[Jake:] “Couldn’t we live together, Brett? Couldn’t we just live together?”

This exchange between Jake and Brett, which occurs in Chapter 7, after Brett shows up at Jake’s home in Paris with Count Mippipopolous, encapsulates the central conflict of the novel, which is rarely directly expressed. One must read closely to understand what is at stake and what is being discussed. As always in Hemingway’s prose, while little is said, much is communicated. Jake begs Brett to be with him, but she replies that she would always “tromper” him, a French word here meaning “to commit adultery.” A wound Jake received during the war rendered him impotent, and he thus cannot satisfy Brett’s need for sex. With her words, she is telling Jake that she would have to go with other men behind Jake’s back, which she knows he wouldn’t be able to stand. This central, intractable emotional conflict forms the backdrop for the action of the novel.