A Moveable Feast

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Happiness and Sadness Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Creation vs. Critique Theme Icon
Hunger vs. Consumption Theme Icon
Success, Gossip, and Fame Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Friendship Theme Icon
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Moveable Feast, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Happiness and Sadness Theme Icon

A Moveable Feast is written through a retrospective perspective, and Hemingway often emphasizes that the innocent and easy happiness he felt during his years in Paris was wonderful at the time, yet was doomed to end. Indeed, although he and Hadley repeatedly bask in how “lucky” and “happy” they are, there is a strong sense that Hemingway is distrustful of happiness and that he believes that the truth and reality of life is in fact sad. Hemingway’s embrace of the reality of sadness contrasts to the attitude of Gertrude Stein, who “wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.” Hemingway’s use of the word “real” here suggests disdain for Stein’s unwillingness to see the world as it truly is.

Hemingway’s happiness in the book is particularly dependent on his life with Hadley. When he sees Hadley again on his return from the trip to Lyon, Hemingway admits: “We were happy the way children are who have been separated and are together again.” This sense of romantic happiness is emphasized in the chapter entitled “Secret Pleasures,” which describes Hemingway and Hadley’s happiness together as a wonderful, private secret: “They knew nothing of our pleasures nor how much fun it was to be damned to ourselves and never would know nor could know.” The passages describing Hemingway’s relationship with Hadley give the impression of happy, “invulnerable” youth. This shifts, however, during Hemingway’s affair with Pauline. During this period, Hemingway’s experience of happiness changes; he admits that “the unbelievable wrenching, kicking happiness, selfishness and treachery of everything we did, gave me such happiness and un-killable dreadful happiness so that the black remorse came.” Here, happiness is tainted with moral transgression. As Hemingway loses his youthful innocence, happiness is no longer a pure, straightforward emotion: it becomes intermingled with negative emotions, including guilt, regret, and sadness.

Even before this point, however, sadness plays an important—if subtle—role in the book. Hemingway admits that “after writing a story I was always empty and both sad and happy.” The process of writing, then, is shown to be difficult and at times painful, and the association between creation and drunkenness further underlines the notion that creativity can be as destructive as it is constructive, and as sad as it is joyful.

Furthermore, a general atmosphere of sadness haunts the book, a product of the traumatic legacy of the First World War. This sense of sadness is captured in the notion of the “lost generation,” a generation that Stein claims to be full of young men who “have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death.” In a fragment from the end of the book, Hemingway confesses: “We, who had been at the war, admired the war crazies since we knew they had been made so by something that was unbearable. It was unbearable to them because they were made of a finer or more fragile metal.” Just as the act of writing inherently requires feelings of sadness, the madness of the “war crazies” indicates that they have emerged from the war with their sensitivity and morality—if not their sanity—in tact. Sadness is thus not always considered a bad thing, even as it haunts the narrative and leads the characters to self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol abuse.

Happiness and sadness are also closely associated with the seasons. The book opens with “bad weather,” a dreary description of rain-soaked streets and “a sad, evilly run café where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together.” Later in the chapter Hemingway argues that, “all of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter.” However, he also points out that the saddest part of the year is when, for a brief moment, it seems as though spring has arrived, only to be followed by more cold rain. Hemingway claims that, “this was the only sad time in Paris because it was unnatural,” and he compares this unexpected, unnatural rain to “a young person who died for no reason.” Here Hemingway makes an explicit link between the cold, rainy weather and the memory of war. This connection highlights the fact that the aspect of the war’s aftermath that is most difficult to deal with is the knowledge of its irrationality and pointlessness. Hemingway contrasts these cold rains with the warm spring and even the “happy and innocent” winter snow; the comfort and pleasure in these seasons is found in the fact that they occur in a predictable, logical way, thereby giving a reliable sense of meaning to life in the wake of the meaningless devastation of war.

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Happiness and Sadness Quotes in A Moveable Feast

Below you will find the important quotes in A Moveable Feast related to the theme of Happiness and Sadness.
Chapter 1 Quotes

No one emptied the Café des Amateurs though, and its yellowed poster stating the terms and penalties of the law against public drunkenness was as flyblown and disregarded as its clients were constant and ill-smelling.
All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol, Cafés
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In the book’s opening passage, Hemingway introduces the bad weather in Paris and the Café des Amateurs, a sad, crowded, and dirty place. He describes the café as the “cesspool” of the neighborhood, but adds that unlike a real cesspool, the Café des Amateurs is never emptied. Hemingway’s comparison of the clients at the Café des Amateurs to human waste is rather cruel, and it introduces his tendency to be disgusted by people—a tendency that reoccurs throughout the book. Hemingway’s description of the Café des Amateurs is also a distinct contrast to that of other cafés, which Hemingway characterizes as warm, inviting, and delightful places. This juxtaposes Hemingway’s happy and successful life in Paris against a backdrop of a far more wretched and miserable population.

Indeed, this passage illuminates the theme of happiness versus sadness, suggesting that sadness is built into the physical existence of Paris, particularly during the dark and wet winter. Hemingway thus suggests that emotions like happiness and sadness are, to some degree, more an environmental, collective experience than an internal and personal one.


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Chapter 4 Quotes

Then the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person had died for no reason.
In those days, though, the spring always came finally; but it was frightening that it had nearly failed.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has described the fishermen who fished along the Seine, noting that certain travel writers call these men crazy, when in fact they are far more successful at catching fish than most people realize. He notes that there are many trees in Paris, which means you can see spring coming in full force—yet at times this is a “false spring,” which gives way to more cold winter weather. In this passage, Hemingway compares the return of cold weather to a young person dying “for no reason.” This comparison makes explicit the connection between winter and the First World War.

At the time Hemingway is writing, Europe is haunted by the legacy of the war, which was defined by the senseless deaths of millions of people, particularly young men who fought as soldiers. Although the war eventually ended and the “spring” of peace arrived, cold weather is “frightening” because of the way it reminds Hemingway of the long winter of war. In addition, the thought that the spring had “nearly failed” draws attention to the fragility of spring (a concept also underscored by the next chapter’s title, “False Spring”). In the context of inter-war Europe (which was, of course, then understood only as postwar Europe), the fragility of the spring is an ominous premonition of the imminent return of war.

Chapter 5 Quotes

I knew how severe I had been and how bad things had been. The one who is doing his work and getting satisfaction from it is not the one the poverty is hard on. I thought of bathtubs and showers and toilets that flushed as things that inferior people to us had or that you enjoyed when you made trips, which we often made.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has bought a racing paper and decided that after he finishes work, he and Hadley will go to the races. He has received money from the Toronto Star, but Hadley worries that they still don’t have enough money to bet. Hemingway assures her that they will figure it out, and he apologizes for being “tight and mean about money.” Hemingway regretfully thinks about the way in which their poverty has been “hard on” Hadley. He suggests that it is easy for him to live without money, because he gets “satisfaction” from working as a writer.

It is clear from this passage that Hemingway feels responsible for providing for Hadley, and he seems conflicted between his own nonchalance about material possessions and his desire to give Hadley a comfortable, pleasant life. While he knows that his lifestyle is hard on his wife, he also feels that his simple existence is distinct from true poverty: lacking money is hardest on people without passion and purpose, he suggests, and thus his writing means that he is spared the pain of poverty. He looks on his lack of money as a sign, even, of his dedication to something better than materialism, which suggests that there is something he enjoys about being poor.

Chapter 7 Quotes

She did not like to hear really bad nor tragic things, but no one does, and having seen them I did not care to talk about them unless she wanted to know how the world was going. She wanted to know the gay part of how the world was going; never the real, never the bad.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway gets into the habit of visiting Gertrude Stein at 27 rue de Fleurus. Stein is always happy to see Hemingway, and she offers him delicious things to eat and drink. Hemingway notes that “she loved to talk about people and places and things and food,” but in this passage he clarifies that Stein only likes hearing about happy things, not “the real” or “the bad.” This characterization of Stein is intriguing; only wanting to hear about happy and funny things suggests that Stein is frivolous and even ignorant. Although Stein’s sense of humor and playfulness is well-known, elsewhere in the book Hemingway represents her as someone who took herself, her work, and the work of others very seriously.

It is clear from this passage that Hemingway equates “the real” with the sad and tragic side of life. This is significant, as Hemingway emphasizes that representing the truth is the most important goal in writing. Hemingway’s belief that the truth of the world is “bad” and even tragic arguably emerges from his experiences of the war, therefore fulfilling Stein’s assertion that he is part of a “lost generation” who have a nihilistic view of life.

"All of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation…”

"Really?" I said.
"You are," she insisted. “you have no respect for anything. You drink yourselves to death. . .”
"'Was the young mechanic drunk?” I asked.
"Of course not."
"Have you ever seen me drunk?”
"No. But your friends are drunk.”
"I've been drunk" I said. “But I don’t come here drunk.”

"Of course not. I didn't say that.”
"The boy's patron was probably drunk by eleven o’clock in the morning." I said. “That’s why he makes such lovely phrases. "
"Don't argue with me, Hemingway,” Miss Stein said. “It does no good at all. You're all a lost generation, exactly as the garage keeper said."

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Gertude Stein (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Gertrude Stein’s car breaks down, and when she takes it to the garage she complains that the mechanic there has done a poor job. She tells Hemingway that the garage keeper mentioned that all men of the garage keeper’s (and Hemingway’s) age are members of a “lost generation,” a sentiment Stein agrees with. She tells Hemingway that men his age who served in the First World War have developed a nihilistic worldview and “drink yourselves to death.” Hemingway is evidently somewhat resentful of this assessment, and Stein’s refusal to let him argue with her is rather patronizing. After all, Stein herself did not serve in the war, yet she haughtily implies that she is better than the disrespectful, self-destructive, and nihilistic young men.

Despite this tension, however, the “lost generation” is one of the most well-known and influential ideas to emerge from the book. This term is now universally used, both in the sense that Stein uses it here—to describe men of Hemingway’s generation—and, perhaps more often, to describe the particular group of artists and writers Hemingway lived among in Paris at the time. Indeed, the characteristics that Stein attributes to the mechanic—including a lack of “respect” and tendency for destructive drinking—are also true of most of the artists and writers depicted in the book, including Hemingway himself.

Chapter 8 Quotes

You got very hungry when you did not eat enough in Paris because all the bakery shops had such good things in the windows and people ate outside at tables on the sidewalk so that you saw and smelled the food. Then you were skipping meals at a time when you had given up journalism and were writing nothing that anyone in America would buy, explaining at home that you were lunching out with someone, the best place to do it was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the place de l'Observatoire to the rue de Vaugirard. There you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were heightened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. I used to wonder if he were hungry too when he painted; but I thought it was possibly only that he had forgotten to eat. It was one of those unsound but illuminating thoughts you have when you have been sleepless or hungry. Later I thought Cezanne was probably hungry in a different way.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cafés
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage opens the chapter entitled “Hunger Was Good Discipline,” in which Hemingway explains that, although his poverty means he is often forced to go hungry, there are actually positive elements to this experience. The title of the chapter initially suggests that hunger forces Hemingway to write in order to earn enough money to eat, but the actual content of the chapter—including this passage—slightly contradicts this notion. Hemingway is evidently somewhat resigned to the fact that he is “writing nothing that anyone in America would buy,” and he seems to have accepted hunger as an inevitable aspect of his life as a writer, rather than something he must fight against.

On one level, hunger separates Hemingway from the world around him—he must lie to his friends about going home for lunch and he cannot go into the cafés and eat the delicious food that taunts him with its nice smell. However, hunger also connects him to the artistic world of Paris in a more fundamental way. Due to the side-effects of intense hunger, Hemingway feels a sense of euphoric sensual connection to his environment, and particularly to the paintings at the Luxembourg museum. Furthermore, Hemingway’s hunger places him in a lineage of artists and writers who were forced to go without food in order to create work. In this sense, hunger allows Hemingway to “understand Cezanne much better,” and leads him to conjecture that Cezanne must have been hungry, too.

Outside on the rue de l’Odeon I was disgusted with myself for having complained about things. I was doing what I did of my own free will and I was doing it stupidly. I should have bought a large piece of bread and eaten it instead of skipping a meal. I could taste the brown lovely crust. But it is dry in your mouth without something to drink. You God damn complainer. You dirty phony saint and martyr, I said to myself. You quit journalism of your own accord. You have credit and Sylvia would have loaned you money. She has plenty of times. Sure. And then the next thing you would be compromising on something else. Hunger is healthy and the pictures do look better when you are hungry. Eating is wonderful too and do you know where you are going to eat right now?

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Sylvia Beach
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has gone to see Sylvia Beach at her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. Sylvia expresses concern about how thin Hemingway is and asks if he is eating; Hemingway lies to her and tells her he is about to go home for lunch. Afterward, Hemingway feels an intense sense of shame and regret about having “complained” and lied. He curses himself and thinks that he is a “dirty phony saint and martyr.” This passage is significant in a number of ways, in part because it contradicts Hemingway’s initial argument about hunger. Whereas at the beginning of the chapter Hemingway praised the advantages of hunger, framing it as something that improved his life, in this passage he feels guilty and ashamed about skipping meals.

Rather than simply being about hunger itself, this passage can be interpreted as an expression of Hemingway’s insecurities about being a writer. Although he has achieved some critical recognition, Hemingway’s status as a writer is still rather fragile. This leads him to doubt the choice he makes and question the legitimacy of his identity (hence calling himself a “dirty phony saint.”) Hemingway’s internal conflict and uncertainty is conveyed in the final part of the passage, where he acknowledges that there is value in both hunger and eating. Although this is perhaps true, it leaves Hemingway in a state of uncertainty and self-doubt that reflects a broader anxiety about his ability to achieve success as a writer.

Chapter 16 Quotes

The winter of the avalanches was like a happy and innocent winter in childhood compared to that winter and the murderous summer that was to follow. Hadley and I had become too confident in each other and careless in our confidence and pride. In the mechanics of how this was penetrated I have never tried to apportion the blame, except my own part, and that was clearer all my life. The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out. It is a complicated, valuable and instructive story.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway, Pauline Hemingway (née Pfeiffer)
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has described his and Hadley’s winter vacations to Austria. During one of their trips, there are a number of avalanches that kill some of their fellows skiers. However, despite the tragic deaths that take place that year, in this passage Hemingway argues that the next year is even worse, due to the initiation of Hemingway’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, which ultimately causes the dissolution of his and Hadley’s marriage. Throughout the book, Hemingway often compares himself and Hadley to children and their happiness to an innocent, youthful naïveté. This emphasizes the distance between Hemingway at the age he is during the book’s events and as the narrator looking back on this time many years later.

This passage is certainly melodramatic, and it is curious and somewhat morally dubious to imply that the winter of the avalanches—in which several people lost their lives—was “happy and innocent” in comparison to the winter in which Pauline enters Hemingway’s and Hadley’s lives. The final sentences of this passage emphasize Hemingway’s theory that omitting the most important and powerful parts of any story will strengthen it. Of course, the reader must then decide for themselves if this is really true. Is A Moveable Feast enriched by the fact that we never learn the concrete details of how Hemingway’s affair with Pauline begins or how he eventually decides to leave Hadley and marry Pauline instead?

Chapter 17 Quotes

Until then I had felt that what a great writer I was had been carefully kept secret between myself and my wife and only those people we knew well enough to speak to. I was glad Scott had come to the same happy conclusion as to this possible greatness, but I was also glad he was beginning to run out of the speech.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has described meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald at a bar called the Dingo. He notes that Scott is a handsome man with a “pretty” face, and he explains that during their conversation, Scott begins to enthusiastically praise Hemingway’s writing. This embarrasses Hemingway, but in this passage he admits that he is also happy to hear that Scott recognizes his skill as a writer, which he previously considered to be a secret confined to those close to him. This statement is somewhat playful and humorous, but it is clear that Hemingway is also serious.

Much of A Moveable Feast examines the uncertainty that defines life as a young writer whose reputation has yet to be established. As much as Hemingway professes embarrassment about Scott’s praise, he is simultaneously reassured that the older, critically acclaimed writer publically acknowledges Hemingway’s own talent. It’s worth remembering the validation that Hemingway takes from Fitzgerald’s praise, as Hemingway proceeds to criticize and even belittle Fitzgerald throughout the remainder of the book. This passage marks the emotional complexity of Hemingway’s relationship to Fitzgerald—on the one hand, he admires Fitzgerald and requires his validation, and, on the other hand, he finds Fitzgerald to be silly and badly behaved.

In Europe then we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also as a great giver of happiness and well-being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary, and I would not have thought of eating a meal without drinking either wine or cider or beer.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

During Scott and Hemingway’s trip to Lyon, Scott is behaving in an erratic, melodramatic, and unreasonable way. However, Hemingway finds it difficult to be angry with him. He also admits that “it was hard to accept him as a drunkard,” because Scott drinks only small quantities of alcohol (although what he does drink has as an outsize effect on him). In this passage, Hemingway reflects on the drinking culture in Europe at the time, explaining that alcohol was seen as something “healthy and normal”—a natural accompaniment to any meal. To some extent, this passage contains a defensiveness that suggests that Hemingway (as retrospective narrator) is aware that the “healthy” drinking culture of the time was perhaps not as healthy as he then assumed.

Throughout the book, Hemingway depicts various characters drinking in a destructive and uncontrolled way, and there are moments (such as Stein’s comment about the “lost generation”) in which characters identify alcohol as a problem in their social world. Although Hemingway is famous for his alcohol abuse, in the book he distances himself from the more destructive drinking habits of others, particularly Scott and Zelda. Indeed, Scott serves as a foil (contrasting character) against which Hemingway appears to have a healthy, mature, and casual relationship with alcohol. Only through knowing biographical information about Hemingway’s life would the reader suspect that his relationship with alcohol was more troubled than it appears here.

Paris Sketches 4 Quotes

They knew nothing of our pleasures nor how much fun it was to be damned to ourselves and never would know nor could know. Our pleasures, which were those of being in love, were as simple and still as mysterious and complicated as a simple mathematical formula that can mean all happiness or can mean the end of the world. That is the sort of happiness you should not tinker with but nearly everyone you knew tried to adjust it.

Related Characters: Ernest Hemingway (speaker), Hadley Hemingway
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Hemingway has explained that when he doesn’t have to wear his hair short for journalistic assignments, he enjoys growing it long. Sometimes during these periods of having long hair, he runs into other foreign correspondents who advise him not to let himself go. In this passage, Hemingway explains that these other people do not understand his and Hadley’s “pleasures,” and that the happiness of being in love is inherently irrational and inexplicable. Hemingway’s words emphasize that he and Hadley are living in an almost magical period of innocence, happiness, and luck. At the same time, the passage foreshadows the end of this happiness through both the specific event of Hemingway’s affair with Pauline and the general impact of growing older.