Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Paris

*Paris. French capital, in which the novel opens. There, American newspaperman Jake Barnes lives and works in the midst of a community of American and British expatriates who find the city a wasteland of values. A question regarding values that arises early in the book is the contrast between work and idleness, and this opposition is reflected in the Parisian locales frequented by Jake and his friends.

Paris is split by the River Seine into two sections: the Right Bank (Rive Droite) and the Left Bank (Rive Gauche). In the novel, work is associated with the Right Bank. Jake’s newspaper office, for example, is on the Right Bank, in the vicinity of the avenue de l’Opéra and the Tuileries garden. On the Right Bank, too, he encounters Georgette, who as a prostitute is a working woman.

When Jake, with Georgette in tow, goes partying with his idle and rich expatriate friends, they go to the Left Bank, near the Panthéon. There they encounter Jake’s love, Lady Brett, with an entourage of gay men. The similarity between Georgette and Brett is emphasized by their rhyming names and their promiscuity; the difference between them is that one engages in sex professionally, and the other is an alcoholic amateur in promiscuity.

It is evident that Ernest Hemingway endorses the values of work and the Right Bank, rather than the bohemian idleness of the Left Bank, for those who work are realistic and tough-minded, while those who remain idle are escapist and emotionally untidy. However, both workers and idlers, realists and escapists, all of them are physically or emotionally wounded: Jake is impotent, Brett is an adulterer, Cohn has a broken nose, Georgette has rotten teeth. Hence, both the Right Bank and the Left Bank are like Paris as a whole, wastelands of lost values and denatured love.

*Pyrenees

*Pyrenees (pihr-ah-neez). Mountain range running along the border between France and Spain to which Jake takes his newly arrived American friend Bill Gorton on a five-day fishing trip. If Paris is hellish, the Spanish hamlets in which the men stay in the mountains are edenic. Hemingway depicts landscapes of breathtaking natural beauty in which nature and humanity coexist in a blessed ecological union, as when “fields of grapes touched the houses.” It is an idyllic and healing experience, contrasting with that of Paris. Whereas Jake suffers from insomnia and cries in the night in Paris; in the Pyrenees, he sleeps soundly and dreamlessly.

*Roncesvalles

*Roncesvalles (rahn-sihs-VAH-yay; also known as Roncevaux). Spanish town in the Pyrenees whose medieval monastery Jake and Bill visit, along with the Englishman Wilson Harris whom they meet while fishing. The trip becomes almost a pilgrimage. For Roncesvalles is a relic of an epoch when friendship, valor, and combat had meaning. Indeed, it is the site of the French national epic, The Song of Roland (twelfth century), an epic that celebrates the true friendship of Roland and Oliver and the prowess of their small band of courageous companions who died fighting against a Moorish invasion, thereby buying time for Charlemagne to redeploy the forces that saved Europe for Christianity. At Roncevaux, even in modern times, Hemingway shows that friendship can have real worth and meaning. As the men part company, Harris gives Jake and Bill some fishing flies that he himself has tied—symbols of friendship valuable beyond anything that can be bought or sold.

*Pamplona

*Pamplona (pam-PLOH-nah). Town in northern Spain in which Jake’s vacation with his friends reaches both its high and its low points. The men stay in the town during its famous annual Fiesta de San Fermín, which lasts for a week in July. During this nominally religious fiesta, there are daily bullfights preceded by the running of the bulls through the city streets, followed by spontaneous eruptions of inebriated parties.

Hemingway uses Pamplona’s fiesta to highlight contrasts between meaningful and empty values. The bullfighter Pedro Romero represents the best values because, through work and artistry, he creates beauty out of violence, while risking his life in its creation. True fans of bullfighting, including Jake, know and understand this almost as if it were an article of religious faith.

The empty values are emblematized by Brett, who becomes a paganistic Circe-like figure attracting throngs of idle, pleasure-seeking party-goers. When Pedro (the worker-artist) and Brett (the partying idler) fall in love, Jake finds himself in a dilemma; he loves them both, yet knows that Brett’s lifestyle will endanger Pedro’s talent. However, through loyalty to his (impotent) love for Brett, Jake brings them together, only to be reviled by bullfight aficionados as a pimping traitor, and he is beaten up by Robert Cohn. Thus is the central drama of the novel played out in Pamplona.

*San Sebastian

*San Sebastian. Spanish seaside resort town in which Jake recuperates after the debacle in Pamplona, There, he goes for a long swim that is renewing and almost baptismal in effect, making him feel as though he “could never sink.” Afterward, he heeds Brett’s request to meet her in Madrid after she breaks off from Pedro.