Jake receives a postcard from Brett in San Sebastian and a note from Cohn saying that he's leaving France for a while; meanwhile, it is rumored that Frances has gone to England. Jake's friend Bill visits briefly before traveling to Vienna and then Budapest. When Bill returns, he is severely intoxicated and reports being drunk for four days in Vienna. Jake and Bill have dinner together while Brett, back from San Sebastian picks up Mike Campbell, her fiancé. Mike, too, is profoundly drunk.
Note the proximity of Brett's message from San Sebastian to Jake's statement, "Nor did I see Robert Cohn again." When questioned about her trip, Brett replies that her trip was "not frightfully amusing," that she saw "hardly anybody," "never went out," and "[d]idn't do a thing." Brett seems to be changing the subject, and she is. As we will discover in the next chapter, she has traveled to San Sebastian with Cohn, a revelation that will enrage and sadden Jake. He feels betrayed by Brett, despite the fact that they are not currently involved with one another. In fact, Brett is married to Lord Ashley and engaged to Mike Campbell. But these two are men at least somewhat worthy of Brett's love, in Jake's opinion, unlike the immature and inexperienced Cohn.
Like Cohn, Bill Gorton is a writer. Unlike Cohn, however, Bill was in Europe during the Great War ("Bill had eaten at the restaurant in 1918, right after the armistice," Jake tells us), though we learn later that he did not see combat. Thus, Bill is almost "one of us," in Brett's words.
One of the overarching themes of Hemingway's stories and novels was friendship between men, and in Jake and Bill he has one of the most memorable friendships in literature, comparable to that between Achilles and Patroclus in the Iliad, or the Bible's David and Jonathan. In this chapter, Bill serves mainly as comic relief, which the reader badly needs after the depressing goings-on at the end of Book I. Note, however, the undercurrent of sadness to Bill's incoherent drunkenness, especially when viewed as part of a pattern that includes Jake himself, Brett, and Brett's fiancé, Mike, all of whom seem to be anaesthetizing themselves with alcohol. They're trying to forget the pain of the worldwide conflict just past, and to dull their senses to the seeming meaningless of the life they fought to preserve in "the war to end all wars." Cohn does not drink to excess; as a non-veteran, he doesn't need to.
"Simple exchange of values. You give them money. They give you a stuffed dog," Bill explains drunkenly. Like Brett, Bill is under the misapprehension that life is fair — that good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior punished. Only Jake knows that good behavior is sometimes punished. Jake did his duty and, as a result, he lives in agony.
As always, Hemingway emphasizes the actual here instead of the abstract, the concrete and specific. This chapter contains even more names of streets and statues, nightclubs and restaurants, than we've seen up until now — not to mention food: "We had a good meal, a roast chicken, new green beans, mashed potatoes, a salad, and some apple pie and cheese." Hemingway doesn't tell us much about what his characters look like, but he does let us know what they eat (and, of course, drink), simply because we can learn about them via their choices and reactions. Jake's appreciation of a good meal tells us that he is a still alive to the world, despite his pain and the drinking he does to erase that pain. Not many writers prior to this one had thought to characterize via dinner.
Finally, be sure to recognize the loneliness that pervades this chapter, despite the comedy of Bill's intoxicated behavior. Standing on a bridge with him, Jake notices a man and a woman "walking with their arms around each other." Soon afterward, he observes a girl ladling stew onto a plate held before her by an old man. Everywhere, men and women are pairing off. Jake attempts to make light of the sexual heat between Brett and Mike, telling Bill, "Mike was pretty excited about his girlfriend." Bill's response confirms once again that Brett is attractive in general, and not just to Jake: "You can't blame him such a hell of a lot," he says.
the Concha San Sebastian beach.
light heavyweight a boxer between a super middleweight and a cruiserweight, with a maximum weight of 175 pounds.
Dempsey Jack, born William Harrison Dempsey (1895–1983); U.S. professional boxer.
Pamplona a city in Navarre, in northeastern Spain.
Lasted just four days. . . . Don't remember. Wrote you a postcard. Remember that perfectly. Bill drops the subjects of his sentences because he is drunk.
Cologne a city in Germany, on the Rhine, in the state of North Rhine–Westphalia.
the island the Ile St.-Louis, in the River Seine.
Rue Denfert-Rochereau a street on the Left Bank.
pie-eyed (Slang) intoxicated, drunk.
Nix (Slang) no.
stud-book a register of purebred animals, especially racehorses.
American Women's Club list apparently a list of recommended tourist sites.
armistice a temporary stopping of warfare by mutual agreement, as a truce preliminary to the signing of a peace treaty. The armistice referred to here is the one that ended World War I, on November 11, 1918.
Quai d'Orleans a street on the Ile St.-Louis.
bateau mouche a pleasure steamer.
Notre Dame a famous early Gothic cathedral in Paris, built between 1163 and 1257; in full, Notre Dame de Paris.
Quai de Bethune a street on the Ile St.-Louis.
Rue de Cardinal Lemoine a street in the Latin Quarter
Negre Joyeaux, Café Aux Amateurs Latin Quarter cafés.
Rue du Pot de Fer a street in the Latin Quarter.
Rue Saint Jacques a street in the Latin Quarter.
Boulevard du Port Royal an avenue in Montparnasse; west of Boulevard St. Michel; its name changes to Boulevard Montparnasse.
Damoy's a Montparnasse café.
An old lady's bags did that Mike either fell down or got into a fight, because he is drunk.
piece (Slang) a woman regarded as a sexual partner.
Let's turn in early Mike is aroused and wants to have sex with Brett.