Jake receives a letter from Mike telling him that Brett fainted on the train and that they stayed in San Sebastian for three days and won’t arrive in Pamplona until Wednesday. Cohn sends a telegram announcing that he will arrive on Thursday. Bill and Jake reply to Cohn’s telegram, stating that they are returning to Pamplona that night (Wednesday). Before leaving Burguete, Bill and Jake bid a fond farewell to Wilson-Harris, a British war veteran whom they call Harris. The three men had bonded quickly, and Harris is unhappy to part with them. Although Jake invites Harris to come to Spain, Harris refuses the offer. The three men share drinks in a pub. Harris gives them both his address, along with a dozen flies, saying, “I only thought if you fished them some time it might remind you of what a good time we had.”
When Jake and Bill arrive in Pamplona, the innkeeper, Montoya, informs Jake that his friends have arrived. Montoya regards Jake as a real lover and aficionado of bullfighting, in part because Jake stays in Montoya’s hotel every year during the fiesta. Jake and Bill find Brett, Mike, and Cohn in a café. Mike regales them with a war story, relating how he gave away another man’s medals, since he had none of his own. Everyone watches the unloading of the bulls. When the shining, muscular beasts charge out of the cages, steers (castrated male bovines) work at calming them so that they do not kill one another. The steers are often gored in the process. Jake tells Brett not to look, but she watches anyway, fascinated. Afterward, they go to a café and get drunk. Mike makes a few cutting remarks about Cohn following Brett around like a steer, referring to the fact that Cohn went to San Sebastian after Bill and Jake left Pamplona. Mike berates Cohn for not knowing when he isn’t wanted. Bill leads Cohn away, and things calm down. Mike remarks that Brett has had affairs before, but not with Jews or with men who kept hanging around. The group shares a supper in which copious amounts of wine mask the shared feeling of apprehension.
Jake returns to his room that night very drunk. He hears Brett and Mike laughing as they go to bed. Lying in bed, Jake reflects that women make “swell friends” because a man has to be in love with a woman to be friends with her. He feels as if he has been getting something for nothing in his friendship with Brett but that eventually he will have to suffer for the friendship. He decides that people have to pay for everything that is good in life. “Enjoying living was learning to get your money’s worth,” he concludes. However, he also thinks that in five years this philosophy will seem as silly and useless as all the other philosophies he has constructed. He struggles too with the question of morality. Though he wishes Mike would not insult Cohn, he admits to himself that he enjoys watching Mike do it. The next few days are quiet, as preparations are made for the fiesta.
Jake’s departure from Burguete to meet Brett and the others at Pamplona despite his love of fishing demonstrates how his desire for Brett disrupts his normal system of values. His departure also indicates the relative strength of male-female bonds compared to male-male bonds in The Sun Also Rises. Although Jake enjoys fishing very much, he does not hesitate to abandon it for Brett—indeed, Jake almost always puts Brett ahead of his own plans and his other relationships. Brett’s disruptive influence extends to Mike, whose jealousy easily shatters whatever bonds of friendship—or even mere civility—he might share with Cohn.
Mike’s war story demonstrates the need to inject the war with humor. Doing so makes the war experience smaller and more manageable. It distances him from the war’s horrors. Mike’s war story contains no details of actual combat; it is a silly, peaceful anecdote. The story is indicative of the way he and his friends skirt the edges of their war experience. Mike does not discuss his time in the trenches or the effects of the war on his life. Instead, he tries to contain the war within a funny story that begins and ends in the past.
Competition begins to brew between Mike and Cohn over who has proprietary rights to Brett’s body, while hostility between Jake and Mike is strangely absent. As a Jewish nonveteran, Cohn functions as a scapegoat. He becomes the convenient target of everyone’s resentment, displacing the threat of resentment among the other characters. No one is willing to be held accountable for his cruelty toward Cohn. Mike, for example, explains and tacitly justifies his boorish behavior without accepting responsibility for it by saying simply, “I was drunk.”
The episode of the bulls and the steers holds symbolic resonance. We can interpret Jake as a steer, since he, like the castrated male animals, is impotent. The steers’ function of making peace among the bulls resembles Jake’s function of keeping peace among his rowdy friends. Furthermore, the bulls and the steers do not form a community until one of the steers is dead. Their community is thus based on death, just as Jake’s friends’ community is based largely on their shared experience during a horrific war—and on their mutual social sacrificing of Cohn. The many symbolic layers within this brief passage demonstrate the richness of Hemingway’s writing. Despite its apparent simplicity, his prose has tremendous depth of meaning.
Jake and his friends regard the booming consumerism of the 1920s with contempt. They dislike the tourists who converge on Europe every summer with their money and their arrogance. However, they are obsessed with money themselves. Jake’s reflections on friendship are marred by metaphors of money, such as “something for nothing” and “[t]he bill always came.” Moreover, Jake says that really enjoying life is “getting your money’s worth.” Money has become a substitute for meaning in his generation, replacing emotion as the primary structure of human relationships and endeavors. Jake’s musings reflect a rather cynical view of human nature that is part of his general disillusionment.