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THE STORY - CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Jake is waiting for Brett at a posh hotel. To pass the time he's writing a letter.
When Jake writes, "They were not very good letters but I hoped their being on Crillon stationery would help them," he is saying that it's easy to deceive by putting a fancy label on something that is less than satisfactory. Appearances can belie the truth. This theme of truth versus appearances will be very important when we watch the bullfighters in action.
Brett stands Jake up, and Jake takes a taxi to a Left Bank cafe where he meets Harvey Stone, yet another expatriate American writer.
According to a joke of the 1920s, if you threw a rock in the air
on the Left Bank of Paris (the artists' district) you'd bean an American
would-be writer. Jake and Stone talk about H. L. Mencken, the American
writer, editor, and social critic who was influential in the 1920s. Mencken
was an iconoclast, and his barbs against the American middle class were
picked up by the young Americans who went to Paris to live the life of
Bohemian artists. Stone says that Mencken's all written out, implying
that young Americans need a new figure to "set their likes and dislikes."
Interestingly, Ernest Hemingway challenged Mencken's place with the publication of The Sun Also Rises. After its publication Americans at home and abroad began talking tough-guy talk like Jake and his friends; Jake and Brett were heroes for thousands. Their effect on young people's attitudes was not much different from that of rock stars today-they influenced dress, social behavior, and ideas.
Robert Cohn turns up and Stone asks him jokingly what he'd do with his life if he could do anything. Cohn would like to play football again. It's an impossible, even sad wish, and Stone calls Cohn a "case of arrested development." Cohn, unable to tolerate criticism, says somebody should beat Stone up. Both men behave like children pushing each other around on a school playground.
Frances, Cohn's fiancee, comes to their table and drags Jake away to a cafe-across the street to talk to him in private.
Cohn is leaving her, she announces to Jake. When she begins to whine, Jake says, "There's no use talking about it, is there?" Talking too much about what you can't change is not part of the "code."
Back with Cohn, Frances accuses him of sending her to England to get rid of her. (This is true; he doesn't want her in the way while he pursues Brett.) Frances begins to insult Cohn mercilessly and Cohn, to Jake's bewilderment, simply takes it. Is he too weak to defend himself? Is he unwilling to argue because he knows she is right? Or is it possible that living by his own romantic code he refuses to be abusive to a woman? Hemingway never tells us. Perhaps Cohn, as a Jew and an outsider, has gotten used to being abused: it defines him and gives him a sense of who he is. In any case, he can afford to ignore her since she will be leaving soon, freeing him to pursue Brett.
Jake can't take any more of Frances and Cohn. He slips away with a lie, and takes a taxi home.