Gertrude Stein was an avant-garde American poet at the center of a group of painters and expatriate writers living in Paris after World War I. Among those in her circle were the artist Pablo Picasso and the writers Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway. Stein named the generation that came of age during World War I the “lost generation.” The world quickly adopted the phrase as the most accurate description of the generation that passed through the threshold of adulthood at this time—working, fighting, or dying in the war. The horrific conflict shattered this generation’s faith in traditional values such as love, bravery, manhood, and womanhood. Without these values, the members of this generation found their existence aimless, meaningless, and unfulfilling. It is these men and women that Hemingway portrays in The Sun Also Rises.
Before the novel opens, Hemingway quotes Stein and a biblical passage from Ecclesiastes. The passage contrasts the transient nature of human generations with the eternal survival of nature: the world endures, and the sun continues to rise and set despite the inevitable passage of each human generation into death. Hemingway’s juxtaposition of the two epigraphs produces an ambivalent tone. On the one hand, there is hope, because there will be a new generation after the aimless generation that populates The Sun Also Rises. On the other hand, there is bitter irony, since every generation is lost, in the sense that each generation will eventually die.