Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Cynical, Often Comic
You get the feeling that the comedy of this book is there to mask what Hemingway himself called "a damned tragedy." Its characters engage in witty, often hilarious dialogue, but underneath their wisecracking shells lie vulnerable and discontented real people, disillusioned by the world around them. Check it out:
"When did she marry Ashley?"
"During the war. Her own true love had just kicked off with the dysentery."
"You talk sort of bitter."
"Sorry. I didn’t mean to. I was just trying to give you the facts." (5.8)
This is the kind of hard-boiled hilarity that would have you in stitches while you were at the table with these guys... and then getting depressed as soon as you came home. In this teensy snippet of dialogue "marriage" is shown as being incompatible with "true love" and "bitterness" is shown as being synonymous with "the facts." Ugh. We mean: hehe. We mean: ugh.
The tone of the book plays upon both of these aspects of our characters; as the novel approaches its end, the disillusioned side emerges more clearly. An increasing sense of cynicism and plain old exhaustion builds up during the days of the fiesta, as everyone drifts apart and some relationships disintegrate... perhaps beyond repair.