Morals and Morality Reflecting on his friends and especially on Robert Cohn, who is becoming a major annoyance, Jake reflects on his moral code, “That was morality; things that made you disgusted afterward. No, that must be immorality.” Jake is more interested in his own concerns and, secondarily, Brett’s. Cohn was fortunate enough to have a holiday with Brett but he is not smart enough to accept that it meant nothing. Because Cohn cannot create his own version of the group’s code, he becomes the subject of persecution. Jake is bothered by it but he is more disgusted when he knowingly violates the code of aficionado by setting up Brett with Romero. This disrupts his friendship with Montoya and with Cohn. Respect is betrayed and lost. The garbage that is visible at the end of the fiesta only compounds his self-disgust. However, instead of leading to an epiphany he simply decides to develop his own code of style more thoroughly. That style is a hard-boiled self-centeredness.
Brett is lost throughout the novel. She is disgusted with herself and those around her, especially Jake—through no fault of his own. The only moment she exerts herself in terms of morality is to get rid of Romero. Throughout the novel, Brett defies conventional morality by having short, meaningless affairs. Because of her self-centeredness and unhappiness, she is unable to stop this self-destructive behavior and is often passive to events. The affairs are meant to escape her unsatisfactory relationship with Jake, whom she truly loves but who is unable to physically consummate their relationship.
Meaning of Life The theme of life’s meaning turns from the question of essence, “what it was all about,” to existence, “how to live in it.” However, the reason for this polarity is the inability of the main characters to rise above that mediocrity. They must reject the life of the hero as impossible for themselves. “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bullfighters.” To which Cohn replies, “I am not interested in bullfighters. That’s an abnormal life.” Cohn’s idea of life is romantic—a life of literary fame and adventure with a beautiful mistress who happens to have a title. But the group despises Cohn’s notions and Brett finally judges that he is “not one of us.” Instead, the key to life is a development of one’s ability to wisely utilize the full worth of one’s money. This can take many forms but only Jake, the Count, and to a certain extent Bill Gorton, are able to do this. Brett, and especially Mike Campbell (who is ever an “undischarged bankrupt”), will never be happy even if they become rich because they are incapable of utilizing money well.
Bill relies on exchange value and use. When he first enters the narrative he wishes to buy Jake a stuffed dog, “Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog.” Bill’s philosophy is to use money to buy moments as well as to show one’s stature. His motto is “Never be daunted.” Possibilities for bliss, such as a pub or a bottle, must be utilized to their full potential.
Jake, meanwhile, is developing a more sophisticated attitude full of tabulating expenses which keeps his mind off his main problem of impotence. “I paid my way into things that I liked, so that I had a good time. Either you paid by learning about them or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money. Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth and knowing when you had it. You could get your money’s worth....
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The world was a good place to buy in.” Then he adds that he might change his mind in five years. In other words, “the lost generation” can get their kicks by a wise expenditure of money (even if they are not rich) until a semblance of reality has been reconstructed and the war is in the past. A possible future philosophy is hinted at when Jake reads Turgenieff and knows he will remember what he reads as if it was his experience. That is, Turgenieff writes truthfully about experience in a way Hemingway agreed with. “That was another good thing you paid for and then had.” But payment here is the effort of reading literature which you can then use to recover from war.