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Drugs and Alcohol
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.
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