Robert Cohn, a Jewish writer living in Paris in the 1920’s. He and Jacob Barnes are friends, though Barnes delights in needling him. Cohn seems to mean well, but he has a talent for irritating all of his acquaintances. When Cohn meets Lady Brett Ashley, he immediately brushes off Frances Clyne, his mistress, and spends a few days at San Sebastian with Brett. He now feels that she is his property, though she plans to marry Michael Campbell. Cohn has the temerity to join a group from Paris (including Brett and Michael) going to the fiesta in Pamplona, Spain. Brett is smitten by a young bullfighter and sleeps with him. Cohn, reputedly once a middleweight boxing champion at Princeton, gives the bullfighter a pummeling. Cohn’s personality has many contradictions: In general, he is conceited but is unsure of himself as a writer; he seems both obtuse and sensitive; and he evokes pity from his acquaintances, yet they all thoroughly dislike him.
Jacob (Jake) Barnes
Jacob (Jake) Barnes, the narrator, an American expatriate also living in Paris, where he works as a correspondent for a newspaper. In World War I, he was wounded in the groin and as a result is sexually impotent. This injury negates the love he has for Brett and her love for him. Seeming to work very little, Barnes spends a great deal of time in cafés, drinking and talking. His greatest problems in life are trying to adjust himself to the nature of his injury and trying to work out some sort of personal philosophy; two of his thoughts almost solve the latter problem: “You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another” and “Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it.” Barnes is a lover of good food and drink, an expert trout fisherman, and an aficionado of the bullfight. Although he drinks as much as the other characters, some of whom are given to passing out, he has the happy faculty of remaining keen and alert.
Lady Brett Ashley
Lady Brett Ashley, an English woman separated from her husband. Her first lover died of dysentery during the war, and she is getting a divorce from Lord Ashley. She plans to marry Michael Campbell, but she is in love with Barnes, perhaps because she knows he is unattainable, because they can never sexually consummate their love. She is a drunkard and is wildly promiscuous, as is shown by her affairs with Cohn and the young bullfighter, Pedro Romero. She seems as lost in life as Barnes, and she is an appealing woman, one whose successive affairs remind the reader of a little girl trying game after game to keep herself from being bored. In the end, she is determined to settle down with Campbell, even though he is nastily talkative when drunk. In spite of her resolutions, Lady Brett seems destined to work her way through life from bed to bed.
Bill Gorton, a witty American friend of Barnes. With Barnes, he fishes for trout in Spain and attends the fiesta in Pamplona.
Michael Campbell, Lady Brett’s fiancé. He is pleasant when sober but very frank and blunt when drunk.
Pedro Romero, a young bullfighter of great promise who has an affair with Brett but who is jilted when he says he wants to marry her and when she realizes she is not good for him.
Count Mippipopolous, a friend of Brett who would like always to drink champagne from magnums. He is kind to Brett and Jake in Paris.
Montoya, the proprietor of the hotel in Pamplona where the established, truly good bullfighters stay; the hotel thus becomes the headquarters of Barnes’s wild vacationers.