Janice O’Brien Humor in the Great Gatsby and Sun Also Rises The Great Gatsby by F.

Scott Fitzgerald and the Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway are both humorous novels. The humor in each novel is used to convey motifs and themes of both. Fitzgerald always emulated failure and felt jealous of the rich, while Hemingway was the manly-man successful type who looked down on homosexuality and the way the war robbed men of their dignity. Fitzgerald expresses his anger towards the rich through his narrator Nick, and he creates the theme of corruption of the wealthy. Hemingway also conveys his disappointment in the war through his narrator Jake. Jake acts as a symbol because of his missing apparatus; a miserable emasculated man representative of the entire WWI generation. Both authors use the subtle art of humor to lessen the harsh effect that such negative ridicule has on the tone. In the first chapter of the Great Gatsby Nick describes the new neighborhood he has moved to. His house is small and affordable, but every other house is large and belongs to incredibly wealthy individuals. He elaborates, “my own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires-all for eighty dollars a month” (Fitzgerald 5). Nick, the voice of Fitzgerald, is extremely cynical and detests the wealthy, despite the fact that he is surrounded by it. Fitzgerald himself was a poor man chronically surrounded by the wealthy and well off, which forever gifted him a sense of hostility towards the rich, a hostility he hoped to impose on innocent readers. Fitzgerald introduces this sarcastic and sour joke to alter the reader’s view of the wealthy. He hopes that by using such humor the reader smiles at the joke while simultaneously realizes how the wealthy are bad and corrupt. Thus, Fitzgerald creates a joke that contributes to the major theme of his novel. Fitzgerald was not alone in his quest to use humor to subconsciously alter the reader’s mind. Hemmingway was a rugged and manly individual who found that the war had emasculated the entire WWI generation. Hemmingway acted as a foil to Fitzgerald in terms of his use of the narrator. Fitzgerald is closely associated with Nick and the reader

can easily view them as one in the same, however, the manly Hemmingway creates a narrator in the Sun Also Rises who has lost the ultimate symbol of manhood. Jake’s emasculation is representative of the entire generation of men who have lost their sense of pride from fighting in the war. Perhaps the most humorous pun in The Sun Also Rises is one that is skipped over frequently. Jake and Brett go back to her hotel after a night with the Count. Brett and Jake are standing below, and Brett tells Jake, “No, don’t come up,” (Hemingway 71) as if to comment on the fact that he physically cannot “come up” or be aroused. This simple comment on Jake’s masculinity, or lack thereof, is a direct statement by Hemingway on how men of this generation have lost all sense of manhood from fighting in the war. Jake cannot experience the ultimate pleasure in life, something men have attributed to as being the meaning of life, because of the war. Hemmingway’s humor is perhaps more difficult to find but it contributes directly to his themes. Alcoholism is a major theme in both books. The authors shock readers with the excessive alcoholism because in their minds alcohol is not only an evil entity worth destroying, it is also hilarious. Nick Caraway attends his first Gatsby party and visits the library where he meets a man who is most amusingly drunk.
A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous own-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled around excitedly and examined Jordan from head to foot. “What do you think?” he demanded impetuously. “About what?” He waved his hand toward the book shelves. “About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.” “The books?” He nodded. “Absolutely real-have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and-Here! Lemme show you!” (Fitzgerald 45).

“Owl Eyes” as he is affectionately referred to hereafter acts as a sort of physical comedy. Diction is important through this passage. Fitzgerald chose the word “stout” to describe this man very specifically because the word “stout” itself is a funny word. The connotation of the word is one of humor. Fitzgerald also uses hyperbole when he describes the “enormous” spectacles to emphasize the goofy nature of this man’s appearance. Fitzgerald’s next choice to describe this man is “impetuous” like a child. A child indeed, who had to examine the books thoroughly to make sure that they are real. The man is so excited he even exclaims “Lemme show you!” like a small boy who has just discovered a frog and is showing it to his less than interested mother. Nick could not be less interested in this man’s rambling on about the “real books!” However, old “Owl Eyes” is a humorous method to deal with the very serious subject of alcoholism during the 1920’s and prohibition. Fitzgerald purposely creates physical humor to impart to the reader the absurd manner in which men act when they are drunk in hopes of guiding them away from the influences of alcohol because alcohol was such a large problem during the 1920’s. Hemingway chose as well to use physical comedy to address excessive alcoholism, but as the Sun Also Rises takes place in Europe, alcohol is not illegal. During the running of the bulls a drunk man must be restrained from injuring himself. “Just then another drunk started out from the fence with a blouse in his hands. He wanted to do capework with the bulls. The two policemen tore out, collared him, one hit him with a club, and they dragged him against the fence and stood flattened out…” (Hemingway 200). This scene of a drunk attempting to be a matador with a blouse is a humorous way to discuss alcohol and how negative it is. This foolish character is Hemmingway’s way of commenting on the entire WWI generation and their loss of sense of self from the war. Hemingway creates random humor as well, but the most random jokes seem to be the most complex and important. Bill, a good friend of Jake, and Jake are strolling down a street in Paris.
“Here’s a Taxidermist’s,” Bill said. “Want to buy anything? Nice stuffed dog?” “Come on,” I said. “You’re pie-eyed.” “Pretty nice stuffed dogs,” Bill said. “Certainly brighten up your flat.”

“Come on.” “Just one stuffed dog. I can take ‘em or leave ‘em alone. But listen, Jake, just one stuffed dog.” “We’ll get one on the way back.” “All right. Have it your way. Road to hell paved with un-bought stuffed dogs. Not my fault.” (Hemingway 78).

Hemingway could be using the fact that Bill is slightly tipsy to comment on alcoholism, but the topic itself lends itself to another motif of the book. Bill wants to purchase a stuffed (dead) dog. He does not have a purpose in life, and so he seeks a purpose in death. He is a foil to Jake, who tries to find his purpose in life but fails. His pessimistic view of life comes from the war and is another way Hemingway comments on the negative effect of the war on the generation. Besides being just a comical passage (one must certainly hope the road to hell is not paved with un-bought stuffed dogs), it speaks for many themes in the novel. Fitzgerald and Hemingway use humor in their novels to support major themes and motifs, but the humor lends itself to a more important purpose. Fitzgerald’s humor strictly supports his disheartened view of America and the corruption of the wealthy. He is a failure at life, and his humor reflects this. Hemingway represents success. His humor supports his themes of manhood and alcoholism. The Great Gatsby was published before Fitzgerald and Hemingway met, but both it and the Sun Also Rises are characteristic of their authors who are members of another plot where the optimistic Hemingway is the real-life foil to the pessimistic Fitzgerald.

Works Cited: Bruccoli, Matthew. Fitzgerald and Hemmingway, a Dangerous Friendship. Manly, Inc. Columbia, SC. 1999. Garret, George. “Fire and Freshness: A Matter of Style in the Great Gatsby.” New Essays on the Great Gatsby. Bruccoli, Matthew. Cambridge University Press. New York, NY. 1985. Grebstein, Sheldon. “Hemmingway’s Humor.” Readings on the Great Gatsby. Bender, David. Greenhaven Press. San Diego, CA. 1998.