Summary and Analysis
The fiesta of San Fermin, which will last for seven days, begins at noon on a Sunday. Musicians and dancers fill the streets — and even some of the shops, like the wine store, where Brett is placed on a cask so the Basque peasants can dance around her as if she is an idol. Locked out of his own room, Jake sleeps on one of the beds in Cohn's while the rest of the group stays out all night and then attends the running of the bulls from the corrals to the bullring, through the streets of Pamplona. That afternoon, Jake meets the nineteen-year-old matador Pedro Romero, after which Jake, Bill, Cohn, Mike and Brett attend a bullfight. Mike ribs Cohn for being upset by the goring of the horses. (Brett, by contrast, did not flinch.) The next day, Romero performs admirably in the ring, and Brett cannot help talking about her attraction to him.
"They got their money's worth in the wine shops," Jake says of the peasants who come to Pamplona for the fiesta. "Money still had a definite value. . . . Late in the fiesta it would not matter what they paid, nor what they bought." Hemingway is working metaphorically here, with the fiesta standing in for life itself. At first, equal exchanges are possible, he says — or at least they seem to be. As life goes on, however, one learns that the existence of such transactions is illusory.
We are reminded by the imagery in this chapter that, other than Cohn, all the novel's major characters participated in the Great War. Indeed, their status as veterans explains their aimlessness — not to mention their reliance on alcohol to get them through each day. The café on the morning of the fiesta is "like a battleship stripped for action." Rockets are fired to mark the start of the celebration, and a "ball of smoke hung in the sky like a shrapnel burst." The war and its futility explain the presence of Jake, Bill, Brett, and Mike on the European continent (where the fighting occurred) rather than their own countries, where they feel like strangers amongst those who did not fight. As Bill says to Cohn, "We are the foreigners" — meaning that they are foreigners in Spain. But the expatriates of the 1920s were foreigners in their own homelands, as well.
"The fiesta was really started. It kept up day and night for seven days. The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as thought nothing could have any consequences. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta. All during the fiesta you had the feeling, even when it was quiet, that you had to shout any remark to make it heard. It was the same feeling about any action. It was a fiesta and it went on for seven days."
The word fiesta appears five times in this paragraph. Kept up appears three times. There are two instances of the words consequences, happened, and feeling, as well as the phrase for seven days. And yet the effect is not dull, but rather hypnotic, as Hemingway's teacher Gertrude Stein understood.
The writer's characterization of Brett continues in Chapter XV, where it is intertwined with the theme of inside/outside. Note that Brett is barred from the church (ostensibly because she is bare-headed), and yet on the street and in the wine shop she herself is quite literally worshipped as a goddess. Not only is Brett not a Catholic like Jake, or even a Christian; she is a kind of pagan whose value system lies outside the church, literally — and the peasants recognize this. Jake compares Brett to a whore now and again, but Hemingway clearly understands that her behavior is not immoral; it is amoral. She cannot look away from the bullfight because she does not fear death — she may, in fact, be attracted to it.
Hemingway introduces a new character, the last member of the novel's ensemble cast, in this chapter: the matador Pedro Romero. Because he lives and works in close proximity to death, Romero is like the combat veterans Jake and Mike. And yet he is boyish, like Cohn. Naturally, Brett is attracted to him (or as her fiancé, Mike, puts it, "I believe, you know, that she's falling in love with this bullfighter chap"). In fact, Romero brings out a sexual voracity in Brett that we could only surmise prior to this point in the novel — a hunger and aggressiveness unprecedented in a female character at the time The Sun Also Rises was published. In a radical book, she was positively revolutionary.
6th of July Since the two days prior to the fiesta are described by Jake as having been "quiet," we can assume that American Independence Day went more or less unobserved by him, Bill, and Cohn — not surprisingly, considering the alienation they appear to feel from their homeland.
Sherry a Spanish fortified wine varying in color from light yellow to dark brown and in flavor from very dry to sweet.
Jerez (Spanish) sherry.
translate to move from one place or condition to another; transfer.
great giants, cigar-store Indians, thirty feet high, Moors, a King and a Queen enormous effigies carried through the streets to celebrate the fiesta.
bladder a bag consisting of or lined with membraneous tissue in the body of many animals, capable of inflation to receive and contain liquids or gasses.
because she had no hat traditionally, women are discouraged from entering churches in Europe bareheaded.
bota (Spanish) wineskin.
Nada (Spanish) Nothing.
Anis del Mono a brand of French or Spanish liqueur flavored with aniseed.
Mucha suerte (Spanish) Much luck.
torero (Spanish) a bullfighter, especially a matador.
kike (Slang) a Jew; a hostile and offensive term.
gentry people of high social standing; especially, in Great Britain, the class of landowning people ranking just below the nobility.
shove it along (Slang) cut it out.