The next morning, Jake wakes before Bill and goes outside, into the fresh early morning, finds a shed and a kind of spade and goes digging around the stream for worms. He fills two cans, watched by goats.
In the city, Jake and his friends are writers and artists who don't write or make art. But in the country, Jake actually does things, which brings a peace and pleasure.
Back in the room, Bill says he saw Jake from the window and asks if he was burying his money. Bill then launches into an extended riff about "irony and pity," which he says is a fad in New York City. He tells Jake to ask the waitress for jam in an ironical way but is jokingly dissatisfied with how Jake does it, explaining that Jake can't understand irony or pity, and will therefore never write anything worth much, because, as an expatriate, he's lost touch with the soil, is obsessed with sex, and wastes his time in cafés. He adds that some people think Jake is supported by women, while others think Jake is impotent. Jake responds that he isn't impotent, he just had an accident. Jake is afraid that Bill will stop making fun for fear of hurting his feelings. He wants him to go on. Bill does, and they joke about a man in a story who suffered a similar accident while riding a horse, though Bill says that in the American version of the story it's a bicycle.
Jake's desire that Bill will continue to tease him about everything, including his injury, and his fear that Bill will stop and in doing so not treat him like a man, finally gives the reader insight into how Jake views his own injury. He fears that it has made him something less than a man. But Bill doesn't stop, he doesn't see anything as different about Jake other than the fact that he is injured, and this allows Jake to think about his injury in a different way, to accept the fact of it, and to speak about it matter-of-factly, without having to also accept the idea that he has lost his manhood. Bill's joking diagnosis of expatriates, meanwhile, seems fairly accurate.
Bill announces that he is more fond of Jake than he is of anyone else in the world. This is the kind of thing, Bill adds, that he can't say in New York because people would think he was a "faggot." Bill then explains how the Civil War was actually all a result of homosexuality, finishing with the comment, "Sex explains it all."
Bill's joke about homosexuality reveals insecurities of his own, and of the other men. During the intensity of the war, men took care of each other, and came to care about each other, in such naturally intense ways that they felt insecure about those feelings once the war was over. Bill's comments also echo the ideas of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who was famously focused on how sex explained so much. But in the men's relationship to Brett that doesn't really seem to be the case—they all seem to love her. The character for whom sex is most meaningful is Brett, not any of the men.
Soon they pack a lunch and begin the long hike to their fishing spot. The fields are lush and green. They cross wilder and wilder streams and walk through a forest of beech trees. Bill exclaims, "This is country."
Bill's simple comment, "This is country," captures the power of nature. Unlike everything in the city, it isn't something to interpret or figure out. It just is. And that frees the men to just exist themselves within it.
When they reach their destination they build a makeshift cooler in a spring of water for their wine bottles. Then they split up and begin to fish. Jake fishes with worms. He is mesmerized by the number of leaping trout he sees. He catches six fish, and cleans and guts them right there. He finds them beautiful. Jake reads until Bill returns. He was fly-fishing and caught fish even bigger than Jake's
Physical excursion and success at hunting bring back essential masculine pursuits to the men. They find satisfaction in the work and ingenuity of fishing and cleaning, and in the beauty of the fish. There is still competition, but it is a simple competition that doesn't seem to make anyone feel small or insecure.
They have a picnic, enjoying the chilled wine, and remembering and joking about their friends in the army during the war. Finally, they agree that they are drunk and decide to nap. As they wind down, Bill asks Jake if he was ever in love with Brett. Jake admits that he was, and Bill offers his sympathy. When they wake, it's late afternoon and they had back to the inn. They meet an Englishman named Harris who they like a great deal, and have five more days of good fishing, and play bridge at night. There's no word from the others.
In the absence of word from the others—namely Brett—and in the natural world where they feel competent and at ease, they find that they can face the things they have been avoiding for so long—the war, their friends, both those who lived and who died. They can even speak honestly about Brett, and Bill can offer sincere and non-complicated support to Jake. The activities that in the city serve as desperate distractions, in the country become a means of building relationships, of making friends.