The episode of the bulls and the steers holds symbolic resonance. We can interpret Jake as a steer, since he, like the castrated male animals, is impotent. The steers’ function of making peace among the bulls resembles Jake’s function of keeping peace among his rowdy friends. Furthermore, the bulls and the steers do not form a community until one of the steers is dead. Their community is thus based on death, just as Jake’s friends’ community is based largely on their shared experience during a horrific war—and on their mutual social sacrificing of Cohn. The many symbolic layers within this brief passage demonstrate the richness of Hemingway’s writing. Despite its apparent simplicity, his prose has tremendous depth of meaning.
Jake and his friends regard the booming consumerism of the 1920s with contempt. They dislike the tourists who converge on Europe every summer with their money and their arrogance. However, they are obsessed with money themselves. Jake’s reflections on friendship are marred by metaphors of money, such as “something for nothing” and “[t]he bill always came.” Moreover, Jake says that really enjoying life is “getting your money’s worth.” Money has become a substitute for meaning in his generation, replacing emotion as the primary structure of human relationships and endeavors. Jake’s musings reflect a rather cynical view of human nature that is part of his general disillusionment.