Jake and Bill are bothered by the Catholics on the train because the Catholics possess strong faith and a belief in God and in moral order. Bill and Jake, on the other hand, lack this confident, secure faith. They struggle with the lack of meaning in their lives. Bill, in particular, seems threatened by the Catholics, joking that their monopolization of the dining car is “enough to make a man join the Klan.” Ironically, we learn that Jake is himself Catholic, although he is somewhat reticent about the fact. He periodically looks for solace in his religion, but his faith is not sufficient to anchor him mentally and spiritually. When he goes into church to pray, for example, he finds his mind wandering.

Jake and Bill are hostile to Cohn after his dalliance with Brett. Jake, of course, is painfully jealous of Cohn, and we can infer that Bill picks up on his friend’s jealousy and sympathizes with him. But while Jake has had to tolerate Brett’s other men before, Cohn is doubly infuriating to Jake because he does not seem to understand that his affair with Brett is over. Cohn is blind to the unspoken rules by which Brett, Jake, and their friends live their lives, and since he knows nothing about Brett’s real love for Jake, it is unsurprising that Jake should now find Cohn intensely irritating. Of course, neither Jake nor Bill discusses these feelings directly. Instead, they increasingly express their feelings through anti-Semitic jibes, alluding to Cohn’s status as an outsider because he is a Jew and because he is not a veteran of World War I.

Cohn certainly makes a convenient target for contempt. The way he pines for Brett when he clearly should give up is quite pathetic. He is awkward socially and a little slow intellectually at times. Bill and Jake avoid confronting their own shortcomings by mocking Cohn’s. Jake seems somewhat more aware that their contempt for Cohn functions as a way to avoid confronting their contempt for themselves. He knows that his petty vengefulness toward Cohn arises from his jealousy of Cohn’s relationship with Brett. He yearns for her just as much as Cohn does. But, though he knows that his contemptuous stance toward Cohn displaces his contempt for himself, Jake still treats Cohn poorly.