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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway-Book Notes
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The fiesta is over, and the last of the group splits up. Bill is going back to Paris, Mike to Saint Jean de Luz (a French beach town), and Jake to San Sebastian (the Spanish town where Robert Cohn and Brett had their affair) for a week's rest. The three share a car to Bayonne, then go to Biarritz, another beach town, for a drink. They gamble for the drinks, and Mike continues to lose. Finally, like the irresponsible child that he is, Mike says he can't pay his debt. Bill offers to pay for him.

Mike gets dropped off, Bill gets put on a train, and Jake is left alone. Deciding to relax, he buys a New York newspaper and sits leisurely in a cafe to read it. He's "through with fiestas for a while," and happy to be alone. "A bottle of wine [is] good company," he thinks. Notice how carefully he sets out all the details of his simple pleasures. "If you want people to like you you have only to spend a little money," he muses, with perhaps a touch of irony. (Count Mippipopolous would understand this cafe very well.) Jake knows he can't buy friendship, but after the hurly-burly of Spain he honestly enjoys the simplicity of having everything decided by money.

Back in San Sebastian, Jake's simple life continues. He checks into the hotel, unpacks, showers, lunches, reads, naps, then heads to the beach for a swim. Afterward he strolls around the town and stops to listen to an orchestra.

The next day is another lazy day for Jake. He eats breakfast and reads newspapers in bed, then goes out for another swim. He is relaxing at his hotel when the concierge (the hotel manager) gives him a telegram from Brett: "AM RATHER IN TROUBLE" it says. Another telegram comes with the same message. Jake feels responsible for her-although he can't make love with her, he loves her-and immediately makes arrangements to meet her in Madrid.

His pleasant vacation has been ruined, and all because of an impossible love. Again he feels most painfully the difficulty of his position with Brett. He has introduced her to Robert Cohn, then set her up with Pedro Romero, but now that she's in trouble he has to go take care of her. He experiences all the hurt and responsibility of love, but none of the joy. He feels sorry for himself, and with good reason.

In Madrid he goes directly to Brett's hotel. She's in bed, in the middle of a messy room, and seems to Jake small and trembling, like a hurt animal.

Brett has been living with Romero in Madrid. At first he was ashamed of her and wanted her to grow her hair-his friends in the cafe made fun of him because he was with a mannish woman-but he soon accepted her as she was. He then wanted to marry her so she would stay with him forever. But Brett refused, and finally had to tell Romero to leave. Why? "I'm not going to be one of these bitches that ruins children," she tells Jake. She knows she's bound to corrupt a youth as pure and innocent as Romero, and she makes a grand gesture to save him. He is good and she is not, and she knows that she will ruin him. She's not happy about letting him go-perhaps she really does love him-but she sacrifices her desires for Romero's welfare.

What separates Brett and Jake from the other expatriates is their refusal to submit entirely to the selfish morality of the wasteland. If they can't improve life they can at least decide not to make it worse. In this context, Brett's decision to give up Romero is a heroic act. It redeems her. "Deciding not to be a bitch..." she says, is "sort of what we have instead of God." In other words, she has chosen to behave decently in a faithless world. By choosing good over bad, she makes a moral choice. And this moral choice gives her the same satisfaction that God might have given her in another age. In this postwar world Lady Brett has performed a selfless act that, for a moment at least, makes life bearable.

After a huge meal of roast suckling pig, Jake and Brett find a taxi and ride through the streets of Madrid. One last wistful time Brett thinks about how well she and Jake are suited for each other. Though they can't consummate their love, they do understand each other and they do share similar values.

Jake agrees that they could be happy together, yet his final line, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" is full of bitter irony. It reminds us of all the values they should have in their world-love, faith, purpose, commitment-and how, finally, they have none of them.

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