The Sun Also Rises

  Author:   Ernest Hemingway
Reviewer:  Anne Hahn

Brief Summary of book: The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926 by American author Ernest Hemingway and is about a group of American and British expatriates living in Paris during the aftermath of WWI.  Members of this group travel from Paris through Spain to the Festival of Fermin in Pamplona to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. As one of the early "modernist” novels, the book received mixed reviews upon publication, although some including Hemingway’s biographer, Jeffrey Meyers, considered it his most important work. Many view The Sun Also Rises as a classic of American literature, and it is read today in high school and college classes. It was a key novel of discussion when I studied American literature in college.
Like most of Hemingway’s novels, the book centers on the author’s real life experience and characters he knew; this book is based on the period he lived in Paris with his first wife, Hadley Richardson and his 1925 trip to Spain. Taking place in Paris and Spain during this period, the setting was unique and memorable, showing the decadent café life of these expatriots, the journey of the characters to Spain to the bullfight festival and stopover for a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. Like many of his works, we are introduced to Hemingway's sparse writing style, combined with his restrained use of description to ‘suggest’ characterizations and action.
The story is ostensibly a love story between the main character, Jake Barnes, and the promiscuous divorcée, Lady Brett Ashley. It revolves around this impossible love affair between this war-damaged (presumably impotent) American journalist (who is also the novel's narrator) and Brett, a former nurse at the hospital when Jake was recovering during the war. As the story progresses, we meet Jake’s friend and writer, Robert Cohn, who then has an affair with Brett. Jake and others focus, at times violently, on the character shortcomings of Cohn, and Jake eventually break off his friendship with Robert Cohn. The latter part of the novel describes their travels to Spain to watch the bullfights in Pamplona, and then centers on Brett’s seduction of the lead, 19-year-old matador, Romero. This event becomes public knowledge and, as a result, appears to diminish Jake’s reputation among his Spanish bull-fighting contacts. 

In the novel, Hemingway seems to depict this group of artists, writers, and other members of the "Lost Generation" as degenerates in part because of the action and  occurrence of World War I, yet as remaining strong and resilient. Additionally, the author, with his focus on their travels through Spain and especially with the discussions of  the bullfights of Pamplona, explores the themes of death and the nature of masculinity.

Your thoughts on book:  When I first read The Sun Also Rises years ago, I enjoyed it because of its focus on the expatriot movement in Paris, the travels of the characters to Spain, and the themed discussions of the bullfight, centering on the portrayal of these matador heroes and their courage to face violence and sometimes death.  I do still think Heminway is a master at developing his characters and descriptions of events based on his real-life experiences, but when I reread the book this time I was somewhat disenchanted with the overall plot and purpose of this story.  It seemed it was his intent to bring to light the vitality and commitment of this “Lost Generation,” its decadence yet the enduring creativity of member writers and artists after WWI. For me in the second read, there was too much focus on the comings and goings of its characters, and I was left with the emphasis on their individual shortcomings and could not draw value from their experiences, and the plot now seems a bit overstated and redundant. Definitely this time, Hemingway’s descriptions came across as dated and at times “over-macho”, with the focus on drinking, promiscuity, and the machismo of the bullfights. 

Why book was once banned:  The Sun Also Rises was banned in Boston, MA, in 1930, in Ireland in 1953, and in Riverside, CA in 1960. It was burned in Nazi bonfires of 1933.  The book, like many others, was challenged and banned because of it language and use of profanity, and its central focus on sex, promiscuity and the overall decadence of its characters.  One review noted that The Sun Also Rises and other Hemingway novels such as A Farewell to Arms were burned by the Nazis for being “too accurate” an account of war.

Conclusion:  I think Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is an appropriate example in a banned books discussion.  His tendency as an author to “evoke” rather than provide detailed descriptions of events and characters allowed him to talk indirectly about topics that some of his contemporaries were banned for addressing.  This novel focuses primarily on promiscuity, and describes excessive drinking, profanity and also introduces homosexuality and prostitution.  One reviewer noted that “Hemingway’s sparse prose allowed him to get these books published even in a climate of censorship.”

A Farewell to Arms

Title of Book:  A Farewell to Arms
Author:  Ernest Hemingway
Reviewer:  Carole Twombly

Brief Summary of book:
This book is both a war story and a love story and both stories are tragedies.  A Farewell to Arms tells the story of Lieutenant Henry, an American ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I and Catherine Barkley, a beautiful British nurse Henry first meets in a nearby British hospital and begins an affair with.  It also tells the story of trench warfare; a retreat from the front lines once the Germans have broken through near the town of Caporetto; and Frederic and Catherine’s desertion from the war and their escape to Switzerland.

Your thoughts on book:
I am afraid I have never been a fan of Hemingway and this book did not win me over.  I found his emphasis on nouns and verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs and his use of short sentences gave a choppy and stilted flavor to the book.  However his depiction of the war and the confused retreat from Caporetto is realistic and does not glorify war but emphasizes its horror and barbarism.  Also I was quite moved, by the end of the novel, by the depth of the relationship that had developed between Frederic and Catherine and its tragic conclusion.

Why book was once banned: It was banned in 1929 in Italy because of its accurate account of the Italian retreat from Caporetto, Italy.  In that same year it was banned in Boston most likely because of the sexual relationship between Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley and the fact that they were about to have a child out of wedlock.  It was burned in Germany in 1933; banned in Ireland in 1939; challenged in Dallas, Texas Independent School District high school libraries in 1974; and challenged as a “sex novel” by the Vernon-Verona-Sherill, New York School District in 1980.

Conclusion:  It is a good and fair description of the chaos and futility of war.  It is a love story full of passion and in the end tragedy.  It is worth reading, although Hemingway’s sparse style takes some getting used to and a working knowledge of the war, especially in the Alps, is helpful.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Author:       Ernest Hemingway

Name of Reviewer:   Susan J. Shaw

Brief Summary of Book:    The quote at the beginning by poet John Donne means that the bell tolls for all of humanity, not just one person.  “No man  is an island…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) the left-wing Republican government of Spain received help from the Soviet Union and volunteers from many countries including the United States. The “other side”, the military revolutionaries, received aid  from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.In the last week of May in 1937 in the Guadarrama Mountains of Spain, Robert Jordan (an American volunteer) has been sent behind enemy lines to work with a small band of guerrillas to blow up a bridge for the Republican government of Spain. 

The book opens with Jordan as “He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest”.  He is on his way to meet the guerrilla group which includes gypsies and two women. One of the women is Pilar, a very strong member of the group.  The other is Maria, a young woman who was gang-raped by Fascists when they overtook her town and killed her parents.   Maria and Robert become lovers.  Pablo is the leader of this guerrilla band and struggles with Robert Jordan over the group’s leadership.  There are many flashbacks which describe individual group member’s previous fighting experiences.  At first Pablo will not cooperate with Jordan.   After urging from Pilar, he agrees to help. There is some talk within the group of “eliminating” Pablo.  Then Pablo changes his mind again.  He runs away and throws an important part of the explosives into the river.  He returns and apologizes and agrees to help Jordan.   Jordan becomes discouraged.   He sends a dispatch to headquarters recommending that the operation be cancelled, but it does not arrive in time.  

The romantic love Robert feels for Maria gives his life new meaning and helps him to go on fighting for the Republican cause—blowing up the bridge as instructed.  The guerrillas do successfully blow up the bridge, but lose many of their own men in the process.   During the retreat, a Fascist wounds Robert Jordan’s horse.   It falls on him breaking his leg.   He insists he must be left behind.  He sends Maria away to safety with Pilar and Pablo and waits to kill the Fascist officer who beheaded another group of guerrillas.   The book ends as he takes aim, and “he could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest”. 

My thoughts on the book:  

Even though it takes place over three days, it depicts much of the violence of war:  beheadings, shooting of wounded comrades because they can no longer travel, gang rape, suicide, killings of people in the towns who were on “the other side”.  It is also a love story.   When Robert is telling Maria she must go on and leave him in the forest, his words are emotional:  “But if thou goest then I go with thee.  It is in that way that I go too.  Thou wilt go now, I know.  For thou are good and kind.  Thou wilt go now for us both.”

Why book was once banned:

It was considered pro-Communist and declared unmailable by the US Post Office in 1940.  A large majority of the Republican government was Communist, and Robert Jordan is working for the Republican leadership.  Jordan “believed in the Republic and that if it were destroyed life would be unbearable” under the Fascists and Nazis.  There are several references to Marxism and the book includes the Communist party slogan “Hold out and fortify, and you will win.”  One of Robert Jordan’s friends was a Russian journalist who was in direct communication with Stalin. 

In February of 1973, eleven Turkish book publishers were put on trial before an Istanbul martial law tribunal for “spreading propaganda unfavorable to the state.”  Every swear word is replaced by the word “obscenity”. The violence is not described in fine detail, even though there is a lot of it.  The love scenes with Robert and Maria (who may be 15-16) are not in detail either. 


Hemingway’s descriptions are excellent.  Even though I don’t particularly care for war stories, I could understand the group’s movements and could “see” what they were doing.    Jordan does question his beliefs about Marxism.   Robert’s urging of Maria to go to safety without him, “Now you will go for us both”, is very moving.  The ending is tragic as it depicts Robert Jordan being left in the forest to die alone. 

The Color Purple

Author:   Alice Walker
Name of Reviewer:      Amelita Houlne

Brief Summary of Book:
Story told in letters -- from Celie to God, Nettie to Celie, and Celie to Nettie.  The sad, desperate life of blacks in the South, especially the black women.  The lack of education, the chauvinism of the men, the ignorance and poverty and powerlessness.  A great part of the story deals with missionaries in Africa and Nettie's experience there.  Nettie and Celie are separated for many years and at the end are re-united.  All's well that ends well.

My thoughts on the book:
A good read -- story flowed right along -- characters are very real -- Shug's character well-drawn.  The African natives' reaction to the missionaries surprised me.  The missionaries are there to help, but the natives look on them as intruders:  they accept the help but are not grateful.

Why the book was banned:
The book was banned, I would think, because of the open sexuality and promiscuous behavior, incest, and homosexuality.  The mores of 30 years ago are not those of today.

A good straight look at the plight of the blacks in a segregated society.  Far out-does the current novel "The Help" of today, in telling it like it is.


Book:  Ulysses
Author:  James Joyce
Name of reviewer:  Melissa Williams


    Ulysses, by James Joyce, takes place in Ireland and tells the story of two protagonists: Stephen Dedalus, a young writer, and perhaps most famously, Leopold Bloom, a half-Jewish advertising man.  At first, the novel seems pieced together erratically, lacking in any real structure. Looking closer, though, the reader finds it is divided into eighteen episodes, each with a corresponding theme to Homer’s Odyssey.  Therefore, the episode titles take their names from The Odyssey.  “Telemachus”, “Calypso”, and “Sirens” are just three examples.  Every episode has a theme, a stylistic technique, and dialogue of some kind between its characters and characters from The Odyssey.  These features are what give the novel its basic structure and thematic framework, but apart from them, the novel reads like many vignettes, jumbled together.


    The novel was obviously ahead of its time in many respects.  It contains stream of consciousness passages and overthrows conventional structure.  It also is earthy and irreverent for its time, shirking the primness and prudishness of earlier Victorian writing and unreservedly detailing all manner of life: bodily functions, sexual fantasies, and grotesque behavior included.
    There were parts of the novel that repulsed me, many in fact.  I also find James Joyce’s writing to be too self-consciously complex.  I sense a sort of pretentious smugness in Joyce’s writing (delighting in his abilities to shock the reader and especially to make his meanings difficult to extract).   Indeed, Joyce himself said of this novel that he ‘put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.’  Well, pardon us.  For the rest of us who don’t bank on professors appraising our writing and analyzing it for “centuries”, we would like to be able to derive clearer meaning sometimes from a text and perhaps have to work just a wee bit less for some kind of coherency.  His own wife, Nora Joyce, is quoted as having asked her husband, “Why don’t you write books people can read?”
    That said, I think it is a worthwhile read not only because it is widely known and a commonly referenced and alluded to book, but also because it is like nothing else you’ve ever read or ever will read again.  And again, Joyce was certainly writing ahead of his time.


    Ulysses was burned in the U.S. in 1918, in Ireland in 1922, and in England in 1923.  It also was banned in England in 1929.  One could almost write a book about all the objections that have been raised against this novel, but I will attempt to reduce them all into a nutshell.  By and large, the novel came up time and time again from 1914 into the 1930s against obscenity charges.  In 1920, a passage in which a character masturbates caused a group called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice to attempt to keep the book out of the U.S.  In United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, the U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled in 1933 that the book “was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene.”  This ruling was affirmed in 1934, and it seems that from then on, Ulysses was allowed within the U.S.  It still is not a book often recommended for high school reading, and I think I would concur that it is not the right sort of reading for teachers to be teaching at that level.  And, by the way, interestingly, the book was never actually banned in Ireland.


    Ulysses is one of those books that anyone who desires to be widely read and literature savvy should read.  Will everyone enjoy the book?  I think not.  Some will delight in its subversive disregard for rules, both literary and cultural.  Some will enjoy it as a puzzle to unpack and piece together if they can.  Others will be disgusted and even offended.  There is one thing I think most readers can agree upon regarding Ulysses:  it is not a book easily forgotten, nor is it one people generally feel passive about.  You either abhor and deride it for its offensiveness and/or disorder, or you find amusement and pleasure in its quirky characters and honest depictions of real life and real life functions.  I guess, in a sense, Ulysses continues to be censored and may long continue to be, just on smaller scales, whether that means schools opting not to assign it as reading, or individual readers deciding it’s not worth their time, deeming it as “trash”.  It’s just one of those books everyone has to have an opinion about.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

TITLE OF BOOK:  Their Eyes Were Watching God
AUTHOR:  Zora Neale Hurston
REVIEWER:  Melissa Williams


      Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, tells the story of an African American woman in her early forties named Janie Crawford who returns to her home in Eatonville, FL after a long trip.  Janie tells the story of her life over the past twenty years to her best friend Pheoby, hoping that Pheoby can retell her story to the nosy community, setting to rest some of their curiosity and gossip.  Her life has three main divisions, corresponding with her three very different marriages.

Logan:  Logan Killicks is Janie‘s first husband, a marriage arranged by her well-meaning grandmother.  Logan is older and a farmer who just wants a wife to keep his home and help on the farm.  Janie dislikes life purely as a domestic helper rather than as a partner or a lover, and she runs off with a youthful, flighty Jody (Joe) Starks. 

Jody (Joe) Starks:  He takes her to Eatonville.  Janie quickly realizes that life with Jody is no less stifling than life with Logan Killicks, just in a different way.  Jody buys some land and builds a general store, hiring local people to help run it.  He even is elected mayor.  Before long, Janie knows that her role in Jody’s life is that of a trophy wife.  He wants her for the prestige, the image of a perfect wife by his side.  He wants her to run his store, but she is not allowed to engage socially with the locals who linger on the store’s front porch.

Tea Cake:  Jody dies, leaving Janie financially independent, and now she is surrounded by men wanting to take her hand in marriage.  Some of these men are notable men in the community or men with wealth, but she passes them up for a bit of a tramp named Vergible Woods (who is called Tea Cake throughout the story).  She sells the store, and the couple marry and head to the Everglades.  There they try to find work planting and harvesting beans.  Although their marriage isn’t perfect, and they both have moments of jealousy, Janie finally has finally found love.

Towards the end of the book, the Everglades are hit by a huge hurricane.  Janie and Tea Cake survive, but Tea Cake is bitten by a rabid dog as he tries to save Janie from drowning, and he contracts the disease.  He ends up trying to shoot Janie with a rifle, but in the end, she shoots him in self defense.  She is charged with murder and tried, but she is acquitted and throws Tea Cake an extravagant funeral following her acquittal.  Following this, she returns to Eatonville to find the residents gossiping about her, and here the novel circles back to where the story begins with Janie retelling her life to Pheoby. 


This is a book I taught to high school seniors, so I know it pretty well, and obviously, I don’t think it should be banned since I taught it myself!  It takes a while to catch on to the dialect.  It can be slow-going at first, but it is an entertaining read and like nothing else I’ve ever read.  There is a sensuality about some passages but nothing that I would consider outrageous or too blatant to expect teenagers to read it.  I feel it is handled subtly, especially by modern standards.  The novel provides a rare glimpse into life as it was for some African Americans living in the Florida in the early 1900s, post-slavery.  It was a time when African Americans in those circles were still navigating the transition between being treated as property and told what to do and how to live and being enabled to live independent, free, as individuals with lives full of potential, as well as risk.


The book was challenged for its “sexual explicitness” but ultimately was retained on the academically advanced reading list of Stonewall Jackson High School in Brentsville, VA in 1997!  A parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.  When the novel first appeared, it was met with criticisms from Hurston’s peers, particularly prominent authors of the Harlem Renaissance.  Some objected to her use of phonetic spellings of dialect, feeling it made a mockery of the blacks of African and Caribbean descent in the South in the early part of the 20th century.  Others were bothered that Hurston revealed divisions between light and dark skinned African Americans.


Although the novel has received some light criticism recently and was poorly received among many of Hurston’s contemporaries, by and large it is recommended high school reading across the country.  Hurston wrote largely from her own life and experiences, and so it's fair to assume that there is a great deal of accuracy and truth intermingled with her fiction, making it of cultural, historical, and literary importance.

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Which of these banned books have you read?