Hemingway’s sparing use of embellishment in regard to his prose makes for a comfortable understanding of his intended literary devices. The symbol I would like to discuss today is incredibly important in aiding the reader in his comprehension of the sociology of the characters.
This site entertains the idea that a number of the bullfights demonstrate an important plot occurrence within the bulls’ actions. It is indeed an interesting idea with an example being the death of the steer (killed by a bull) at the start of the festival, representing the occasion when Mike ravenously berates Robert Cohn. Although Cohn mopes about after the incident, the occurrence itself could signify a figurative death of Cohn at least in some of his original mannerisms or schools of thought.
Bullfighting also emerges as a symbol of Eros. Jake is fascinated by bullfighting and is intrigued by the relationship between the bull and matador. This also describes Brett. Cohn on the other hand is repulsed. It almost seems to the reader as if Jake assumes the ethos of the bullring with lust, or at least something nearly equivalent. It is often inferred that Jake’s passion for bullfighting stems from an id-driven obsession, being his unconscious and instinctive need for sensuality. This can be easily understood, as bullfighting is a sensual sport. According to Shmoop, bullfighting contains elements of sensuality including “seduction, manipulation, maneuvering, and penetration by the bull-fighter of the bull.” With that said it is not surprising that Jake, an impotent man finds bullfighting to be so interesting.
What elements of sensuality are existent in the image borrowed from this site?
Brett is another character that views bullfighting as absorbing and exciting. She soon finds herself infatuated with Romero. Since Romero is a torero, the erotic passion found in bullfighting seems to be flowing through himself also, at least from Brett’s perspective. In other words, Romero is extremely fertile. Romero seems to be the exact opposite of what Jake is. But is he? I think that a better description of Romero from Brett’s standpoint is what she (Brett) wishes Jake could be. This is the case as it seems that Jake learns so much about bullfighting and becomes quite well-versed in it until the only major difference between him and Romero is his (Jake’s) literal impotence.
This post obviously doesn’t do anything near to justice in regard to the symbol of bullfighting, but hopefully it helps to open one’s mind to some of the outer layers and allows one to further delve into this brilliant novel.