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Jake Barnes, an expatriate American, who was made impotent from wounds suffered while fighting in World War II, is in love with Brett Ashley, but cannot have her.
On one level, Jake's antagonist is Brett Ashley, who loves Jake, but who cannot stay with him because of problems she suffers due to her own loss of a young lover during the war. Brett stays close to Jake, but maintains multiple other lovers, a reality that frustrates and tortures Jake even more. On a second level, the antagonist is Jake's own difficulty connecting with his emotions, symbolized in his loss of the ability to have sex. Jake must find a way to reconcile living with his wound.
The climax occurs in Pamplona, where all the characters meet to watch the bullfights. Jake is forced to choose between his connection to Montoya, his father figure and his mentor in the art of appreciating bullfighting, and Brett, who has three lovers in Pamplona, Mike Campbell (her fiance), Pedro Romero (the bullfighter who almost loses his ability to perform in the ring due to his affair with Brett), and Robert Cohn. In choosing to help the selfish Brett, Jake forsakes Montoya and his code of honor.
The conflict ends in tragedy. Brett has stolen a large part of Jake. He gives up his code of honor in order for her to satisfy her sexual appetite for Romero. The matador is "sacrificed" in the process. Jake also loses the respect of Montoya and the other bullfighting aficionados. He returns to Paris, stripped of his life-giving tie to bullfighting and is faced with the reality that there is no future with Brett.
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The plot opens with Jake Barnes, an expatriate American and an aspiring writer, serving as a newspaper correspondent in Paris. He leads a life of shallow social ties, frequenting nightclubs, bars, and cafés.
He travels through the French Basque country and then to Burguete, Spain where he goes fishing with his friend. Then he goes to Pamplona, Spain for a fiesta, the running of the bulls, and the bullfights.
He leaves Pamplona and has a short holiday in San Sebastian, Spain. Then he goes to Madrid to help the woman to whom he has had a long attachment.