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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The plot of For Whom the Bell Tolls is developed in a traditional manner with an introduction, rising action, climax, and falling action. The first three chapters are largely descriptive, introducing the characters, the conflict, the theme, and the setting. Chapters 4 - 9, which are brief, begin the rising action. It becomes obvious that Pablo does not really support Jordan, further endangering his mission. Jordan also falls in love with Maria, which will complicate his life and give him a strong desire to live beyond the destruction of the bridge. Chapters 10 - 13 describe Pablo's past, establish the depth of danger involved in the mission, and develop Jordan as a character.

The real suspense of the story develops between chapters 14 and 42. Jordan has increasing difficulties with Pablo to the point that the guerilla leader steals some of Jordan's equipment and temporarily deserts the cause, hoping to insure the failure of the mission. The fascist enemy also appears with its calvary troops and airplanes and wipes out El Sordo's band.

Jordan is also forced to shoot one of the calvarymen; he then realizes for the first time that war forces him to kill other human beings, just like himself. Growing disillusioned with the entire war effort, he sends a dispatch with Andres to General Golz and begs him to cancel the offensive and the destruction of the bridge since they are sure to fail. Hemingway devotes much description to Andres' lack of progress in delivering the message, jumping back and forth between Jordan at the bridge and Andres trying to reach Golz. The reader hopes until the very end that perhaps Andres will succeed in his mission, and Golz will heed Jordan's warning.


The rising action reaches the climax in the last chapter. Although Jordan successfully blows up the bridge, he is injured during the escape. Paralyzed and unable to ride further, his tragic end is clear. The falling action is then very brief. Like a true Hemingway code hero, he asks to be left behind with a gun so he can fire at the approaching fascists, giving the others more time for escape. He argues with and convinces Maria that she must go with the others, saving herself and making his mission seem worthwhile to him. As the novel closes, Jordan has positioned himself behind a tree and is waiting for the enemy and certain death.

Although the novel is essentially told in chronological order, taking place in only a few days, much Background Information is given through flashbacks. Jordan ruminates on the orders that had been given him by General Golz through a flashback. The reader also learns from Pilar about Pablo's past and the changes that have taken place in him. In addition, it is through flashback that the reader learns about Jordan's father and Maria's traumas. In spite of the many flashbacks, the story is easy to follow, for it is told in a simple, straightforward style and is tightly unified by time, character, and place.

Except for Andres' journey through enemy lines to locate General Golz, the entire story takes place near the bridge, the area in which both the camps of Pablo and El Sordo are located. Jordan is also the focal point of the entire novel, and Hemingway constantly spotlights his change in attitude about the war. The novel is also unified by the theme of disillusionment about the war. Pablo is already disillusioned at the start of the novel, and Jordan is critical of him for his attitude. As the book progresses, however, Jordan also becomes disillusioned, almost following in Pablo's pattern. Even the strong devoted Pilar has some questions about the cause towards the close of the book.

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