During these three years, the first spent in travel, the last two in Paris, Robert Cohn had two friends, Braddocks and myself. Braddocks was his literary friend. I was his tennis friend.
Early in the novel, Jake Barnes, the narrator and protagonist, describes his relationship with Robert Cohn. While having dinner with Robert and Robert’s girlfriend, Frances, Jake gets a glimpse of Frances’s jealous streak. After Jake suggests that he and Robert visit Strasbourg where he knows a woman who would show them around, Robert kicks him under the table, a warning to not mention other women around Frances. Understanding Robert’s cue, Jake then suggests another travel option.
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.
Robert has just admitted to Barnes that he feels like half his life has passed, and he wants to make a drastic change to live the second half to the fullest. After Robert tries to talk Jake into going to South America with him, Jake explains his lack of interest in going. With his words, Jake shows wisdom. He has already seen much of the world and realizes that one cannot escape insecurities or unhappiness simply by changing locations.
“And it’s a lot of fun, too, to be in love.” . . . “No,” she said. “I think it’s hell on earth.”
While riding in a taxi, Jake and Brett talk about their love for each other, a love that remains unconsummated because of Jake’s war injury. Jake tries to deflect the subject, but Brett finds the situation difficult to laugh about, much less accept. She experiences the frustration of their mutual, unconsummated attraction as pain. Although she finds even seeing Jake challenging, a few hours later, she appears at Jake’s home because she wants to see him again. Readers may infer that while Brett loves Jake, she feels tormented by the fact that they can’t fulfill a sexual relationship.
“Were you ever in love with her?” “Sure.” “For how long?” “Off and on for a hell of a long time.”
As Bill and Jake rest after trout fishing, they talk about life and love, and especially Brett. Apparently, all of the men in the novel feel attracted to her, and here, Jake admits his long-standing feelings for Brett. Jake’s inner tension serves as the heart of the narrative and rises in temperature until the story’s climax.
“But he’s not an aficionado like you are.” Afición means passion. An aficionado is one who is passionate about the bull-fights.
Montoya, owner of the hotel in Pamplona, praises Jake for his passion about the bulls. The hotelier mentions that while Robert seems interested in the sport, his passion for bullfighting doesn’t compare to Jake’s. Montoya notes that few people have Jake’s level of devotion to the blood sport. During the next pages, readers may easily note that the bulls symbolize heightened physical masculinity, a quality lacking in the human males in the novel. Readers may also infer that Montoya’s words indicate that Jake’s passion for other things or people in his life also outshines Robert’s.
That was morality; things that make you disgusted afterward. No, that must be immorality.
During Jake’s lengthy internal monologue, he considers the effects of alcohol on each of his friends. He classifies Mike as a bad drunk who purposefully hurt Robert—and admits that he secretly enjoyed watching the whole scene unfold and the effect Mike’s words had on Robert. However, Jake’s sadistic streak makes him feel disgusted with himself. This confusion stands at the heart of the novel and Jake as a character, and readers may infer that such confusion likely describes reactions to both the bullfights and the war.
The three of us sat at the table, and it seemed as though about six people were missing.
Jake reflects on the people sitting—and not sitting—at the table, and his observations clearly reflect a feeling of loss. As he sits with Bill and Mike, he misses Brett, Robert, Romero, and perhaps Frances, Harris, and Harvey Stone. Sadly, this scene reflects Jake’s attitude about his life: His missing parts feel more significant than what he has, and those missing parts prevent him from living his life to its fullest. The novel ends with Jake’s acute sense of loss, and this moment at the mostly empty table sets off that emotional wave.
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 it all right.
After Jake receives a telegram from Brett asking that he come to Madrid to rescue her, he sends a telegram stating he will come to her. Here, he reflects on the situation, summing up the action of the entire novel with just a few short sentences. The futility of Jake and Brett’s situation and the meaningless of all that has happened between them seem reduced to these four clipped actions.
Brett moved close to me. We sat close against each other. I put my arm around her and she rested against me very comfortably. It was very hot and bright, and the houses looked sharply white. We turned out into the Gran Vía.
Jake describes the scene while riding in a taxi with Brett through the streets of Madrid. At this moment, he and Brett feel especially close, both physically and spiritually. Theirs is the deepest friendship in the novel. Readers may find the situation ironic that the hypersexual Brett can feel so intimate with the one man who cannot have sex with her. Jake views their love as a pretty thought that, sadly, can never be fully realized.