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"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.
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