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The sun also rises: is Romero really a hero figure?

In a classic essay in Hemingway studies, "The Death of Love in The Sun Also Rises" (1962), Mark Spilka says that this novel is a parable wherein Jake and his friends demonstrate the death of love in the post-war waste land. By contrast, the nineteen-year-old Pedro Romero is the sole image of "independent manhood" and "integrity"; a young man "whose code gives meaning to a world where love and religion are defunct"; and in this sense he is the "real hero" of the story (Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises: A Case Book, ed. Linda Wagner-Martin [New York: Oxford UP, 2002], 44). But this may be taking an overly romantic view of Romero. And of course that Romero is some kind of ideal or hero-figure has continued to be one of the settled opinions of Hemingway criticism. Yet if we look closely we may agree that outside of the bullring Pedro Romero is much less Spilka's man of "integrity" and less the hero-figure that the standard critical opinion takes him to be. A few examples can support this contention.

We first meet Romero when Montoya takes Jake and Bill to his "monastic" room shortly before the fiesta's opening bullfight. Here the boy comes across as serious, poised, and "dignified" (The Sun Also Rises, Scribner [NY: 1970], 163). But by Friday night in Montoya's underground dining room we see a less admirable figure. For instance, this boy smokes a cigar as part of his "system of authority," looks forward at "a thousand duros" a bull to being a "millionaire," and brags that no bull would ever get him ("I'm never going to die"). Also, the young bullfighter mimics an older bullfighter (Nacional), who is sitting at another table (185-86). Next day we learn that apparently he had ignored or defied his "very angry" handlers by getting involved with Brett (207). And presumably he defies them further by going off with her to Madrid. No one tells this teenage bullfight-hero what to do.

His going off with her may be the first step in what Montoya had called the "Grand Hotel business," which in one year would finish the easily flattered-by-foreigners Pedro Romero, the hoped-for savior of bullfighting, now is a period of decline (172). Readers might say that he was corrupted by Brett; but we may be right to suspect that he is prone to corruption. There is no hint in Madrid that he learned anything from his experience with her. (And for what it's worth, it was the good life that led to the decline of the bullfighter Romero was in part modeled on, Cayetano Ordonez.)

Also, not long after drinking with Jake and his friends (drinks supplied by Mike: 175), he rather dishonorably takes the drunken Mike's fiancee up to go his room for a "honeymoon," as Mike puts it (190). Not much "integrity" or adherence to any "code" discernible here. Later that night, after being beaten up by Robert Cohn--and after his little "honeymoon" with a drunken tourist's fiancee, we may think he had it coming from someone--the insulted and enraged Romero rather hysterically threatens to kill Cohn (202). Next day this bruised and beaten boy is so ashamed that he won't leave his room (206).

Romero's brilliant performance in the bullring on the final day, followed by the wild acclaim of the spectators, seems to cleanse the proud young bullfighter of the humiliation inflicted on him by Cohn. But after a few days' romance with a lady tourist, in Madrid he is abruptly dismissed by her. Then he refuses to depart the premises when she asks him to do so. "I didn't know whether I could make him to go," Brett tells Jake (242). His "dignity" seems to have deserted him. Though Jake has a habit of imagining his friends' bedroom scenes (13), readers are left to imagine this final bedroom scene: perhaps on Romero's part, it was a scene of anger and tears.

None of this sounds very heroic or ideal. And though we admire his performance in the bullring, outside of it there is little about Romero (other than his good looks and nice manners) to admire--and there are many things that disqualify him from hero status.

Bill Adair, Thailand
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Author:Adair, Bill
Publication:Notes on Contemporary Literature
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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