"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.
Book 1, Chapter 3
[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.
Lady Brett Ashley
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.
Book 1, Chapter 4
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.
Book 1, Chapter 5
"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.
Book 1, Chapter 7
Lady Brett Ashley
"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.
Book 2, Chapter 14
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.
Book 2, Chapter 18
"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.