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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

CHAPTERS 1 - 3

Summary

Robert Jordan, an American expert in explosives, is in Spain fighting for the cause of the Loyalists during the Civil War. Jordan is working under the orders of the Russian General Golz. He has been assigned the job of blowing up a bridge; but he has been told that the mission can be accomplished only after the attack commences, which makes the task very dangerous.

When the book opens, Jordan is lying on the forest floor inspecting, for the first time, the bridge that he is to destroy with explosives. His guide is an ancient Spaniard named Anselmo. He has been assigned to take Jordan to meet Pablo and his guerilla band, who are to aid him in exploding the bridge. Anselmo seems anxious about the delay at the bridge and suggests that Jordan hurry up in order to get the sacks of explosives to a safe place.

When they leave the bridge, Anselmo guides Jordan further up into the mountains. When they draw close to Pablo's cave, Anselmo suggests that he should go ahead and warn the members of the guerrilla band of their approach to keep them from firing at them. While waiting for him to return, Jordan recalls his meeting with General Golz in a flashback. Golz had stressed to Jordan the importance of his mission and the perils involved. Golz had also emphasized that the timing for destroying the bridge was of extreme significance. He insisted that the bridge had to be exploded after the commencement of the offensive.

Anselmo returns with Pablo, the leader of the guerilla band. From the very beginning, it is obvious that Pablo does not like Jordan. He feels that Jordan is an alien who has no business being involved in the civil war. He also resents that he will have to take orders from this stranger. Because of his feelings, Pablo appears sullen and is distinctly impolite to Jordan, often ignoring his questions or answering them very slowly. Not surprisingly, Jordan has a very negative reaction to Pablo. He does not like his uncivil manners and feels there is a strange sadness about the man. He immediately fears that Pablo will betray him. It is one of many ill omens that Jordan will have about his mission.


Pablo is openly critical of the entire mission from the beginning. In truth, he is worried about his own well-being, for he fears that he and his band of guerillas will be driven from their home in the Sierra Mountains. Since Pablo owns a herd of fine horses, he does not want to be displaced. Anselmo, who seems staunchly devoted to the cause, calls Pablo selfish and accuses him of having become a capitalist since the acquisition of his horses.

Jordan manages to pacify and cheer Pablo for awhile by appreciating and complimenting his horses; however, when he tells Pablo about Kashkin's death, the man becomes gloomy once again. Jordan does not like the way things have started. He is apprehensive as they set off towards Pablo's cave. On reaching the camp, Jordan finally notices something positive. The location of the cave is hidden, even protected from detection from the air.

To the man sitting outside the cave, Pablo introduces Anselmo as the "old man" and Jordan as the "dynamites." Jordan learns that the man is Rafael, a gypsy and a member of Pablo's band of guerillas. As they wait for dinner, they talk about Kashkin's death. Soon a young woman comes out of the cave with food. Jordan, finding her beautiful, is instantly attracted to her, but tries hard not to stare obviously. The woman, who seems to be conscious of her cropped hair, introduces herself as Maria. She tells Jordan that she was imprisoned at Valladolid, where the enemy shaved her head. She had been travelling on the train that Kashkin and Pablo's band blew up. They rescued her and brought her with them.

When Maria goes back inside the cave, Rafael tells Jordan that Pilar, Pablo's woman, has taken good care of Maria. After Maria was rescued, it was Pilar who insisted that the girl be carried, for she had difficulty walking due to the accident. While Rafael is talking to Jordan, Pilar joins them outside the cave. She is a woman in her fifties and is robust and largely built. She warns Jordan to be gentle with Maria, for she was traumatized by what has happened to her before and during the accident. Jordan assures her that she can trust Maria with him.

Later, Pilar offers to read Jordan's palm, but she suddenly stops in the middle of the reading. When he asks her what she has seen in his hand, she evades the question by talking about El Sordo. He is the leader of another guerilla band, which also hides in the Sierra Mountains. She informs Jordan that El Sordo can be called upon to help with his mission if necessary. Since he is coming for a visit later the same night, Pilar says that Jordan can talk to him about his help in blowing up the bridge.

Jordan decides he needs to go back to the bridge to study it further. When he leaves, he asks Pilar to keep an eye on his supplies, sensing that she is trustworthy. Jordan then takes Anselmo with him to guide him to the proper location. Upon arriving, he notes that the bridge is of a single span with a sentry box at each end; it would be an easy bridge to destroy under normal circumstance; but he has been ordered to destroy it in an unorthodox manner. As he takes out his note pad and starts sketching the structure, he finds that he resents Golz's strange orders; he hopes, however, that the mission may not be as formidable as it appears to be.

Anselmo is nervous about their proximity to the fascist camp and grows impatient with Jordan's slowness. He points out that there is a man in the sentry box facing them. When the guard emerges, Jordan and Anselmo lie flat on the ground so they will not be spied. When the sentry walks to the other end of the bridge, the men decide it is time to depart. Suddenly, however, they hear the sound of planes overhead. Jordan believes that they are a fascist patrol, but Anselmo thinks that they are Russian planes, called Moscas. The two men cautiously depart and make their way back to the cave. As they walk, Jordan and Anselmo discuss the necessity of killing in war. Anselmo admits that he hates to kill another human being, but he does it for the benefit of the cause, even though he considers it a sin that must be later atoned. It is obvious, however, that Anselmo has become somewhat disillusioned with the war effort.

As Jordan and Anselmo approach the cave, they are challenged by Agustin, the guerilla guard on duty. When he is finally convinced of their identities, he lets them pass; but first he warns Jordan to guard his explosives from Pablo. Anselmo agrees with the warning. He tells Jordan that Pablo has gone "bad," but he claims that El Sordo is as reliable as ever.

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