“My God!” said Bill. “It can’t be this cold tomorrow. I’m not going to wade a stream in this weather.”

Bill Gorton joins Jake for a trip into the Spanish countryside to do some trout fishing. They go to an inn in Burguete and stay for several days, eating, drinking, hiking, and fishing. With this statement, among others, Bill reveals himself as the less adventurous of the pair, preferring the comforts of warmth and meals to the pleasures of the great outdoors, although he defers to Jake because he likes him so much. Love of the outdoors and fishing play prominent roles in restoring the men’s psyches.

I went over to the cupboard and brought the rum bottle and poured a half-tumblerful into the pitcher. “Direct action,” said Bill. “It beats legislation.”

Bill and Jake stay at an inn together while they trout fish during the days. At first, they balk at the innkeeper’s price, but when they realize that the price includes wine and liquor, they feel better. To stave off the cold, they ask for a hot rum punch, and when they find the alcohol too weak, they help themselves to the bottle. Bill’s endorsement of Jake’s topping off the rum also resonates as a larger philosophy of action above words, ironic in a novel that contains so much dialogue.

As I went downstairs I heard Bill singing, “Irony and Pity. When you’re feeling . . . Oh, Give them Irony and Give them Pity.”

While at the inn in Burguete, Jake describes hearing Bill singing lines to a song that mirror their playful early-morning banter during which Bill asks Jake to show a little irony and pity—pity for his hesitation to get up in the morning and irony about life in general. The ditty seems lighthearted, but the words reveal the underlying tone of the novel’s actions and characters. All feel a malaise that borders on despair, an ironic situation since the characters possess so much material wealth yet remain so spiritually impoverished and essentially unhappy.

Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.

At breakfast at the inn in Burguete, Bill composes an eloquent portrait of the pitfalls of Americans living as expatriates. Under his jocular tone, he pinpoints the lack of productivity of trying to live and work amid Europe’s temptations. Bill indicts the disoriented and directionless lifestyle as decadent. His speech resonates as the voice of reason.

Listen. You are a hell of a good guy, and I’m fonder of you than anybody on earth. I couldn’t tell you that in New York. It’d mean I was a faggot.

At breakfast at the inn in Burguete, Bill confesses his fondness for Jake. Bill’s traveling abroad gives him freedom from social norms binding on men in his home country. Readers note that as the relationships in the novel expand among the tight group of friends, a web of sexual attraction, confusion, and desire begins to entangle the entire group.