Where It All Goes Down
1924: Paris, France; Burguete, Spain; Pamplona, Spain; Madrid, Spain
We'll always have Paris: the first few chapters of the novel take place in a loosely fictionalized version of the famous community of expatriate writers and artists that Hemingway really lived in during the 1920's.
After the war, Paris became a mecca for English and American writers, including Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, among others. Jake and his friends move through the same world that Hemingway did, and they frequent the same bars, cafés, and nightclubs. Hemingway depicts the atmosphere in Paris ambivalently: it’s exciting but exhausting, simultaneously clean and dirty, thrilling and banal, and filled with a sense of unease and illness. Jake’s refuge is his newspaper office, where he can shut out the world and focus on his work.
Next up: Spain. We move through three locations in Spain, with varying degrees of country and city. First, Bill and Jake go to Burguete, a small country town where they fish and enjoy nature. This section is significant for its difference from the rest of the novel—the purity of the landscape, combined with their escape from the other characters, makes the fishing trip an exhilarating experience for both men.
But they soon move on to Pamplona, a small city famous for its bull-fights, where they meet up with the rest of the gang for the fiesta of San Fermin. The transition from countryside to fiesta is like Mike’s fall into bankruptcy: gradual, then all at once. When the fiesta really gets going, with its continual drunkenness and sense of lawlessness, the setting takes on an almost nightmarish quality.
Finally, after a brief stop to recover by the seaside at San Sebastian, Jake is drawn back into the nightmare urban space of Madrid, where he goes to comfort Brett after she ends her relationship with Romero. He experiences a kind of emotional numbness in this other city, caused by his own guilt over Brett and Romero’s affair. It’s important that Hemingway returns us to a purely urban setting for this last scene—its bleakness is emphasized by the distance from nature.