Quotations and Analysis
“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn. He cared nothing for boxing, in fact he disliked it, but he learned it painfully and thoroughly to counteract the feeling of inferiority and shyness he had felt on being treated as a Jew at Princeton.”
Jake introducing the character of Cohn, and we get key information about both characters. Cohn is an outsider to the other characters as Jew. He is also physically tough. But we also see that his toughness stems from a sense of personal inadequacy—an inadequacy felt by all the male characters. If fact, we can detect jealousy in Jake’s tone in this quotation. While he is able to marginalize Cohn due to his religious background, he is also intimidated by Cohn’s masculinity. Both characters come up short as men. Cohn lives this description and Jake reveals himself to be shallow.
[Cohn:] “I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
[Jake:] “Nobody ever lives their life all the way up except bull-fighters.”
From Chapter II, Cohn explains one of the key themes in the novel, and Jake solidifies the sentiment. Cohn directly expresses the profound doubts of the Lost Generation, the sense that their lives were meaningless and going nowhere. Cohn worries that his life is passing him by, and Jake’s “re-assurance” is not really re-assuring. He tells Cohn that no one’s lives are going anywhere. His idealization of bullfighters reveals both and unrealistic view of bullfighters and a fatalistic idealization of people whose job is to kill or be killed.
“Oh, Jake,” Brett said, “we could have had such a damned good time together.”
Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.
“Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”
The final lines in the novel, when pressed together by accident, Lady Brett Ashley expresses a romantic but futile sentiment about lasting love and commitment. This comes after Jake has withstood a physical attack by Cohn and he has helped Ashley to have flings with Romero. Now she finds herself with the man who loves her and the idea of lasting love is little more than a fleeting after-thought. Jake seems to agree. He says it is a pretty thought. He reveals that his view of her is actually quite cynical in the end. He holds no illusions about lasting romantic love and neither does she. Even in the end, they are aimless and devoid of real feeling.