Brett was happy. Mike had a way of getting an intensity of feeling into shaking hands. Robert Cohn shook hands because we were back.
Jake makes observations about the reunion handshake, a ritual that reveals distinctions between the characters of Mike and Robert. Mike invests energy into the formality, using the action as a bridge to connect with people. Robert offers a handshake mechanically, tolerating the contact but not seeing any intrinsic value. As he shakes hands, Jake picks up on unrest in the group. Soon after this friendly greeting, Mike will call Robert out as a smarmy and sleazy interloper who shows up where he is not wanted.
Gave one to each girl. Form of souvenir. They thought I was hell’s own shakes of a soldier. Give away medals in a night club. Dashing fellow.
Mike Campbell, a bankrupt Scottish war veteran, recounts an anecdote that demonstrates his disdain for military awards. He treats these awards disrespectfully and flippantly, revealing his scorn for the war itself. Everyone, including Mike, laughs at the story. As usual, Mike is drinking too much, and his laughter reveals a bitterness that blossoms into violence when he loses his temper.
Tell me, Robert. Why do you follow Brett around like a poor bloody steer? Don’t you know you’re not wanted? I know when I’m not wanted.
Drunk, Mike confronts Robert Cohn with what Mike sees as the truth about Brett. Robert’s infatuation compels him to follow her to San Sebastian and then to Pamplona. Readers may note that while both Mike and Robert struggle with their masculinity, Robert’s Semitic background poses another layer of male insecurity, particularly in this group of friends. Mike hurls cruel and angry words at Robert and drives him away, much the same way the bulls and steers isolate a weak member of their herd.
“I’m rather drunk,” Mike said. “I think I’ll
stayrather drunk. This is all awfully amusing, but it’s not too pleasant. It’s not too pleasant for me.”
Mike’s understatement supports the entire action and theme of the novel. All the drunken debauchery—a drunkenness aimed at avoiding unpleasant feelings and realities—provides no pleasure for the characters. At this point, Brett has picked up with Romero and left Mike behind. Later, he rationalizes that she’s taking care of Romero just as she once took care of him. Mike criticizes her promiscuous choices in men, but he still wants to be with her.
“Tell him about your bull-fighter,” Mike said. “Oh, to hell with your bull-fighter!” He tipped the table so that all the beers and the dish of shrimps went over in a crash.
His ego wounded by Brett’s infidelity, Mike lets his emotions loose in a verbal and physical explosion. It’s the morning after the bullfights have ended and the companions have gathered at a café for a last meal. Brett explains that Romero was still in pain, but Mike doesn’t listen to her at all. Mike has not slept much and becomes overcome with jealousy and humiliation.