Bill Gorton is a friend of Jake’s who returned home to the United States after the war to become a writer. This lifestyle allows him to find success as his books are published, and, contrary to the novel’s other major characters, he manages to achieve some degree of happiness. Often making jokes, Bill’s lighthearted attitude offers moments of comedic relief throughout what is otherwise a bleak and emotionally heavy novel. His out-of-nowhere discussion of taxidermy and finding a stuffed dog, for example, cuts through the developing tension surrounding Brett’s affair with Cohn in San Sebastian. Bill also experiences happiness during his fishing trip with Jake as the countryside offers a peaceful reprieve from the struggles of their daily lives. Beyond merely emphasizing Bill’s contentment, the fishing trip also reveals the true nature of his friendship with Jake. Not only does Bill make a point to tell Jake that he believes he is “a hell of a good guy,” they also have deeply personal conversations which highlight their closeness. Out of all the relationships in the novel, the friendship between Bill and Jake may be the most genuine as it can withstand the complicated social dynamics unfolding around them. Their bond ultimately plays a key role in revealing the true nature of Jake’s character, offering the reader access to details which he would not readily admit.

Despite Bill’s uplifting presence in the novel, he inevitably falls victim to many of the same vices as Jake and the rest of their group. He tries to convince Jake that his life as an American expat in Paris is the thing that has “ruined [him],” but Bill’s behavior during his visit to Spain reveals that he is just as guilty. Much like the rest of the group, Bill spends a majority of the novel drinking and becoming drunk. He also partakes in bullying Cohn, his jokes transforming from lighthearted quips to hurtful jabs. The fact that he engages in these types of behaviors without expressing any true interest in Brett, the primary topic of contention amongst the group, suggests that he is simply experiencing the effects of the seemingly hopeless environment in which he finds himself. Even Bill’s sense of optimism has its limits.