I watched him walk back to the café holding his paper. I rather liked him and evidently she led him quite a life. (1.10)
Cohn is a likable but emasculated character when we first meet him—Frances has him totally whipped.
[Cohn] had married on the rebound from the rotten time he had in college, and Frances took him on the rebound from his discovery that he had not been everything to his first wife. He was not in love yet but he realized he was an attractive quantity to women and the fact of a woman caring for him and wanting to live with him was not simply a divine miracle. (2.2)
Cohn’s subjugation by women is at a breaking point here—he realizes in a somewhat dangerous fashion very late in life that it’s not a "miracle" for a woman to be attracted to him, and that he can use this to his advantage.
One of them saw Georgette and said: "I do declare. There is an actual harlot. I’m going to dance with her, Lett. You watch me."
The tall dark one, called Lett, said: "Don’t you be rash."
The wavy blood one answered: "Don’t you worry, dear."
And with them was Brett. I was very angry. Somehow they always made me angry. I know they are supposed to be amusing, and you should be tolerant, but I wanted to swing on one, any one, anything to shatter that superior, simpering composure. (3.22)
The homophobia that emerges here can be somewhat jarring to contemporary readers (as is the anti-Semitic strain that runs through everyone’s treatment of Cohn). In this scene, Jake is disturbed and angered by the homosexual friends that Brett arrives with—"they" are discussed as though they are all the same (and Jake doesn’t like any of them). He portrays the gay men as effeminate, somewhat alien, and totally devoid of masculinity.
"When I think of the hell I’ve put chaps through. I’m paying for it all now."
"Don’t talk like a fool," I said. "Besides, what happened to me is supposed to be funny. I never think about it."
"Oh, no. I’ll lay you don’t."
"Well, let’s shut up about it."
"I laughed about it too, myself, once." She wasn’t looking at me. "A friend of my brother’s came home that way from Mons. It seemed like a hell of a joke. Chaps never know anything, do they?"
"No," I said. "Nobody ever knows anything." (4.4)
Brett sees Jake’s ordeal as a punishment for her own mistreatment of men (rather a selfish way of approaching it). She admits that even she has laughed about a similar situation before it affected her directly—emasculated men are "supposed" to be comic figures, rather than tragic ones.
My head started to work. The old grievance. Well, it was a rotten way to be wounded and flying on a joke front like the Italian. In the Italian hospital we were going to form a society. It had a funny name in Italian. I wonder what became of the others, the Italians. That was in the Ospedale Maggiore in Milano, Padiglione Ponte. The next building was the Padiglione Zonda. There was a statue of Ponte, or maybe it was Zonda. That was where the liaison colonel came to visit me. That was funny. That was about the first funny thing. I was all bandaged up. But they had told him about it. Then he made that wonderful speech: "You, a foreigner, an Englishman" (any foreigner was an Englishman) "have given more than your life." What a speech! I would like to have it illuminated to hang in the office. He never laughed. He was putting himself in my place, I guess. "Che mala fortuna! Che mala fortuna!" (4.78)
Jake’s impotence is apparently worse than death, if we are to believe the very serious Italian colonel. This says a lot about the expectations of men at the time; even though Jake presents this humorously, it’s clearly disturbing to him.
Cohn smiled again and sat down. He seemed glad to sit down. What the hell would he have done if he hadn’t sat down? "You say such damned insulting things, Jake." "I’m sorry. I’ve got a nasty tongue. I never mean it when I say nasty things."
"I know it," Cohn said. "You’re really about the best friend I have, Jake."
God help you, I thought. (5.10)
Cohn’s guileless admission of friendship sets the scene for a man-to-man moment of honest affection—but instead, we (like Jake) just feel embarrassed that Cohn has put himself out there.
"You’re awfully funny, Harvey," Cohn said. "Some day somebody will push your face in." (6.8)
The violent tension that runs just below the surface of all of these male relationships slips out here, in Cohn’s obvious dislike for Harvey Stone.
"Never be daunted. Secret of my success. Never been daunted. Never been daunted in public." (8.10)
The undaunted party here is Bill. Here, he succinctly and jokingly outlines the number one rule of masculinity in Hemingway’s world—never be daunted in public.
Why I felt that impulse to devil [Cohn] I do not know. Of course I do know. I was blind, unforgivingly jealous of what happened to him. The fact that I took it as a matter of course did not alter that any. I certainly did hate him. I do not think I ever really hated him until he had that little spell of superiority at lunch—that and when he went through all that barbering. So I put the telegram in my pocket. The telegram came to me, anyway. (10.28)
The competition between Jake and Cohn reaches its first peak here, without Cohn even knowing. Jake’s resentment of his former friend is kicked off by the double whammy of Cohn’s trip with Brett (and their sexual relationship) and by Cohn’s assumption that he knows Brett better than Jake does. Both of these things threaten Jake’s already shaky sense of his own masculinity.
"It’s no life being a steer," Robert Cohn said.
"Don’t you think so?" Mike said. "I would have thought you’d loved being a steer, Robert." "What do you mean, Mike?"
"They lead such a quiet life. They never say anything and they’re always hanging about so." […] "Is Robert Cohn going to follow Brett around like a steer all the time?" (13.48)
Mike uses one of the oldest insults in the book here. His taunt that Cohn is like a steer (a castrated bull), implies that Cohn has no… well, you know.
I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together [...]. (1.2)
In a world of liars and cheats, of course Jake mistrusts people who are up front, since they seem too good to be true!
So there you were. I was sorry for him, but it was not a thing you could do anything about, because right away you ran up against the two stubbornnesses: South America could fix it and he did not like Paris. He got the first idea out of a book and I suppose the second came out of a book, too. (2.8)
Jake comments upon Cohn’s easily impressed mentality; Jake looks down upon this aspect of his friend’s personality.
[…] as all the time I was kneeling with my forehead on the wood in front of me, and was thinking of myself as praying, I was a little ashamed, and I regretted that I was such a rotten Catholic, but realized there was nothing I could do about it, at least for a while and maybe never, but that anyway it was a grand religion, and I only wished I felt religious and maybe I would the next time […]. (10.21)
Jake, attempting to find some kind of genuine connection to his spirituality, realizes that despite his longing for faith, he’s not a proper Catholic. His desire to "feel religious" here is understandable—after all, religion explains the mysteries of life, which Jake is certainly, well, mystified by.
Montoya could forgive anything of a bull-fighter who had aficion. He could forgive attacks of nerves, panic, bad unexplainable actions, all sorts of lapses. For one who had aficion he could forgive anything. At once he forgave me for all of my friends. Without his ever saying anything they were simply a little something shameful between us, like the spilling open of the horses in bull-fighting. (13.24)
For Montoya, aficion is the only element of identity that matters. Since Jake has it, Montoya’s willing to overlook all his flaws—even his friends.
"How did you go bankrupt?" Bill asked.
"Two ways," Mike said. "Gradually and then suddenly."
"What brought it on?"
"Friends," said Mike. "I had a lot of friends. False friends. Then I had creditors, too. Probably had more creditors than anybody in England." (13. 31)
Mike admits to his own helplessness; his descent into bankruptcy was apparently totally beyond his control. This reflects upon his lack of control with regards not only to his business matters, but to his life in general.
Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line. The others twisted themselves like corkscrews, their elbows raised, and leaned against the flanks of the bull after his horns had passed, to give a faked look of danger. Afterward, all that was faked turned bad and gave an unpleasant feeling. Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion, because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him close each time. He did not have to emphasize their closeness. (15.52)
Romero’s natural talent reveals a pure and genuine kind of honesty that we don’t see in any of the other characters—the purity of his style in the ring reflects upon the authenticity of his character, as well.
During Romero’s first bull his hurt face had been very noticeable. Everything he did showed it. All the concentration of the awkwardly delicate working with the bull that could not see well brought it out. The fight with Cohn had not touched his spirit but his face had been smashed and his body hurt. He was wiping all that out now. Each thing that he did with this bull wiped that out a little cleaner. (18.42)
Romero, unlike any of the other characters, is able to heal himself. The purity of his passion for the bullfight allows him to re-center himself spiritually through the act of fighting, despite the physical damage he sustained in his brawl with Cohn.
Also Belmonte imposed conditions and insisted that his bulls should not be too large, nor too dangerously armed with horns, and so the element that was necessary to give the sensation of tragedy was not there, and the public, who wanted three times as much from Belmonte, who was sick with a fistula, as Belmonte had ever been able to give, felt defrauded and cheated, and Belmonte’s jaw came further out in contempt, and his face turned yellower, and he moved with greater difficulty as his pain increased, and finally the crowd were actively against him, and he was utterly contemptuous and indifferent. (18.30)
The crowd can sense Belmonte’s inauthenticity, and knows that he is only imitating himself. His performance has become a parody of his past identity.
"I’m thirty-four, you know. I’m not going to be one of those bitches that ruins children." (19.49)
Brett’s affair with Romero (who’s only nineteen) has forced her to confront her conscience for the first time—yes, she actually has one! Her obsessive wondering in the last two chapters about whether or not she is a "bitch" reaches its culmination here, where she has apparently made up her mind not to be one.
"You know it makes me feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch."
"It’s sort of what we have instead of God."
"Some people have God," I said. "Quite a lot." (19.55)
After leaving Romero, Brett finally feels as though she’s done something right, even if it makes her miserable; this gives her a sense of some kind of spiritual wholeness for the first time, which she puts in the place of God. Jake, whose faith perseveres throughout the novel, corrects her when she implies that nobody believes in God in their world.
For four years his horizon had been absolutely limited to his wife. For three years, or almost three years, he had never seen beyond Frances. I am sure he had never been in love in his life. (2.1)
Despite the fact that he’s been tied to certain women, Jake suspects that Cohn has never really been in love with them—Cohn doesn’t have an understanding of what love really is, beyond obligation.
"You’re getting damned romantic."
"No, bored." (3.35)
This brief interchange between Brett and Jake (Jake is the bored one) cancels out the possibility of real romance—it’s just something to pass the time.
"It’s funny," I said. "It’s very funny. And it’s a lot of fun, too, to be in love."
"Do you think so?" her eyes looked flat again.
"I don’t mean fun that way. In a way it’s an enjoyable feeling."
"No," she said. "I think it’s hell on earth." (4.4)
Brett can’t handle her feelings for Jake—she wants him but can’t have him, which creates the sensation of "hell on earth" for her. Jake, on the other hand, experiences a kind of simultaneous pain and pleasure in seeing Brett.
"Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together?"
"I don’t think so. I’d just tromper you with everybody. You couldn’t stand it." (7. 7)
Jake attempts to find some kind of unconventional solution to their no sex problem, but Brett knows herself too well to accept it. Her statement that she’d just tromper (cheat on) Jake with everyone is true, and both of them know it.
"He calls her Circe," Mike said. "He claims she turns men into swine." (13.52)
Cohn’s association of Brett with Circe, a seductive enchantress of Greek mythology, is fairly accurate —she reduces the men who love her to a kind of animal-like state of worship and abjection.
Women made such swell friends. Awfully swell. In the first place, you had to be in love with a woman to have a basis of friendship. I had been having Brett for a friend. I had not been thinking about her side of it. I had been getting something for nothing. That only delayed the presentation of the bill. The bill always came. That was one of the swell things you could count on.
I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values. (14. 4)
Love and friendship here are depicted as "exchange of values," reflecting Jake’s cynical view of relationships between men and women. The "bill" that always comes is steep—in transactions like this, someone always ends up paying with unhappiness.
Cohn sat at the table. His face had the sallow, yellow look it got when he was insulted but somehow he seemed to be enjoying it. The childish, drunken heroics of it. It was his affair with a lady of title. (16. 32)
Cohn’s love for Brett is more like the idealized notion of love—at this stage, he’s in love with the concept of an "affair with a lady of title," rather than Brett herself.
"Do you still love me, Jake?"
"Yes," I said.
"Because I’m a goner," Brett said.
"I’m a goner. I’m mad about the Romero boy. I’m in love with him I think."
"I wouldn’t be if I were you."
"I can’t help it. I’m a goner. It’s tearing me all up inside." (16. 48)
Brett expresses a marked sense of resignation here; she recognizes that her feelings for Romero are actually love, or something akin to it, at least, which she links to death ("I’m a goner"). This reiterates Brett’s earlier claim, in relation to Jake, that love is hell on earth.
"Oh, Jake," Brett said, "we could have had such a damned good time together."
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
"Yes," I said. "Isn’t it pretty to think so?" (19.60)
This line gets us every time. As the novel closes, Jake doesn’t even have the energy to imagine a happy ending – he knows that he and Brett can’t be together, and now that this possibility has been irrevocably cancelled out, he recognizes that it could never have happened, even in the past. The idea of their relationship is simply a pretty but impossible dream.
That seemed to handle it. That was it. Send a girl off with one man. Introduce her to another to go off with him, now go and bring her back. And sign the wire with love. That was all right. (19.37)
After everything’s over, Jake sardonically reflects upon the shameful role he played in the drama of Brett, Cohn, and Romero—he clearly feels guilty about his intervention, but is also resigned to it.
"Listen, Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that." (2.7)
Jake opens up inadvertently here—we learn that he went through a stage of wandering simply to escape himself, also.
We ate dinner at Madame Lecomte’s restaurant on the far side of the island. It was crowded with Americans and we had to stand up and wait for a place. Some one had put it on the American Women’s Club list as a quaint restaurant on the Paris quais as yet untouched by Americans, so we had to wait forty-five minutes for a table. (8.21)
Jake’s disgust with his compatriots and with their rather sheep-like adherence to travel guides emerges here—he sees himself as totally different from the American tourists.
"You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You’re an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés."
‘It sounds like a swell life," I said. "When do I work?"
"You don’t work. One group claims women support you. Another group claims you’re impotent."
"No," I said. "I just had an accident." (12. 13)
Bill’s diatribe against expatriates (in itself a mockery of the typical American perspective), touches upon all of the stereotypes of expat life—it’s a caricature that’s recognizable, and, like so many things, it’s funny because it’s true.
"Hurray for Wine! Hurray for the Foreigners!" was painted on the banner.
"Who are the foreigners?" Robert Cohn asked.
"We’re the foreigners," Bill said. (15.6)
Cohn, with characteristic confusion, doesn’t get that they are the outsiders in Spain—his self-centered vacation mentality is that Spain is there for their use.
"They’re a fine lot," I said. "There’s one American woman down here now that collects bull-fighters." (16.8)
Again, Jake separates himself from the other Americans—he’s not limited to their view of the world. If anything, he’s disgusted by it.
Big motor-cars from Biarritz and San Sebastian kept driving up and parking around the square. They brought people for the bull-fight. Sight-seeing cars came up, too. There was one with twenty-five Englishwomen in it. They sat in the big, white car and looked through their glasses at the fiesta. (18.1)
Jake feels alienated from the tourists who come to watch the bull-fights from a distance; this difference makes it impossible for him to identify with them.
The Biarritz crowd did not like it. They thought Romero was afraid, and that was why he gave that little sidestep each time as he transferred the bull’s charge from his own body to the flannel. They preferred Belmonte’s imitation of himself or Marcial’s imitation of Belmonte. (18.36)
The American tourists visiting from the resort town of Biarritz are laughable in their misinterpretation of Romero’s style, and Jake can’t contain his disdain for his fellow countrymen yet again.
I hated to leave France. Life was so simple in France. I felt I was a fool to be going back into Spain. In Spain you could not tell about anything. (19.17)
France, for Jake, is a safe place—after the botched fiesta and Jake’s role in getting Brett and Romero together, perhaps France is a refuge simply because it’s free from these guilty associations. We wonder if that’s how he ended up in Paris in the first place.
"Listen, Jake," he leaned forward on the bar. "Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?" (2.7)
Here, Cohn brushes upon something resembling an early mid-life crisis. His realization that he hasn’t done anything significant with his life motivates his desire to act upon something—it ends up being his infatuation with Brett.
[Georgette] looked up to be kissed. She touched me with one hand and I put her hand away. "Never mind."
"What’s the matter? You sick?"
"Everybody’s sick. I’m sick too. " (3.4)
Everyone we encounter in the urban space of Paris is sick with something – mostly with the general sense of malaise that appears to be symptomatic of the postwar condition.
I told the driver to go to the Parc Montsouris, and got in, and slammed the door. Brett was leaning back in the corner, her eyes closed. I sat beside her. The cab started with a jerk.
"Oh, darling, I’ve been so miserable," Brett said. (3.40)
Despite Brett’s earlier show of high spirits, she can admit her misery to Jake; their intimate relationship allows her to let down her guard and reveal her feelings to him.
It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing. (4.25)
Again, Jake emphasizes just how difficult it is to stay tough and rational at night – when we’re alone in the dark, it’s hard not to think of the things that make us unhappy.
I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn’t keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. (4.15)
In this rare moment of release, Jake breaks down and gives in to his despair about his hopeless relationship with Brett.
"Have any fun last night?" I asked.
"No, I don’t think so."
"How’s the writing going?"
"Rotten. I can’t get this second book going."
"That happens to everyone."
"Oh. I’m sure of that. It just gets me worried, though." (5.7)
This exchange between Robert Cohn and Jake reveals Cohn’s increasing anxieties about his writing and his general uncertainty about everything, even how much fun he had the previous night. His arrogance is beginning to falter as writing grows more and more difficult.
"Oh darling," Brett said, "I’m so miserable."
I had that feeling of going through something that has all happened before. "You were happy a minute ago." (7.30)
Brett’s misery is never too far beneath the surface. Every time she’s with Jake, his mere presence seems to remind her of her feelings for him, and the impossibility of their situation.
But I could not sleep. There is no reason why because it is dark you should look at things differently from when it is light. To hell there isn’t! I figured that all out once, and for six months I never slept with the electric light off. That was another bright idea. To hell with women, anyway. To hell with you, Brett Ashley. (14.2)
Left alone for the night, Jake’s problems all emerge in full force. He’s definitely right—something about the night time makes us all a little too introspective at times. Despite his efforts to brush them off, his emotional issues can’t be ignored forever.
That was morality; things that made you disgusted afterward. No, that must be immorality. That was a large statement. (14.6)
In his late night musings, Jake stumbles upon the idea that morality is signified by things that disgust you after you’ve done them (or perhaps it’s immorality). Either way, this statement provides us with a definition of a moral code that only functions through the negative reinforcement of guilt or dissatisfaction.
"Come on," she whispered throatily. "Let’s get out of here. Makes me damned nervous."
Outside in the hot brightness of the street Brett looked up at the treetops in the wind. The praying had not been much of a success.
"Don’t know why I get so nervy in church," Brett said. "Never does me any good." We walked along.
"I’m damned bad for a religious atmosphere," Brett said. "I’ve the wrong type of face." (18.14)
Brett can’t take the contemplative atmosphere of the church—her own demons make her too nervous in such a setting. The "nervy" feeling she gets in church probably has more to do with her denial of her own unhappiness than with anything else.
"No, I don’t like Paris. It’s expensive and dirty."
"Really? I find it so extraordinarily clean. One of the cleanest cities in all Europe."
"I find it dirty."
"How strange! But perhaps you have not been here very long."
"I’ve been here long enough." (3.14)
This catty little exchange between Frances and Georgette again raises the issue of the dirty or decrepit condition of Paris—Georgette, like Jake, has the sense that there is something wrong with the urban space.
In the Basque country the land all looks very rich and green and the houses and villages look well-off and clean… the houses in the villages had red tiled roofs, and then the road turned off and commenced to climb and we were going way up close along a hillside, with a valley below and hills stretched off back toward the sea. (10.4)
Doesn’t this just sound like paradise? The closer Jake gets to the real country, the happier he is. Hemingway indulges in lengthy (and for him, rather lush) descriptions of the Basque countryside to help his readers appreciate it as much as Jake does.
Bill took a long drink.
"Utilize a little, brother," he handed me the bottle. "Let us not doubt, brother. Let us not pry in to the holy mysteries of the hen-coop with simian fingers. Let us accept on faith and simply say – I want you to join with me in saying – What shall we say brother?" he pointed the drumstick at me and went on. "Let me tell you. We will say, and I for one am proud to say – and I want to say with me, on your knees, brother. Let no man be ashamed to kneel here in the great out-of-doors. Remember the woods were God’s first temples. Let us kneel and say: ‘Don’t eat that, Lady – that’s Mencken.’" (12.39)
All of this "utilizing" business is silly and fun, but there’s also an edge of something real beneath it. Out in nature, Bill and Jake have an exuberant sense of liberty and exhilaration. Bill’s mock-sermon encourages his audience to utilize the products of the earth and celebrate them, and even while he’s mocking organized religion, he’s setting up the idea that we should worship nature instead of any manmade gods.
It was a beech wood and the trees were very old. Their roots bulked above the ground and the branches were twisted. We walked on the road between the thick trunks of the old beeches and the sunlight came through the leaves in light patches on the grass. The trees were big, and the foliage was thick but it was not gloomy. There was no undergrowth, only the smooth grass, very green and fresh, and the big gray trees well spaced as though it were a park.
"This is country," Bill said. (12.19)
Bill’s simple statement says it all. He and Jake have no need for discussion—they have found what they’re looking for.
We stayed five days at Burguete and had good fishing. The nights were cold and the days were hot, and there was always a breeze even in the heat of the day. It was hot enough so that it felt good to wade in a cold stream, and then the sun dried you when you came out and sat on the bank. We found a stream with a pool deep enough to swim in. In the evenings we played three-handed bridge with a man named Harris, who has walked over from Saint Jean Pied de Port and was stopping at the inn for the fishing. He was pleasant and went with us twice to the Irati River. There was no word from Robert Cohn nor from Brett and Mike. (12.48)
This is an idyllic break from everything that stresses Jake out; he’s in the country, living the simple life with pleasant companions. The lack of correspondence from Cohn or Mike is the icing on the cake.
As soon as I baited up and dropped in again I hooked another and brought him in the same way. In a little while I had six. They were all about the same size. I laid them out, side by side, all their heads pointing the same way, and looked at them. They were beautifully colored and firm and hard from the cold water. It was a hot day so I slit them all and shucked out the insides, gills and all, and tossed them over across the river. I took the trout ashore, washed them in the cold, smoothly heavy water above the dam, and then picked some ferns and packed them all in the bag, three trout on a layer of ferns, then another layer of ferns, then three more trout, and then covered them with ferns. They looked nice in the ferns, and now the bag was bulky, and I put it in the shade of the tree. (12.29)
Jake is totally satisfied with the simple chore of packing up his catch—he has the same aura of focus and straightforward pleasure that we saw in his work at the newspaper office.
We walked back down the road from Roncesvalles with Harris between us. We had lunch at the inn and Harris went with us to the bus. He gave us his card, with his address in London and his club and his business address, and as we got on the bus he handed us each an envelope. I opened mine and there were a dozen flies in it. Harris had tied them himself. He tied all his own flies. "I say, Harris – " I began.
"No, no!" he said. He was climbing down from the bus. "They’re not first rate flies at all. I only thought if you fished them sometime it might remind you of what a good time we had." (13. 69)
The strong bond that we see between Bill and Jake in their time in the country is also reflected in their relationship with Harris. Even though they don’t know each other very well, all three clearly feel that a true friendship has emerged in their common appreciation for the country life—here, Harris touchingly expresses his gratitude for this in the form of flies (hilarious, but genuinely sweet, in our opinion).
It was a good morning, there were high white clouds above the mountains. It had rained a little in the night and it was fresh and cool on the plateau, and there was a wonderful view. We all felt good and we felt healthy, and I felt quite friendly to Cohn. You could not be upset about anything on a day like that. That was the last day before the fiesta. (14. 12)
Jake’s mood is influenced by the beautiful weather; as we’ve noted before, his feelings are often connected to his environment.
In the morning it was raining. A fog had come over the mountains from the sea. You could not see the tops of the mountains. The plateau was dull and gloomy, and the shapes of the trees and the houses were changed. I walked out beyond the town to look at the weather. The bad weather was coming over the mountains from the sea. (16.1)
Yet again, the weather signals a change that is to come—the fog is coming, and with it a whole lot of negativity.
I undressed in one of the bath-cabins, crossed the narrow line of beach and went into the water. I swam out, trying to swim through the rollers, but having to dive sometimes. Then in the quiet water I turned and floated. Floating I saw only the sky and felt the drop and lift of the swells…. The water was buoyant and cold. It felt as though you could never sink. (19.28)
Alone in San Sebastian, Jake can commune with nature and recuperate. The sensation of never sinking that he experience is one of tranquil hopefulness. For poor Jake’s sake, we wish this could go on for longer…
"I got hurt in the war," I said.
"Oh, that dirty war."
We would probably have gone on and discussed the war and agreed that it was in reality a calamity for civilization, and perhaps would have been better avoided. I was bored enough. Just then from the other room someone called: "Barnes! I say Barnes! Jacob Barnes!" (3.9)
The banal discussion of the war that Jake and Georgette narrowly escape is one that’s unsatisfactory and not comprehensive. We get the feeling that there’s a lot more to be said about the war, but nobody knows how to communicate it yet.
"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)
A lot of things happen in wartime that should not otherwise come to pass—in this case, the marriage of Brett to Lord Ashley. We have to wonder if Jake’s telling the whole truth… we know that he is in fact Brett’s "own true love" (in her words and his) and that she can’t marry him because of his handicap. Hmm…
"My dear, I am sure Mr. Barnes has seen a lot. Don’t think I don’t think so, sir. I have seen a lot, too."
"Of course you have, my dear," Brett said. "I was only ragging."
"I have been in seven wars and four revolutions," the count said.
"Soldiering?" Brett asked.
"Sometimes, my dear. And I have got arrow wounds. Have you ever seen arrow wounds?" (7.18)
The count’s definition of "seen a lot" is associated with war—as though war is the only real experience a man can have.
"What times we had. How I wish those dear days were back."
"Don’t be an ass."
"Were you in the war, Mike?" Cohn asked.
"Was I not."
"He was a very distinguished soldier," Brett said. "Tell them about the time your horse bolted down Piccadilly." (13.28)
Mike’s questionably sarcastic wish that the war was back is telling. Can it be that the war gave him a sense of purpose that he’s now lacking?
It was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening. (13.57)
Obviously, the feeling of warfare (now psychological) carries over into this postwar period; now that the actual fighting is over, the battles are on the emotional level.
Mike started toward him around the table. Cohn stood up and took off his glasses. He stood waiting, his face sallow, his hands fairly low, proudly and firmly waiting for the assault, ready to do battle for his lady love. (16.32)
Cohn, who never experienced the real horror of war, still clings to the romantic notion of chivalrous battle, a concept that World War I destroyed for everyone who participated in it.
"The bulls are my best friends."
I translated to Brett.
"You kill your friends?" she asked.
"Always," he said in English, and laughed. "So they don’t kill me." (16.57)
Romero voices an idea that runs through the entire novel—his relationship to the bulls is a parallel to the relationships of Jake and his friends. Everyone is engaged in a constant state of barely-disguised warfare.
"[…] Ashley, chap she got the title from, was a sailor, you know. Ninth baronet. When he came home he wouldn’t sleep in a bed. Always made Brett sleep on the floor. Finally, when he got really bad, he used to tell her he’d kill her. Always slept with a loaded service revolver. Brett used to take the shells out when he’d gone to sleep." (17.46)
Brett’s ex-husband, Lord Ashley, was clearly driven to madness by the war… though she never talks about him. This is just another way in which Hemingway shows us the impact of the war on every individual life it touched.
I was a little drunk. Not drunk in any positive sense but just enough to be careless. (3.25)
We’re not exactly sure what the "positive sense" of drunkenness is that Jake refers to, since people just seem to get into more trouble when they’re drunk in this novel, but we have a feeling it refers to the sense of carefree creative flow that emerges later in the scenes between Jake and Bill. Drunkenness in the wrong social context, however, as in this scene, leans more towards destructive rather than creative.
"Mr. Barnes," the count poured my glass full. "She is the only lady I have ever known who was as charming when she was drunk as when she was sober." (7.18)
The "she" here is Brett—of course, we’ve already established that Brett is charming in any situation, but this seems like a particularly interesting and rather unusual comment from the count. Brett doesn’t seem to undergo any real change between drunkenness and sobriety, which is kind of an alarming idea, if you think about it.
Under the wine I lost the disgusted feeling and was happy. It seemed they were all such nice people. (13.57)
Here, drunkenness is actually an effective mode of distraction for Jake—the language in this quote emphasizes the artificiality of this distraction. It "seems" that everyone’s nice, but we know that when Jake’s sober again, he’ll remember what his friends are really like.
Mike was a bad drunk. Brett was a good drunk. Bill was a good drunk. Cohn was never drunk. (14.6)
This concise quote sums up the difference between Cohn and the rest of the crowd (Jake included—we might as well add "Jake was a good drunk" to the list). Cohn, unlike everyone else, never surrenders himself to the experience of drunkenness, either because he can’t or he won’t.
The fiesta was really started. It kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta you had the feeling, even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling about any action. It was a fiesta that went on for seven days. (15.8)
The fiesta and its requisite state of constant drunkenness is a time of "unreal" events and chaos—a time in which our characters let go of any sober sense of right and wrong they might still possess.
"I’m rather drunk," Mike said. "I think I’ll stay rather drunk. This is all awfully amusing, but it’s not too pleasant for me. It’s not too pleasant for me." (17.42)
Mike finally articulates something we’ve all been wondering about—he’s perfectly aware of his own abuse of alcohol and its psychological reasons, and consciously chooses to continue it.
"You wouldn’t believe it. It’s like a wonderful nightmare."
"Sure," I said. "I’d believe anything. Including nightmares."
"What’s the matter? Feel low?"
"Low as hell."
"Have another absinthe. Here, waiter! Another absinthe for this señor."
"I feel like hell," I said.
"Drink that," said Bill. "Drink it slow."
It was beginning to get dark. The fiesta was going on. I began to feel drunk but I did not feel any better.
"How do you feel?"
"I feel like hell."
"It won’t do any good."
"Try it. You can’t tell; maybe this is the one that gets it. Hey, waiter! Another absinthe for this señor!" (18.53)
Following the Brett-Romero-Cohn drama, the only thing Jake can fall back on is alcohol—however, this time even booze doesn’t do the trick. What he needs, clearly, is something to cure rather than simply cover up his problems.
I drank a bottle for wine for company. It was a Château Margaux. It was pleasant to be drinking slowly and to be tasting the wine and to be drinking alone. A bottle of wine was good company. (19.14)
After the fiesta, Jake returns to alcohol, but it’s different—there’s something less alarming to him about drinking alone, at his own pace, and without the complicating factors of his friends.
"It’s funny what a wonderful gentility you can get in the bar of a big hotel," I said.
"Barmen and jockeys are the only people who are polite anymore."
"No matter how vulgar a hotel is, the bar is always nice." (19.53)
Brett and Jake hang on to an old-fashioned idea of gentility associated with hotel bars (and curiously enough, horse racing)—in this scene, the hotel bar is a place of refuge from the pressures of the outside world and the consequences of Brett’s actions.
"Don’t get drunk, Jake," she said. "You don’t have to."
"How do you know?"
"Don’t," she said. "You’ll be all right."
"I’m not getting drunk," I said. "I’m just drinking a little wine. I like to drink wine."
"Don’t get drunk," she said. "Jake, don’t get drunk." (19.58)
For the only time, Brett actually begs Jake to stay sober; she doesn’t want to drink herself, and needs him to stay with her in her state of honesty and unhappiness.