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.
Book 1, Chapter 2
[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.
Book 1, Chapter 3
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.
Book 1, Chapter 4
Lady Brett Ashley
"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.
Book 1, Chapter 5
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.
Book 1, Chapter 6
"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.
Book 2, Chapter 8
"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.
Book 2, Chapter 10
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.
Book 2, Chapter 13
"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.