The most significant use of symbolism in The Sun Also Rises is the bullfighting, which represents the destructiveness of sex. Sex is a major theme in this novel: Jake becomes obsessive about the thing he can’t have and it is a constant topic of conversation in the novel. Brett sleeps with practically every guy she can in lieu of sexual gratification from Jake, whom she is actually in love with. Sex is overly important to most of the characters in some way, but all it seems to do is destroy their lives, slowly ripping them to pieces. This harmfulness is personified on numerous occasions, but the most noteworthy example is the bullfighting, particularly as exhibited through conversation.
When watching the bullfights, the characters discuss the violence of the bull in very sexual-sounding terms. In Chapter 18, on pages 213-214, it is said that “in bull-fighting they speak of the terrain of the bull and the terrain of the bull-fighter. As long as a bull-fighter stays in his own terrain he is comparatively safe. Each time he enters into the terrain of the bull he is in great danger. Belmonte, in his best days, worked always in the terrain of the bull. This way he gave the sensation of coming tragedy.” The sensation of coming tragedy is an accurate representation of what each character experiences in their own unique encounters with sex. They do not stay in their own metaphorical terrain. They bring danger upon themselves by “entering the ring” or by overthinking their masculinity/femininity in regards to sex. They reference sexual “performance” in non-sexual terms, discreetly conversing about the topic that always seems to be on their minds.
“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger…and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.” This quote correlates to the honor that Jake loses when his injury obstructs his masculinity in the face of Brett. He cannot “perform,” and therefore loses his pride to a certain degree. It seems as though the quotes about bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises often correlate to the multitude of difficulties the characters face, particularly in relation to masculinity and sex. These hindrances are also directly connected with their egos.
“Aficion means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bullfights.” This quote, from page 136, is a good example of how fixated on the bullfights many of the characters become. This fixation is similar to that of their sometimes downright addiction to sex. The bullfights are obviously very much oriented with passion, lust, and desire. Many people see the bullfights as a way of being passionate about something other than sex. This is obviously an unhealthy behavior, but one of the main characters practice nonetheless.
The bullfights are an obvious representation of sex. Each bull-fight involves seduction, manipulation, maneuvering, and penetration by the bull-fighter. There is a carnal instinct evident in these actions that the characters are possessed with. This is the most significant symbolic proof you will find throughout the novel. Most characters have an unhealthy fascination with sex, and this is a major figurative point through the book.