(Lady) Brett Ashley. Brett is a British woman who is divorced from an English nobleman and engaged to marry a poor Scotch aristocrat and veteran of World War I (Mike). She seems to circulate freely on a limited allowance from her divorce, and, though she is engaged to Mike, seems to have affairs with Robert Cohn, Pedro Romero, and Jake Barnes (to the degree that it is possible). She is absent-minded about her triumphs, though she admits to enjoying them. And though she seems to value Romero enough to let him go, she also fails to appreciate his accomplishments, as evidenced in her forgetting the ear in the hotel.
Jake Barnes is the narrator of this first-person narrative. He is an American expatriate originally from Kansas City, who was wounded in World War I on the Italian front, and who lives in Paris working as a journalist. His wound seems to have made him impotent. He is in love with Brett, and his (and her) frustration with his inability to consummate that love seems to drive her into a meaningless affair (at least for her) with Robert Cohn, which becomes an even greater source of frustration for Jake. Their impossible affair seems to be a secret to everyone else except Bill, though his knowledge doesn’t make him act any differently from the others. Jake follows the bullfights and is recognized by others as a real aficionado, which proves useful in Pamplona with Montoya, who gives him and his friends preferential treatment because of this. But Jake also fails to defend that aficion from Brett’s advances on Pedro Romero, who might be ruined by the concern of a decadent woman. Jake’s ultimate curse seems to be an ability to recognize his inadequacy but an inability to do anything about it. He can appreciate and understand the value of someone like Romero, and he can benefit from the restorative simplicity of a quiet fishing expedition, but he lacks the depth and ability of a Romero.
Belmonte is an old bullfighter who comes out of retirement to combat the decadence of contemporary bullfighting. He appears on the final day of the Pamplona fiesta, becomes an enormous draw, but disappoints the crowd with his fading skill. He makes a poor contrast to both the decadent Marcial and the classic Romero.
Mr. and Mrs. Braddocks are acquaintances of Cohn’s. They encounter Jake and Georgette early in the book, and they all go dancing together. Mr. and Mrs. Braddocks try to be polite and sociable in the face of Jake’s awkward lies and a playful disregard for propriety with his prostitute.
Mike Campbell. Mike is a Scottish war veteran with an aristocratic family who has recently gone through bankruptcy. He met Brett after the war and is engaged to marry her at the start of the novel. At the end, his fate is not so certain. Mike dislikes Cohn because Cohn fails to adhere to the etiquette that Brett’s other lovers have followed. Mike becomes abrasive when he is inebriated, and seems to enjoy saying rude things to Cohn when he is drunk. He also approaches self-destructive levels of alcoholism by the end of the novel, after watching his fiance leave him for a nineteen-year-old bullfighter, who is wealthy, handsome, and famous.
Robert Cohn is an American Jew who has published a novel and achieved a reasonable amount of success as a writer, though he seems to be struggling with his second novel. He lives in Paris at the start of the novel, though he travels to New York and seems to come back changed. He was a champion boxer at Princeton, and he has a few fights with other characters in the book where he is given a chance to show his skill. At some point, he falls in love with Brett, and the two spend some time in San Sebastian together, alone, apparently as lovers. Cohn spends much of the rest of the novel trying to reestablish that relationship. Eventually, he finds Brett in bed with Romero, and pummels the young bullfighter, though he cannot get Romero to stay down or shake his hand. He leaves the fiesta early and confronts Jake to apologize to him for hitting him and to explain that he has lost everything.
Edna is Bill’s friend who arrives in Pamplona late in the fiesta, and who attaches herself to their group for a single night and the following morning, after which she disappears without explanation. She seems to be much soberer than the other characters, and a mostly neutral observer who offers details that the others are too drunk to notice.
Frances. Cohn’s lover and fiance who follows him throughout the U.S. and to Europe where he pursues his career as a writer. She hopes to marry him and have children at some point in the distant future, but he abandons her to pursue his romantic hope of becoming a successful writer. She accuses Cohn of setting her aside so that he can call their relationship an affair, and because he wants to pursue the pleasure of success in New York among crowds of admiring young women-a fantasy that Frances is both mocking and jealous of.
Georgette is the attractive young prostitute with bad teeth that Jake acquires in the caf so that he can have dinner with someone instead of eating alone. She discovers his impotence and starts asking painful questions about his wound. She becomes an annoyance and he ignores and deserts her, though he leaves her some money at the bar where he abandons her.
Bill Gorton is a successful writer from New York who comes to Europe to spend time with Jake and see some European boxing matches. He and Jake seem to be close friends, though Bill doesn’t seem to know that Jake and Brett are in love until Jake tells him on the fishing trip in Burguete. Bill is a loyal friend who seems to like people quickly and easily, getting friendly with Wilson-Harris in Burguete, and Mike in Pamplona. He stands up for and shows concern for Cohn more than anyone else, even Jake.
Wilson-Harris is an English war veteran who joins Bill and Jake in Burguete for fishing on the Irati River. They both enjoy his company a great deal, and they don’t want to break up the company for the fiesta at Pamplona, but Harris (as he is usually called) wants to fish and Bill and Jake want to see the bullfights. At parting, Harris gives them each a dozen hand-tied flies, and says they are to help remember him and the time they had together.
Count Mippipopoulos is a wealthy and corpulent Greek nobleman who shuttles Brett around Paris and offers her large sums of money to come with him to various vacation sites in France and Europe. She seems to manipulate his generosity for several days, eventually leaving him behind.
Montoya. The owner of a prominent hotel in Pamplona, Montoya seems to worship the bullfight and organize his hotel and his life around aficion, the true passion for bullfighting. Most of the bullfighters who participate in the Pamplona fiesta stay at his hotel, and he manages to always find room for people that he considers true aficionados, like Jake. When the American Ambassador seeks to make a connection with Romero, Montoya goes to Jake for advice, and Jake tells him what he had hoped to hear that he should fail to deliver the message and therefore save the young bullfighter from possible corruption. But Montoya becomes very angry with Jake when Jake exposes Romero to the corruption of Brett. When Jake checks out of the hotel, Montoya avoids even looking at him because Romero has run off with Brett.
Pedro Romero is a very young Spanish bullfighter from near Gibraltar. He is a bullfighter in the old-fashioned, classic sense, and both Jake and Montoya say that he has aficion, or true passion for bulls and bullfighting. He stands in stark contrast to the decadent bullfighting of men like Marcial. Romero is very formal and speaks only a little English that he learned as a waiter in Gibraltar. Jake calls him very good-looking, and he seems to be a great bullfighter without being proud or conceited. In the end, Jake introduces him to Brett and conveniently disappears so that they can sneak off to Romero’s hotel room. At the end of the novel, Jake goes to Madrid to fetch Brett, after she has sent Romero away, saying that she was not good for him, though she claims that he wanted to marry her.
Harvey Stone. An impoverished American writer in Paris, Harvey Stone often does not have enough money to eat, and seems to live off the charity of others. He has an early confrontation with Cohn that almost leads to blows, when Stone calls Cohn a case of “arrested development.”