Summary of the Novel
The novel opens with an introduction to Robert Cohn, an insecure Jewish man whose relationships with women have lead to disastrous affairs. After his divorce, he meets Frances, who convinces him to travel to Europe. After three years with her, Cohn has written a novel, goes to America, and gets it accepted by a publisher. While he is there, attention from other women raises his confidence and makes him lose interest in Frances.
After he returns to Europe, his dissatisfaction with his life grows when he becomes smitten with Brett, a woman with whom Jake is also in love. She and Jake can never move beyond a platonic relationship, though, because of a war injury that left Jake impotent.
Robert changes when he falls in love with Brett. He no longer cares about tennis, sends Frances away, and has conflicts with people. Brett and Robert have an affair in San Sebastian, and Jake begins to despise Robert.
The group decides to go to Spain to fish. Bill, Robert, and Jake go ahead to get equipment and rooms and plan for Brett and Mike to join them later in Pamplona. Robert nervously awaits Brett’s arrival. He goes to the station in case she shows up. When she does not, he does not go fishing in case Brett went to San Sebastian to meet him. Robert disgusts Bill and Jake. They go to Burguete and fish for five days before returning.
When they go to Pamplona, they stay at the Hotel Montoya, which is owned by Juanito Montoya. He respects Jake because of his passion, or afición, for bullfighting. The hotel is the meeting place for aficiónados and has pictures of only aficiónado bullfighters on the wall.
In Pamplona, Robert follows Brett constantly. The first day of the fiesta, streets become crowded with people drinking and partying. Releasing the bulls signals the beginning of the bullfights.
The next day the bullfights begin. Montoya introduces Bill and Jake to Romero, the newcomer. They are impressed with him as an aficiónado. At the bullfight, spectators are impressed with his skills, but Brett with his attractiveness.
The next day Romero steals the show. Montoya shows his protectiveness for Romero when the American ambassador wants Romero to join him for coffee. Montoya expresses concern that this attention may spoil Romero. Jake agrees and suggests Montoya lose the message. However, when Brett insists on being introduced and confides to Jake she has fallen in love with Romero, Jake violates his afición and arranges their affair.
When Jake returns to the group without Brett, Robert panics. When Robert finds Brett is with Romero, Robert calls Jake a “pimp” as he hits him. Robert finds Brett in Romero’s room and nearly kills him, but Romero does not quit. After Brett lambasts him, Robert begins crying and apologizes to Romero and later to Jake. He leaves Pamplona in the morning.
The next morning is the final day of the fiesta. As bulls are running the streets into the ring, one man gets gored. The president’s attendance brings pomp and circumstance. Brett, radiantly in love with Romero, sits with Jake and Bill at the bullring. She shows adoration and concern for Romero although she says his people disapprove of her. Romero hands his gold-brocade cape to his sword-handler to give to Brett.
Belmonte, the first fighter, kills his bull without much drama. Romero fights next. He works perfectly, though he is still injured from Robert’s beating. The bull does not see well, and the crowd wants another bull. Marcial fights next, and the crowd responds ecstatically.
Romero’s last bull is the one that had killed the man. He works smoothly and efficiently at both killing the bull and pleasing the crowd. He gives the ear to Brett.
After the bullfight, the fiesta winds down. Brett leaves with Romero, and everyone else goes his own way. Jake stays one night in Bayonne before leaving for San Sebastian. After three days he receives cables from Brett that she is in Madrid and needs help.
When Jake arrives, Brett cries and tells him she sent Romero away because she knew she was no good for him. He had been ashamed of her. Romero had offered her money, but she could not take it. She decides to go back to Mike. As the story ends, she bemoans that she and Jake could have been good together. Jake realizes it is only a nice dream.
The novel, written in a narrative frame, is divided into three books. Book I includes Chapters 1–7 and is set in Paris. This is often considered Hemingway’s wasteland, which represents the lifestyle of the “lost generation.” It builds main characters and ends with Brett going off to San Sebastian for a liaison with Robert.
Book II includes Chapters 8–18 and is set in Spain, the possible corrective values for Paris’ lifestyle. Here, the group goes for fishing and bullfighting. Here Jake demonstrates then violates his values. There is still lots of drinking and sex. At the end of the book, Brett has left for a liaison with Romero.
Book III includes only Chapter 19, is still set in Spain, and is winding down. The fiesta is over and there is no more partying. The focus in this chapter is on Jake, who goes off without any of his friends to regain his values. He is called to Madrid at the end. Although the novel begins with development of Robert Cohn, it ends without reference to him—as if he were obliterated from life. Brett will end with Mike.
The Life and Work of Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1899 to Dr. and Mrs. Clarence Hemingway. His mother was musically gifted and religious, but he did not follow his mother’s musical ambitions for him. Rather, he shared his father’s interests in hunting and fishing. In school he took up boxing.
He began his journalism career in 1917. During World War I he fought in the Italian infantry. Sustaining serious wounds caused him to treasure life, fear death, and handle himself well in the face of danger. He was a Red Cross ambulance driver until he was wounded. He returned home after falling in love and being rejected by the nurse who cared for him.
In 1921, Hemingway married for the first time and went to Paris where he joined a coterie of other literary minds, including Ezra Pound Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Dos Passos F. Scott Fitzgerald Gertrude Stein and others. His first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, was published in Paris in 1923. During this time he also frequented Spain and became familiar with bullfights and fiestas, which later provided material for books.
In 1926 he divorced his first wife and married again the next year. With publication of The Sun Also Rises in 1926, Hemingway became a distinguished writer of his time. This book was declared the voice of the “lost generation.”
In the 1930s, Hemingway settled in Key West and later Cuba, but still traveled to Spain, Italy, and Africa. He published several novels during this decade. In 1940, he divorced his second wife and married his third. In 1945, he divorced his third wife and married for a final time in 1946.
In 1953 he won the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, his most popular work. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration.” He has been named one of the most powerful influences on the American short story and novel.
In 1960 he was institutionalized for bouts of paranoia and depression and received electroshock treatments. They were unsuccessful, though, and he committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961. His father had also committed suicide.
Estimated Reading Time
An average reader can read the book in six to seven hours. A more careful reading will take longer because of unfamiliar terms and places. It is difficult to read in one sitting.