Robert Cohn serves a number of important functions in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, including the following:
- He is the object of derision by many of the other characters, and thus he acts as a kind of foil to many of them, even though in some ways they are no more appealing or attractive than he is.
- He is Jewish, and so he gives some of the other characters a chance to vent their odd anti-Semitism.
- He, like many of the other men in the book, is attracted to Brett Ashley and is somewhat desperate in his obsession with her. Thanks to his presence, she has a chance to display her personality, which he and others seem to find appealing.
- His obsession with Brett provides an opportunity for other males in the book to display their jealousy and competitiveness.
- He is one of the males who particularly seems to contrast with Pedro Romero, who seems to embody Hemingway’s (and Brett’s) ideal of male perfection.
- He is a source of much conflict in the book and thus contributes to the drama of its plot.
- Reactions of other characters to Cohn reveal a great deal about their own personalities and temperaments.
- He comes from a wealthy family and thus symbolizes the role that wealth will play as a major theme in the book.
- He has been divorced, and divorce is another major theme of the novel.
- He has made, lost, and regained money, thus symbolizing the fluctuating financial fortunes of a number of other characters.
- He gives a number of the other characters a chance to display smug superiority. It is possible to argue that one of the purposes of the book is to mock such unmerited pride.
- He is highly insecure, but then so are many of the other characters (including Brett). He thus symbolizes one more major theme of the novel.
- His egotism is somewhat comic, but the same can arguably be said of other characters, including Brett. Early in the novel, for instance, the narrator says of Cohn’s divorce, which results from his wife leaving him,
As he had been thinking for months about leaving his wife and had not done it because it would be too cruel to deprive her of himself, her departure was a very healthful shock.