basis. He makes jokes, puns, literary and historical references, serving as a perfect foil to Jake’s terse, taciturn style of speech. His longish sentences tend to draw out the pace of the story, but instead of making the scene boring, it heightens the level of dramatic focus the text places on the scene unfolding. Bill is perhaps Jake’s only true friend, and the only character we have met so far who seems, on some level, to be separate from the expatriate scene and their fast-paced life style. Thus, the way he draws out his ideas into longer, more complex sentences becomes a complement to the pacing of the Burgette scenes. The permanent natural world of Burgette is separate from the changing world of men, and thus it invites a kind of dialogue that is a heartier and, furthermore, less pretentious than the kind we have seen so far.
To conclude, although pacing may seem like a very vague narratological concept, one can see that it plays a vital role in establishing these themes of mutability and permanence, although it is, admittedly, very much interconnected with the elements of plot, characterization, and narrative point of view. Pacing is, however, a critical part of a text (as any writer could tell you), and deserves some degree analysis in its own right in certain texts, something which is lacking most discussion of literary tropes.
Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920
Tate, “Hard-Boiled,” Nation, 15 December 1926, p. 644
Brooks & Warren, Understanding Fiction 3rd. Edition, Prentice Hall, 1979, p. 677