The Sun Also Rises | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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The Sun Also Rises | Book 2, Chapter 17 | Summary



Later that night Cohn interrupts Jake and Mike to ask where Brett is. At first Jake denies knowing where she is, but Mike says she went home with Romero. Incensed, Cohn calls Jake a pimp, and Jake tries to punch Cohn, but Cohn knocks him out, and he hits Mike, too.

When Jake revives, Mike says he had hoped Cohn would have knocked down a waiter and been arrested. As Jake walks back to the hotel he feels as if everything "looked new and changed." At the hotel Bill insists Jake go speak to Cohn, who is in his room on his bed, face down and crying. He begs for Jake's forgiveness, which Jake eventually gives. Cohn promises to leave Pamplona the next morning so he will not cause any more trouble. Jake returns to his hotel room and takes a long, hot bath.

Jake wakes to sounds of the running of the bulls for the fiesta's final bullfights. The crowds are drunker now, and the policemen struggle to stop them from throwing themselves in the bulls' paths. One man running in front of the bulls is gored to death. Jake returns to a café for coffee, and the waiter says he doesn't understand why people risk their lives "for fun." Jake later learns the man was only 28 years old, with a family at home, and his wife and two children arrive in Pamplona the next day to escort his coffin back to his hometown. Romero kills the bull that gored the young man and gives the bull's ear as a trophy to Brett, who wraps it in Jake's handkerchief and leaves it in her bedside table at the hotel.

Shortly after, Bill and Mike visit Jake's hotel room. After describing the day's bullfighting, they say Cohn also attacked Romero the previous night, knocking him down multiple times, but Romero refused to stay down. Cohn wanted to take Brett away "to make an honest woman of her," but she told him to go away. When Cohn finally stops hitting Romero, Romero punches Cohn and tells him he will kill him if Cohn doesn't get out of town. The next morning Mike argues with Brett, saying "if she [will] go about with Jews and bullfighters and such people, she must expect trouble." Brett counters that the "British aristocracy" is no better, and Mike tells the story of Brett's former husband, who returned from the war broken and violent, threatening to kill her. Drunk, Mike goes off to sleep and drink some more.


Cohn's attack of Jake, Mike, and Romero provides the novel's climax, and a turning point for Cohn's character. Tension between the men jockeying for Brett's affection has been mounting and was bound to boil over. Throughout the novel the characters have called Cohn naïve and romantic, and he puts those characteristics on full display during the brawl. Cohn values true romance, sweeping a woman off her feet and protecting her honor. Brett, however, is not a traditional woman and does not value those ideals. When Cohn realizes he has irreparably damaged his friendships for a woman incapable of loving him back, he is devastated. During his apology to Jake, Cohn claims to have lost everything: "I've been through such hell, Jake. Now everything's gone. Everything." In this way Cohn is ushered into the lost generation. His relationship with Brett was a personal war, and he has become just as disillusioned and depressed as the rest of them. Romero, the novel's true manly man, maintains his vitality, refusing to stay down physically or emotionally even though Cohn has bested him, while the other men simply rolled over. Romero, as opposed to Jake, refuses to accept Cohn's apology, further casting himself as a stoic Hemingway hero.

The bullfighting symbolism continues the next morning as a waiter laments a man was killed "all for sport. All for pleasure." That the man was killed on the very night Cohn's moral character breaks creates a strong symbolic parallel. Brett's behavior destroyed Cohn, just as the bull destroys the drunken man who stumbled into its path. Brett knew exactly what she was doing when she lured in Cohn and used him to create competition between the men, and she continues to do the same thing with Mike, Jake, and Romero. As she reveals in the novel's final chapter, Brett has no intention of settling down with anyone, meaning her constant chase, catch, and release of different suitors is also "just for sport."

The reader is given insight into the nature of Mike and Brett's relationship through his conversation with Jake on the morning after the fight. Mike explains he forgives Brett's infidelity because she "hasn't had an absolutely happy life." Tormented by her ex-husband, Brett now refuses to be under any man's control, which explains why she bucks every social expectation or tradition. Mike, who calls himself "bankrupt," allows it because, despite her flaws, Brett makes him happy. Mike's characterization of bankruptcy takes on dual meaning; he is financially bankrupt but also emotionally bankrupted by the war. He, like Bill and perhaps Jake, are all searching for "pleasure," which the fiesta epitomizes—a distraction from their essential emptiness. Thus when Jake tells Bill the young man had been killed that morning in the running of the bulls, Bill's response is nonchalant.

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