Masculinity & Insecurity
My head started to work. The old grievance. Well, it was a rotten way to be wounded and flying on a joke front like the Italian. In the Italian hospital we were going to form a society. It had a funny name in Italian. I wonder what became of the others, the Italians. That was in the Ospedale Maggiore in Milano, Padiglione Ponte. The next building was the Padiglione Zonda. There was a statue of Ponte, or maybe it was Zonda. That was where the liaison colonel came to visit me. That was funny. That was about the first funny thing. I was all bandaged up. But they had told him about it. Then he made that wonderful speech: "You, a foreigner, an Englishman" (any foreigner was an Englishman) "have given more than your life." What a speech! I would like to have it illuminated to hang in the office. He never laughed. He was putting himself in my place, I guess. "Che mala fortuna! Che mala fortuna!"
Jake feels insecure because, during the war, he was severely wounded and has since been unable to have sex. He is extremely ashamed of this and in his narration he only gives subtle hints insinuating his loss of manhood. Also, to Jake, losing manhood is worse than death, which reinforces the insecurity he has toward masculinity. Being the "manly man" is idealized in this novel.Even his love interest Lady Brett does not want to engage in a serious relationship with Jake because that would imply they would have to give up sex.
Jake’s narration is filled with subtleties and implications. He likes to suggest/hint at things rather than say them outright; especially regarding his war experiences/injury, which was regarded a "girly" way to explain things. For example, when Jake looks at himself in the mirror, he reflects:
Undressing, I looked at myself in the mirror of the big armoire beside the bed. That was a typically French way to furnish a room. Practical, too, I suppose. Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny.
Jake also grows incredibly jealous of Robert Cohn for his ability to engage in a sexual relationship with Brett.
Why I felt that impulse to devil [Cohn] I do not know. Of course I do know. I was blind, unforgivingly jealous of what happened to him. The fact that I took it as a matter of course did not alter that any. I certainly did hate him. I do not think I ever really hated him until he had that little spell of superiority at lunch—that and when he went through all that barbering. So I put the telegram in my pocket. The telegram came to me, anyway.