Summary and Analysis Chapter II



After his return from a trip to America, Robert Cohn visits Jake Barnes in the offices of the newspaper where Jake works, in Paris. Cohn suggests a trip to South America, even offering to pay Jake's way, but Jake declines, suggesting British East Africa and then encouraging Cohn to enjoy Paris itself. The two share a drink, after which Jake returns to work and Cohn falls asleep in a chair outside Jake's office.


Although the events dramatized in this chapter are trivial, they offer Jake additional opportunities to react to Robert Cohn, thereby further characterizing both Cohn and himself.

Now Cohn seems "not so simple" as he was before visiting his American publisher and "not so nice," according to Jake. After an unsuccessful marriage at a young age and his rebound relationship with Frances, Cohn is discovering that women find him attractive, and this, combined with the publication of his novel, has given him a swelled head. Also, Jake tells us that reading a book called The Purple Land has given Cohn unrealistic expectations about life and love; these expectations in turn have made Cohn dissatisfied.

Jake, on the other hand, knows the hard truths about the world — presumably from experience, though we don't yet know the particular nature of that experience. Jake admires bullfighters because they live their lives "all the way up." Although a writer, Jake knows that you can't learn about the world from the "splendid imaginary amorous adventures" described in a book. Only living itself — preferably "all the way up" — is truly valuable in this way. The reference in this chapter to bullfighting also foreshadows much of the novel's second half.

Finally, the mystery of Jake's situation deepens, and our interest in him increases correspondingly. Cohn points out that both of them will be dead in thirty-five years, and Jake's response is that "It's one thing I don't worry about" — inspiring the reader to wonder what Jake does worry about. In response to Cohn's suggested South America journey, Jake has this to say: "[G]oing to another country doesn't make any difference. I've tried all that. You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another." Why did Jake try "all that"? Why would he want to get away from himself? Finally, and most intriguingly, Jake tells us of his "rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends." The plot thickens, so to speak.


W.H. Hudson William Henry Hudson (1841–1922), a writer raised in Argentina by American parents whose subjects include South America and England.

"The Purple Land" The Purple Land That England Lost by W.H. Hudson, a romance set in South America and published in 1885.

Alger Horatio Alger (1832–1899), U.S. writer of boys' stories; his books typically deal with rags-to-riches stories of young boys advancing from poverty to wealth and acclaim.

an R.G. Dun report precursor of Dun & Bradstreet, an agency furnishing subscribers with information as to the financial standing and credit rating of businesses.

boat train a train scheduled to be at a port in time for the prompt transfer of passengers to or from a ship.

a week's mail stories Jake is a foreign correspondent for a North American newspaper. He refers here to his week's quota of articles to be mailed overseas.

British East Africa the former name of the country now known as Kenya.

get off some cables send newspaper stories overseas via telegram.

the Quarter the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris south of the River Seine where many artists and students live.

carbons carbon copies of typewritten pages.

by-line a line identifying the writer of a newspaper or magazine article.

Gare St. Lazare railroad station located in Paris's 8th Arrondisement.

Café Napolitain a Parisian café.

apéritif an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

Boulevard Boulevard St.-Germain, the "main drag" of Paris's Latin Quarter.