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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The novel opens in the first person voice of Jake Barnes, who narrates the entire novel. He is describing Robert Cohn, once a midweight boxing champion of Princeton. Cohn had no love of boxing, but took up the sport because he was basically a coward and wanted to be able to defend himself. As a Jew at Princeton, he realized that might be necessary. Jake, a true lover of the physical and mental challenges of sports, is repulsed at Cohn's motives for pursuing the ring. Jake also notes, that in spite of Cohn's boxing title, he has never met anyone in his class who can remember the boxer. Jake then confesses that he mistrusts "all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together," and Cohn seems to fall into this category. Jake next relates that Cohn was married to the first woman who was nice to him and suffered domestic unhappiness with his rich wife. When Cohn began planning to leave her, she left him instead, for a painter of miniature pictures. Jake considers this a "healthful shock," for he believes that Cohn is much too passive about life.
Jake goes on to say that Cohn is a financial backer for a review of the arts publication in California and Massachusetts. Cohn has discovered he "liked the authority of editing," for it gives him a false sense of controlling someone else. But Cohn, in reality, continually allows himself to be passively controlled by others--the people who work for him at the arts publication and the women in his life. Cohn is "taken in hand" by a mistress, Frances Clyne, who decides after two years of living with Cohn, to start nagging him about marriage. Cohn, unlike Jake, is not a serious writer and turns out "poor" work. He is really in Paris because his wife has led him there and he can afford to entertain both of them there.
Jake relates that he first meets Frances when he has drinks with her and Cohn one evening. When Jake mentions knowing a girl in Strasbourg who can show them the town, Cohn kicks him under the table. Later, Cohn tells Jake that Frances cannot stand any mention of another woman. Jake ends on the thought that "evidently she led him quite a life." He seems to openly scorn Robert Cohn.
In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to both Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn. As Jake describes Cohn and criticizes his personality and behavior, the narrator is revealing much about himself as well. Jake's cynicism is developed through the foil of the naïve and somewhat doltish Cohn. Jake keeps a distant, noncommittal stance from this passive man, just as he keeps a distant, noncommittal stance on life and relationships in general with the help of his ironic views. Cohn is a good target for Jake to practice his irony on. He is a man without a healthy sense of his own limitations. Moreover, Cohn wants to be Jake's friend and goes about culling Jake's favor in exactly the opposite way Jake likes. He continually checks with Jake about Jake's feelings. Since Jake is a man who works hard to avoid dealing with his feelings, he develops a special dislike of Cohn. He also sees in Cohn a part of himself that is disgusting, a romantic side that he would like to desert forever, but that he cannot escape. He also resents Cohn because he has not been through the war and lost his idealism. As a result, Jake believes that Cohn still acts like an immature boy. Despite his feelings about Cohn, Jake does not admit his dislike openly. In fact, he says he likes Cohn. It is in his subtle critique of all of Cohn's life choices that his dislike of this passive creature is clearly revealed.