page 1 of 2
That Sunday, July 6, at noon, exploding rockets announce the beginning of the fiesta. The square fills with celebrants shouting and drinking wine, men and children dancing, and musicians playing drums and fifes. Everything becomes unreal during the seven days of nonstop drinking, dancing, and music. As Jake notes, it seems to everyone as though “nothing could have any consequences.” By the end of the fiesta, even money loses its value for those spending it. The crowd pulls Jake and his friends into a dancing circle around Brett. Afterward, they rush into a crowded wine shop. Everyone inside is dancing and singing. Brett, wearing a wreath of garlic around her neck, learns to drink from a wineskin. Everyone shares food and wine. Jake ducks out to buy two wineskins. When he returns, he finds that Cohn is missing. None of Jake’s friends cares where Cohn is, but Jake goes looking for him. He finds Cohn passed out in the back of the shop. Brett, Jake, Cohn, Bill, and Mike all eat a large dinner. Everyone but Jake stays up all night carousing.
An exploding rocket, announcing the release of the bulls, wakes Jake at six o’clock the next morning. From the balcony, Jake watches the crowd run heatedly with the bulls toward the bullring. During the first bullfight, Mike, Cohn, and Brett sit high up in the amphitheater, but Bill and Jake take seats closer to the action. They warn Brett to look away when the horses are gored. Cohn claims that he worries only about being bored. Bill again complains to Jake about Cohn’s “Jewish superiority.” Montoya introduces Jake to a promising new bullfighter, Pedro Romero. Romero is nineteen years old and the “best-looking boy” Jake has ever seen.
At the bullfight, Romero dazzles everyone who watches him. “This was a real one,” says Jake. Afterward, Brett marvels at Romero’s skill. She has watched everything, while Cohn has had difficulty dealing with the spectacle. Mike taunts him mercilessly for his weakness. Brett and Mike sit with Jake during the next bullfight. Romero works close to the bull, wearing him down slowly before he moves in for the kill. His suave and graceful performance delights everyone, including aficionados like Jake and Montoya. He utterly overshadows the other bullfighters, and his bullfighting gives the spectators “real emotion.” Mike jokes afterward that Brett is falling in love with Romero, and he asks Jake to tell her that bullfighters beat their mothers. The following day Romero does not fight, and there is no bullfight scheduled the day after that. The action of the fiesta continues unabated, however.
The fiesta is a Bacchanalian celebration, complete with Brett playing a symbolic goddess of sexuality and fertility. The drunken revelry is clearly meant to contrast with the regulated social atmosphere of France, especially Paris. For the peasants, the fiesta functions as a release from the long hours worked during the rest of the year. The fiesta’s ritualistic nature gives it a greater depth of meaning than the drunken sprees in which Jake and his friends engage. The sensual dancing celebrates sexuality in a meaningful way in contrast to the empty, easy sexual liberty of Jake’s friends. The fiesta is also relatively unspoiled by the rampant vulgarity of consumerism and tourism: people buying wine do not care how much they must pay for it. Consumerism does, however, begin to encroach on the fiesta, and the shop owner gives Jake a cheap price on the wineskins only after he learns that Jake does not intend to sell them later for a profit.
Hemingway portrays Pedro Romero as beautiful, pure, and whole. Romero is unique in the novel in that he represents a system of values unspoiled by the war or by disillusionment. His bullfighting technique is genuine, in contrast to the others’ fakery. He truly works close to the bull while the others only give the appearance of working close to the bull. Romero’s purity clashes sharply with the shallowness of Jake’s generation. Romero is able to create “real emotion”—something genuine—in those who watch him. Moreover, Romero’s profession gives his life meaning, whereas Jake derives no particular satisfaction from being a journalist nor Cohn from being an author. But Romero’s job as a bullfighter forms the core of his identity. It gives him a purpose in life that the members of the Lost Generation painfully lack.
Bullfighting offers symbolic commentary on the relationships between men and women, which are often like battles. The descriptions of the bullfights are laden with sexual tension. Romero’s elegant bullfighting style reads remarkably like a skillful act of seduction. The sexuality expressed in the descriptions is also remarkably phallic: either the bull penetrates Romero with his horns or Romero penetrates the bull with his sword. Bullfighting also functions as a metaphor for the relationships between Brett and her friends—Brett seems, in some ways, to be a bullfighter. She effortlessly manipulates men with her sexuality without ever losing her position of power, and she refuses to be dominated as the property of any one man. Perhaps one reason she is attracted to Romero is that she identifies with what he does in the ring.
Take a Study Break!