In the first chapter, the reader is introduced to both Jake Barnesand Robert Cohn. As Jake describes Cohn and criticizes hispersonality and behavior, the narrator is revealing much abouthimself as well. Jake’s cynicism is developed through the foil ofthe naive and somewhat doltish Cohn. Jake keeps a distant,noncommittal stance from this passive man, just as he keeps adistant, noncommittal stance on life and relationships in generalwith the help of his ironic views. Cohn is a good target for Jake topractice his irony on. He is a man without a healthy sense of hisown limitations. Moreover, Cohn wants to be Jake’s friend andgoes about culling Jake’s favor in exactly the opposite way Jakelikes. He continually checks with Jake about Jake’s feelings. SinceJake is a man who works hard to avoid dealing with his feelings,he develops a special dislike of Cohn. He also sees in Cohn a partof himself that is disgusting, a romantic side that he would like todesert forever, but that he cannot escape. He also resents Cohnbecause he has not been through the war and lost his idealism. As aresult, Jake believes that Cohn still acts like an immature boy.Despite his feelings about Cohn, Jake does not admit his dislikeopenly. In fact, he says he likes Cohn. It is in his subtle critique ofall of Cohn’s life choices that his dislike of this passive creature isclearly revealed.
Jake is a spectator character. He watches the others and largelystays in control. He enjoys easy camaraderie and dislikes falsesentimentality. He is happiest when his life is structured by steadywork, either at the newspaper or with fishing.