As they ride through the streets of Paris in a cab, Jake tries to kiss Brett, but she withdraws, telling him that, although she loves him, she "can't stand it." They talk elliptically about Jake's condition before rejoining their friends at a café in the Montparnasse section of the city. The Count Mippipopolous joins the group, and Jake learns that Georgette has gone home after causing a scene at the dance club. Cohn and Frances have gone home, too. Jake leaves Brett with the Count and goes home himself, where he lies in bed, drunk and miserable. He sleeps, only to be awakened at 4:30 by an extremely intoxicated Brett. They share a drink, she tells him that the Count has invited her to travel with him, and Jake finally sends her home.
Finally, Hemingway makes the nature of Jake's problematic condition clear (or as clear as he will ever make it, in this extremely subtle story). Reading between the lines, and keeping in mind the hints dropped during the book's prior chapters, one can deduce the following: While fighting on the Italian front during World War I, Jake was somehow castrated. (This is what the Italian liaison colonel means when he says to Jake, "You . . . have given more than your life.") "Of all the ways to be wounded," indeed!
Thus, Jake can never consummate his love for Brett. Valiantly, he tries to think of his disability as some sort of cosmic joke — and Brett sees it as punishment for being free with her sexuality. Their plight is genuinely tragic, however, because of the particular nature of the wound. Recall Jake's lascivious description of Brett's body in Chapter III ("She was built with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey"), as well as the erotically-charged way he sees her in the cab at the start of this chapter. Jake's castration has not eliminated his sexual desire, only his ability to fulfill that desire. (Erection and ejaculation are both physiologically impossible.) Therefore, even looking at Brett is agony for him, and for her as well, because she understands the pain he's in. No wonder Jake feels rage toward Brett's gay companions, men who presumably could make love to her but are uninterested in doing so. And yet Jake will spend much of the story watching Brett go off with other men (like the Count, in this chapter), even encouraging her to do so.
Chapter IV is crucial, because it is here, at last, that Hemingway clarifies the conflict of The Sun Also Rises. To reiterate: The protagonist, Jake Barnes, wants Brett Ashley, but he can't "have" her, despite Brett's reciprocal feelings. "Isn't there something we can do about it?" Jake asks. The reader, who empathizes with Jake's pathetic lot, wants to know this as well, and reads on. The fact that, as Jake says, "there's not a damn thing we can do" is another aspect of The Sun Also Rises that marks the book as Modernist — as genuinely experimental, in fact. In the tradition of all the books that came before it, this novel has a powerful conflict at its center. And yet the conflict would seem to be insolvable. Hemingway's experiment: Can he hold our attention anyway, much less leave us fulfilled in the end?
Note the phallic references that make brutal fun of Jake's condition. At the start of the chapter, he and Brett travel "up . . . then levelled [sic] out" and finally "went smoothly down," immediately after which Jake tries to kiss Brett and she recoils. A few pages later, they sit in the cab "like two strangers" while passing by a pool of live trout (a phallic fish), which is closed and dark. "I've never let you down, have I?" Brett inquires of Jake later. Even the novel's title and the biblical passage to which it alludes participate in the book's black humor: You may not "rise," the title taunts Jake, but at least the sun does.
Be sure to observe the careful characterization of Brett up to this point, though much of it occurs between the lines. We know that she is attractive to men — not just Jake, but Cohn and the Count and even the homosexuals with whom she is first seen. This despite a distinctly androgynous quality to her appearance: Brett has cut her hair short, she wears a man's hat, and she refers to everyone, including herself, as "chaps." The writer subtly links her to prostitutes — first Brett is mistaken for Georgette and later she is offered money by the Count to accompany him on a trip. (More will be made of this later in the book.) Finally, Jake sums up what may be the most significant characteristic of Brett's personality: "I suppose she only wanted what she couldn't have," he tells us bitterly.
It is Brett who introduces the theme of payment for bad behavior, as if life's misfortunes are some sort of fine levied for sin. "When I think of the hell I've put chaps through," she says to Jake. "I'm paying for it all now." Brett seems to think that there is a logic to the universe — that life, though often painful, is at least fair. One of the bitter lessons of The Sun Also Rises is the wrongheadedness of that philosophy.
Stylistically, notice the emphasis here on the concrete and specific; this chapter is practically a catalogue of streets and parks, restaurants and bars in 1920s Paris. Do we really need to know exactly how much money is in Jake's bank account, as well as the fact that he reads not one but two bullfighting papers? Clearly, Hemingway believes that it is exactly these banal details that bring a scene to life. Reading about Jake's bank balance, it's hard not to think that the events in this book of fiction really happened, though of course they did not.
Also, Hemingway introduces passages that combine Gertrude Stein's penchant for repetition with the Irish novelist James Joyce's "stream of consciousness" technique; the latter attempts to reproduce on the page the illogical workings of the human mind. In this case the human is drunk:
"I lay awake thinking and my mind jumping around. Then I couldn't keep away from it, and I started to think about Brett and all the rest of it went away. I was thinking about Brett and my mind stopped jumping around and started to go in sort of smooth waves. Then all of a sudden I started to cry. Then after a while it was better and I lay in bed and listened to the heavy trams go by and way down the street, and then I went to sleep."
St. Etienne du Mont a church on a hilltop northeast of the Pantheon, in the Latin Quarter of Paris.
Place de la Contrescarpe, Rue Mouffetard, Aveue des Gobelins streets between St. Etienne du Mont and Parc Montsouris, on the Left Bank of the Seine.
Café Select a café in the Montparnasse district, southwest of the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank of the Seine.
Boulevard Montparnasse the "main drag" of the Montparnasse district.
Boulevard Raspail an avenue connecting Boulevard St. Germain and Boulevard du Montparnasse, on the Left Bank of the Seine.
Something the patronne's daughter said Presumably an insult regarding Georgette's profession.
corking (Informal) very good or well; excellently.
the Crillon the Bar du Crillon at the Hôtel du Crillon, across from the U.S. Embassy on the Place de la Concorde; one of Europe's grandest hotels.
Boulevard St. Michel an avenue connecting Montparnasse with the Latin Quarter.
the Rotonde a café that still stands on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.
the Dome, Lavigne's, Closerie des Lilas Parisian cafés.
Ney Michel Ney, Duc D'Elchingen, Prince de La Muskova (1769–1815); French military leader under Napoleon I; executed.
arc-light a lamp in which brilliant light is produced by maintaining an arc between two electrodes.
Bonapartist Groups those who supported the Bonaparte dynasty in France
concierge a custodian or head porter, as of an apartment house or hotel.
Le Toril a periodical covering bullfighting.
Petite Correspondance (French) little correspondence; letters to the editor.
Cornigrams items about bullfighting, presumably.
Ospedale Maggiore the great hospital in Milan, which is the setting of part of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.
Milano Italian name for Milan; a commune in northwestern Italy, in Lombardy.
Padiglione Ponte Ponte Pavilion, apparently the wing of the hospital where Jake was treated.
Padiglione Zonda another hospital pavilion.
You . . . have given more than your life Jake has made what the Italian liaison colonel considers the ultimate sacrifice: he was castrated in battle.
Che mala fortuna (Italian) What bad luck.
He's quite one of us a reference to wartime experience; Jake is a veteran, and Brett served as a nurse. Again, Cohn did not serve, perhaps because he was simply too young; therefore, he is "one of them."
Biarritz aresort town in southwestern France, on the Bay of Biscay.
Cannes a city in southeastern France, on the Riviera.
Monte Carlo a town in Monaco; gambling resort.
the Bois the Bois de Boulogne, an enormous Parisian park.
Mumms a brand of Champagne.
cordon a keychain