Bill and Jake board a crowded bus to ride to the small, rural town of Burguete. The bus is filled with Basque peasants (who inhabit a region shared by France and Spain in the Pyrenees Mountains). The Basques drink wine from wineskins. They offer their skins to Bill and Jake, who in turn share their bottles of wine. The Spanish countryside is beautiful, and it is cool on top of the bus where Bill and Jake sit. The Basques teach them the proper way to drink from a wine-bag. When the bus stops, Bill and Jake buy some drinks. Some Basque passengers buy them more drinks. Once the bus starts again, an English-speaking Basque engages the two men in friendly conversation. When they arrive in Burguete, the fat innkeeper charges them a high price for their room because it is “the big season.” It turns out that Bill and Jake are the only people in the hotel. When they learn that the wine is included, they drink several bottles. Jake goes to bed, musing, “It felt good to be warm and in bed.”
Jake wakes up early, dresses, and goes outside. He digs for worms down beside the stream and collects two tobacco tins full. When Jake goes back inside, Bill begins to joke about irony and pity. He encourages Jake to say only things that are ironic or pitiful. Bill says that Jake doesn’t know about how popular irony and pity are because he is an expatriate. He teases that expatriates are drunks who are obsessed with sex and who write nothing worth publishing. Bill says that some people think women support Jake while others think that he is impotent. Jake replies that he is not impotent, that he had an accident. They trade jokes about another man who suffered an accident with similar consequences on horseback, although the story in America is that it was a bicycle accident. Bill declares that he is fonder of Jake than anyone on earth. He states that he could not make this claim in New York because he would sound like a “faggot.” He makes an extended joke about how the Civil War was all about homosexuality. “Sex explains it all,” he says.
Bill and Jake pack a lunch and bottles of wine, and head to the river. They walk through beautiful meadows, fields, and woods, and, after a long hike, arrive at the river. They place the wine in a spring up the road in order to chill it. Jake fishes with worms, but Bill tries fly-fishing. They both catch many fish, but Bill’s fish are bigger. Over their lunch, they joke about the friends they met in the war. Bill then asks Jake if he was ever in love with Brett, and Jake says that he was “for a hell of a long time.” They take a nap under the trees and then head back to the inn. They spend five days in Burguete, fishing, eating, drinking, and playing cards. They get no word from Cohn, Brett, or Mike.
Bill and Jake’s fishing trip is a calm, beautiful experience, and a nice respite from the disenchantment present throughout much of the novel. The aimless, cynical decadence that characterizes their other activities is curiously absent during the trip. They drink, but not excessively as they do in Paris. They seem content simply to fish, swim, and relax, and they are able to appreciate the beauty of the scenery around them (something Bill is unable to do on his trip to Vienna). Hemingway was an avid fisher and hunter for his entire life, and his faith in the therapeutic value of nature is evident in his description of this trip. Jake and Bill drop their shallow facades and engage in real male bonding, enjoying an easy camaraderie far removed from the petty backbiting they engage in elsewhere in the novel. Although they silently compete over who can catch more and better fish, the competition is amicable. Moreover, Bill and Jake are more open with one another. Their interactions are full of humor, direct talk, empathy, and mutual respect. Symbolic of the spiritual rest that this trip affords the men is the ease with which Jake is able to discuss his wound with Bill. The wound does not provoke the silence or uneasiness in Jake that it usually does. Bill does not react as though Jake’s wound has made him any less a man. Earlier in the novel, Jake explains that when he was recovering in the hospital, one man remarked that Jake had given more than his life in the war—implying that Jake might as well be dead. Bill, on the other hand, does not regard Jake in this way. This acceptance helps Jake come to terms with his wound without having to give up his masculinity in the process.
Bill’s extended joke on the theme of sex as an explanation for everything reveals the profound influence that Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, had exerted on popular culture. It also reveals a latent anxiety toward homosexuality, as he jokingly explains the Civil War as an expression of repressed homosexual tension. His claim that he could not express his fondness for Jake in New York City because he would mark himself as a “faggot” seems to be an attempt to relieve an unconscious anxiety about his close relationship with Jake.
Bill’s anxiety about close male relationships could very well stem from World War I: during the war, soldiers experienced intense intimacy in their relationships with one another. Moreover, these relationships were quite domestic in character. The men constantly worried about obtaining adequate food and clothing for one another and relied on one another for emotional support. The war involved a lot of time huddling close together helplessly in dugouts under enemy bombardment. World War I thus had a feminizing influence on bonds between soldiers. In light of this new kind of closeness, the army was careful to distinguish between what it considered the conventional or acceptable forms of male bonding and the deviant or unacceptable forms. By defining homosexuality as a deviant kind of love, nonsexual but equally intense bonds could be considered acceptable. The domestic intimacy of the foxhole was thus deemed acceptable, so long as it was strictly nonsexual. Anxiety over homosexuality continued into peacetime, and it remained important for veterans to affirm the nonsexual nature of their relationships. Bill’s joke about being taken for a “faggot” could be read as just such an affirmation. He wants to underline that fact that though he loves Jake very much, he does not love him sexually.