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For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway



For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the engrossing tale of Robert Jordan, an American supporter of the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Within a short span of some 68 hours, Jordan's involvement with a band of guerrillas- notably a young woman named Maria, with whom he falls in love- forces him to question his own participation in a war that seems unwinnable and to realize that the sacrifice of life for the sake of a political cause may be too high a price to pay.

Jordan is a college teacher on a leave of absence in Spain, and as For Whom the Bell Tolls opens, he's discussing the location of a bridge with a local guide named Anselmo. But there's much more to the situation than that. The Spain that Jordan loves is involved in a civil war, and he has really come to help wage that war on behalf of the side he believes in. At the moment his job is to blow up a bridge behind enemy lines.

The assignment came to Jordan through General Golz, a Soviet officer also in Spain to help fight the war. According to Golz, the demolition of the bridge at precisely the right moment is a key part of a large-scale offensive by the Republican forces.

Jordan needs help to do the job, so the peasant Anselmo has brought him to a guerrilla band hiding in the mountains. From the moment Jordan meets Pablo, their leader, Jordan suspects that the guerrilla chief, who should be his chief ally in the operation, will spell trouble.

Pablo has "gone bad." He's lost his drive, his purpose as a guerrilla leader. He's content simply to stay hidden and survive, rather than actively harass the enemy.

With the arrival of Jordan, the band of seven men and two women are given a renewed sense of purpose. This prompts a showdown for leadership of the band. Pilar, Pablo's mistress, publicly assumes charge. Pablo's status is uncertain at this moment, and several of the band would now be grateful if Jordan killed Pablo. But he doesn't. Plans are made to enlist the help of a neighboring guerrilla band, led by El Sordo, in the demolition of the bridge.

Robert Jordan finds more than the bridge to occupy his attention. Among the guerrilla group is Maria, a young woman who was rescued by the band during their last significant operation. They are almost instantly attracted to each other and spend this first night making love. It's not the first sexual experience for either of them. Jordan has been with other women; Maria was once raped by a group of enemy soldiers. But for each, it's the first experience that combines sex with love.

On the second day, Jordan, Pilar, and Maria make their way to the hideout of El Sordo to enlist his help in demolishing the bridge. El Sordo promises support. On the return trip, Pilar deliberately leaves Jordan and Maria by themselves for a while. Again they make love, and Jordan begins to entertain serious doubts about whether this war is the most important thing in his life after all.

The band now observes a heavy concentration of enemy soldiers riding through the area but manages to avoid detection. El Sordo and his men are not so fortunate. Nationalist soldiers- the enemy- trap them on a hill and they are slaughtered. Jordan and the others hear the sounds of the fighting but are helpless to come to El Sordo's aid. It's an agonizing feeling.

Personal experiences have brought Jordan to doubt the value of this war in general. Now the concentration of enemy soldiers and planes in the area makes him doubt the practicality of blowing up the bridge. Perhaps if Golz were aware of the enemy's numbers in the immediate area, he would want the operation canceled.

He writes a dispatch to Golz. But the messenger is delayed time and again- not by the presence of the enemy in the area, but by the frustrating bumbling and petty bureaucracy of his own Republican forces. Ultimately, he is arrested and the dispatch is confiscated, again by his own people.

At the camp, Maria and Jordan dream about their future together, but Jordan knows they are fooling themselves. Finally, Pilar brings Jordan the news that Pablo has deserted and has taken the detonation devices. The bridge operation wasn't easy to begin with; now Jordan will have to improvise a makeshift exploder and detonators just to have a chance at succeeding.

He spends the middle of the night devising a way- and holding Maria. "We'll be killed but we'll blow the bridge," he whispers to her as she sleeps in his arms.

Early on the morning of this fourth day, as the band eat what could be their last breakfast, Pablo returns. He apologizes for his moment of weakness. To make up for it, he has brought several more men from the area to join them. But the exploder and detonators are gone; he has tossed them in the river.

Meanwhile, a Soviet journalist secures the release of the messenger, and Jordan's dispatch finally reaches Golz, but it's too late. The doomed attack has already been mounted and can't be stopped.

Without counterorders from Golz, Jordan's mission to blow up the bridge proceeds. He feverishly rigs the improvised detonation devices just in time. At the sound of the Loyalist attack (his cue), the bridge is blown up. Jordan has accomplished what he came to do. But he is a different man from what he was a short while ago; the success gives him little satisfaction.

The band must now attempt a retreat. Pablo, the most familiar with the area, has devised a workable plan. The group draws enemy fire but no one is hit. They all have a chance to escape to a safe area- except Robert Jordan.

His horse is hit and falls on him, breaking his thigh. For the good of all, he is left behind. Everyone but Maria can see that there is no other way. There is a painful good-bye. Maria protests to the end and won't leave until she is forced to by Pilar and Pablo.

Robert Jordan struggles to remain conscious just long enough to kill at least some of the enemy. He lies on the ground, awaiting the enemy.

[For Whom the Bell Tolls Contents]




    Robert Jordan is a man of action. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, he undertakes a dangerous mission, even welcomes it. Like other Hemingway heroes, he seems to understand that dying well can be even more important than living well.

    But unlike other Hemingway heroes, Jordan believes in an abstract ideal, an ideology, a cause. This cause is "government by the people" in the Spain that he loves. Jordan's liberal political views have motivated him to leave the University of Montana where he teaches Spanish, in order to fight with the Spanish Republicans, or Loyalists. Whereas most liberal intellectuals were willing only to denounce in words the rise of fascism in Spain, Jordan takes action in support of his political beliefs.

    Beyond that, Jordan is intelligent, clever, inventive, and decisive. He can keep his composure in sticky situations. These qualities are necessary for survival in his role in Spain of a demolition expert behind enemy lines.

    Jordan is unquestionably in charge, except in the arena of his own mind. Here, he begins to question and reevaluate the very ideals that brought him to Spain. This tormented individualist sways and wavers, experiencing moments of painful honesty and moments of self-deception. He sometimes feels caught between new values emerging in his life and a duty he has committed himself to.

    At the conclusion of Hemingway's story, dedication to an ideology is not as important to Jordan as it was at the beginning. He begins to see that his cause is tarnished, that perhaps every cause is tarnished. He has changed from a believer in abstract ideas to a believer in the importance of the individual person.

    You might accept this change as both credible and authentic, or you might question it on the grounds that it's motivated principally by his rather swift and passionate love affair with Maria. You'll have to decide whether Jordan is more genuine or less genuine at the conclusion of the novel- or equally so, even though his principal allegiance has changed.


    Pablo, the leader of the guerrilla band, is one of Hemingway's richest characters. In one sense he is quite entertaining, not only because he is frequently comically drunk but also because his behavior is full of surprises.

    At one time, there had been an entirely different Pablo, who, like Jordan, believed strongly in the Loyalist cause. But unlike Jordan, that Pablo was capable of immense cruelty.

    Now the guerrilla leader is disillusioned. The cause means little to him. He's content simply to survive, hidden in the mountains, doing almost nothing to aid the Loyalist forces. Given his horses and his wine, he appears happy.

    On the surface, he seems to have degenerated into an ineffective force. But he cannot be discounted. In fact, his bitter disillusionment makes him dangerous. He's capable now of deliberately sabotaging the very operations he formerly supported and led.

    Yet something of the old Pablo remains. He may have lost his motivation and the firmness of his allegiance, but he hasn't lost his cleverness and expertise as a guerrilla soldier.

    During the course of the story, Pablo doesn't actually change, as Robert Jordan does. He vacillates. He is now one Pablo, now another- a frustrating figure to Jordan, and probably to you, also.

    But most of the time Pablo suffers from what we might call burnout, exhaustion and apathy resulting usually from working too hard at something. What's responsible for this disintegration of Pablo from a terror-wielding firebrand to an often drunken excuse for a soldier?

    Several possibilities exist. One is his dependence on wine. You may see that as a defect of character or as a disease. Or it could be that the responsibility of leading his band during wartime has simply worn him down. Perhaps through lack of willpower he has allowed fear to transform him into a spineless character. Maybe he has simply become soft and spoiled by the relative luxuries of his recently sheltered situation.

    A particularly intriguing line of thought is that Pablo suffers from guilt over the atrocities he engineered at the beginning of the war, which Pilar describes in Chapter 10. Guilt can produce severe depression leading to inactivity and even virtual paralysis. At one point Pablo does express a sorrow for having killed and a kinship with his victims, but it's uncertain whether this is Pablo or his red wine speaking.


    Pilar is Pablo's mistress and the real leader of the guerrilla band, even though Pablo nominally holds the title at the beginning of the novel. As with Pablo, there is more than one Pilar. But she is far more predictable. In fact, you typically see only her tough side. Whatever the situation, Pilar is always in charge.

    She is duly respectful of Jordan's status with the movement and his expertise as a demolition expert. But she is prepared to set him straight when she feels it's needed.

    She is a woman born into a male-oriented culture. Thus she is domestic in many ways. She even trains Maria in some traditional household and man-pleasing "duties." At the same time, she can carry heavy equipment, fire a machine gun, and command a group of seasoned, male guerrilla soldiers.

    She is rough and hardened, capable of crude speech and outrageous insults. She dispenses them freely, particularly to Pablo. Anyone who strikes her as acting stupidly is a target for her acid tongue.

    Though physically ugly- by her own admission- Pilar has not lacked for lovers. She recalls her former lover Finito with a nostalgic fondness. She is affectionate with Maria, for whom she has genuine feelings. And her strength diminishes at times- the roar of plane engines overhead sends her into a shudder of fear.

    True to her complex character, when Pablo returns from his brief desertion, she insults, forgives, then admires him nearly all in the same breath.

    Unlike Pablo, throughout most of the story Pilar professes to be a fervent believer in the Republican movement as an ideal. In that respect she is like the Robert Jordan we see at the beginning of the story. You might question how genuine this is or at least what motivates Pilar. You might see her as truly convinced of Republican ideals, even though she could not articulate them in the intellectual manner that Jordan would. Another interpretation is that she has simply found her niche in this turbulent wartime situation and receives sufficient psychological reward to keep her going from her role as behind-the-scenes controller of what is nominally Pablo's band. It might even be argued that both the above compensate for her recent lack of romantic and sexual fulfillment with Pablo.

    There is also a mystical streak in Pilar. Although full of common sense, she is attuned to mysteries of the universe. She reads Jordan's palm and probably sees his imminent death. She also graphically recounts the smell of death that clung to the ill-fated Kashkin, Jordan's predecessor.


    Maria is a young Spanish woman who was rescued by Pablo's band when they hijacked a Nationalist train. She has been with them since. Maria is important in the story as a principal cause of character development in Robert Jordan. But many readers feel that she herself changes little and is a superficial character. One commentator has said that even Jordan's fantasies of love affairs with screen goddesses are more real than the portrait of Maria.

    At their first meeting, she is strongly attracted to Jordan. She exhibits an almost desperate need for the attentions of a man who will care for her as a woman- but with respect and tenderness.

    Crucial to this need is a nightmare of Maria's past: the brutal rape she experienced at the hands of her Nationalist captors. Pilar has afforded some healing with her philosophy that whatever Maria didn't actually consent to did not, in a sense, happen- or at least did not count. But Maria needs more than this.

    You might question whether Maria's willingness to give herself so quickly and completely to Jordan is believable in light of her previous brutal treatment at the hands of men. After all, even though Jordan fights for the Loyalists, as a person he's an unknown quantity to her.

    Finding Jordan both masculine and gentle, Maria becomes lovingly subservient to a degree that some women readers find somewhat silly. She talks almost in terms of worship. As you read the novel, you'll have to decide whether Hemingway has portrayed Maria's relationship with Jordan in believable terms.

    At the close of the story, Maria and Jordan's relationship is, in their own words, much deeper than simple attraction and need. Has Maria herself changed- or been changed? Or has something good (a sincere love affair) simply happened to her while she herself remains much the same person?



    Anselmo, the oldest member of the guerrilla band, never uses his age as an excuse for shirking work for the Republican cause. There is nothing half-hearted about his service. Above all, he exhibits simplicity and integrity. Many readers feel that when Anselmo speaks, it's worth listening to.

    Anselmo is also a gentle, sensitive man who is able to see enemy soldiers as men very much like himself. The killing involved in the guerrilla band's operations causes him much pain. At heart he is a deeply religious man.

    Thus, even in a situation he did not devise or wish for, Anselmo seems to be an example of an honest gentleman. His integrity combined with the nominal atheism he must subscribe to on behalf of the Republicans have gained him the epithet "secular saint" in some critiques.

    Yet it's possible to see him in another light. Given the depth of his religious and ethical convictions, which become particularly evident at the end of the novel, why hasn't he simply stood up and said "I will not serve" a cause which exercises the killing and brutality which he hates?


    Golz is a Soviet military strategist who is in Spain to help the Republican forces. But it's difficult to determine his personal involvement in the cause. He devotes himself to his job, and he's upset (as Jordan will be) at the incompetent manner in which the Loyalists wage the war. He is resentful that amateurish bumbling and pettiness prevent his strategic plans from being carried out as he has ordered.

    This could be explained by a sincere belief in his communist ideology and a desire to see justice and self-determination granted to the common people of Spain. It could also stem from a love of playing professional war games and a desire for a sparkling military record. Golz, after all, will not answer to the people of Spain. He answers to superiors who will determine his career as a Soviet officer.


    El Sordo ("The Deaf One") is the leader of a neighboring guerrilla band. He's an aggressive leader such as Pablo once was, although perhaps without the cruelty. He's courageous, resourceful, and dedicated to the Republic.

    But he's also a realist: he has no illusions about the possibility of Republican success in the civil war. In this respect, he can be seen as the purest example of devotion to an ideal. He knows that the cause for which he will die will fail. Yet he does more than he has to on its behalf. He even gives Jordan (who is expected to return to the luxury of the United States) a rare bottle of whiskey in hospitable thanks for Jordan's aid toward the cause.

    He can also be seen as a contradictory character. Although he does not accept the collectivist slogans that promise victory or at least glory through sustained effort, he fights with all his effort on behalf of the force which generates them.


    Karkov is a Soviet journalist covering the Spanish Civil War from his headquarters in Madrid. He seems to give allegiance to the ideology of the Republic. Consequently, the bumbling and indifference that he observes in many of its higher echelons disgust and infuriate him.

    He's similar to Golz in that it's difficult to determine how personally he's involved in the cause. While on the surface he seems genuine, he doesn't hesitate to avail himself of the relatively extravagant luxuries at Gaylord's Hotel, the Soviet headquarters in Madrid. In this manner, he could easily symbolize many who have thrown themselves into the cause of the common, impoverished people- but without truly wanting to share their general lot in life.


    Joaquin is a young, idealistic member of El Sordo's band. At the time of the air attack on the guerrillas, Joaquin at first is a vocal partisan of the communist cause. But as the attack begins and the possibility of death looms, Joaquin returns to his Roman Catholic roots and begins to pray fervently.


    Andres is a member of Pablo's band. He is sent by Jordan to deliver the message to General Golz that the planned Republican offensive has been anticipated by the enemy.

[For Whom the Bell Tolls Contents]



Because For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during the Spanish Civil War, it is important to know some of the elements of Spanish geography incorporated in the book. If you look at the series of maps entitled "The Course of the Spanish Civil War," (see illustration) you'll notice the increase of Nationalist-held territory from July 1936 to October 1937. (The novel takes place in May 1937.) By 1937 the Republicans were steadily losing ground, and Robert Jordan's mission- to blow up a bridge crucial to enemy Nationalist interests- takes on added importance.

Almost in the center of Spain is Madrid, the capital, once a Republican stronghold, but in May 1937 close to falling to the enemy. To the north of Madrid (see map) is the Guadarrama Range, where Pablo's band is hiding and where the bridge is to be demolished. The town of La Granja is where members of the band go for supplies and news of the war. To the southwest of the Guadarrama mountains is the Gredos Range, where Pablo intends to retreat after the bridge is blown up. To the west of the Guadarrama Range is the city of Segovia, a Nationalist stronghold the Republicans hope to capture in their offensive.

Farther northwest of Segovia is Valladolid, where Maria was taken prisoner. It was there she was transported by the train that Pablo's band seized and blew up.

Notice, too, the region of Estremadura in the western part of Spain, where Jordan was working before his current assignment.

Many readers have pointed out that one of Ernest Hemingway's major goals in writing For Whom the Bell Tolls was to demonstrate that the real victims of the Spanish Civil War were the Spanish people themselves, torn by the savage self-interest of the competing political ideologues. The tragic effects of a brutal war on the peasants for whom it had become a daily reality are revealed in the rebel camp where Jordan and the others are hiding. These simple, earthy people have been transformed permanently by the war, and its toll is immeasurable. Hemingway shows us the cost of war in a variety of ways: Pilar's lengthy and vivid description of the atrocities inflicted upon Nationalist enemies in her village; Maria's suffering at the hands of the enemy; Pablo's erratic behavior; Anselmo's pathetic conflict between loyalty to the cause and his dislike of killing, to name the most obvious examples. Because the fate of the Spanish people (mostly farmers) is so directly tied to the land the war has ravaged, they act as an indivisible part of the novel's setting.

By placing most of the action in the mountain retreat of the guerrilla band, Hemingway has created a setting that is symbolic in contrasting ways. On the one hand, the camp hidden in the Guadarrama Range is a refuge that offers safety for many of the characters. Here Pablo, Pilar, and the other guerrillas have come to find temporary safety; here, too, Maria has come to heal physical and psychic wounds after her imprisonment by the Nationalists. It is in the mountains that Robert Jordan begins to question his motives as a participant in this war: through his love for Maria and his association with the peasants, Jordan is humanized and slowly comes to realize the truth of the quotation from John Donne at the opening of the novel: "No man is an Iland."

On the other hand, the mountain hideout also represents the plight of the Republicans- there they are trapped, blocked by fascist troops below them and enemy aircraft whizzing over their heads. The snow of the mountains offers a similar two-sided symbol: beautiful to look at, it suggests nature at its most peaceful, but the snow is also deadly, since it reveals the whereabouts of the rebels once they have walked in it.


Until the 1930s Spain had been a monarchy for centuries, except for a brief experiment as a republic in 1873-74. We can begin the background to the Spanish Civil War with Alfonso XIII, who came to the Spanish throne in 1902. The general verdict of historians is that he was incompetent. In 1921, for example, 20,000 Spanish troops died in an ill-conceived, unsuccessful offensive that he ordered against Moroccan tribes. He subsequently disbanded Parliament and selected Miguel Primo de Rivera as a military dictator.

Rivera established a dictatorship with Alfonso as figurehead. Although Rivera's government, which held power from 1923 to 1930, initially proved efficient and was widely favored, its popularity later declined and finally even the army withdrew its support. Rivera fled in January 1930, leaving Alfonso with the huge problem of trying to run Spain with little popular support.

In the hope of avoiding civil war, Alfonso went into exile, attempting to do so with a touch of grace by not officially abdicating. In 1931 the Second Republic, led by a coalition of Socialists and middle-class liberals, was formed amid enthusiasm.

But the new government tried to do too much too quickly- and often acted unwisely. This was especially the case in matters of educational reform and in trying to reduce the immense power of both the church and the army.

Consequently, opposition mounted. Monarchist plots arose on behalf of Alfonso and even on behalf of the line of Don Carlos, the 19th-century claimant to the throne. By the end of 1935, twenty-eight governments had been formed and had fallen. The country was close to chaos, with frequent strikes and uprisings by self-declared autonomous governments.

The election of February 1936 gave power to the Popular Front, a shaky mixture of Republicans, Socialists, Communists, and Anarchists. But widescale disorder and violence continued to rack the country. Spain had finally gained a government "of the people," but the Republic was weak and inefficient- and thus its own worst enemy.

The situation begged for a force to bring order out of chaos and hence was ripe for the formation and growth of fascist organizations based on the premise of a strong central government. Principal among the fascist groups was the Falange, begun by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the son of the previous dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera.

Many tradition-minded Spanish people, particularly the landowners and conservative army officers, began to feel that their way of life would be destroyed either by official government reforms or by the general chaos of the country. They started planning to overthrow the government.

The army made its move on July 17, 1936, charging that the government could not keep order. It was certainly not the first fighting in Spain. But it was the beginning of large-scale civil war, with the lines clearly drawn.

The forces led by the army (with General Francisco Franco in charge) were called the Nationalists or Rebels. Supporting the Nationalists were monarchists, Carlists (monarchists who supported the claim of descendants of Don Carlos, rather than the Bourbon line), the wealthy upper classes, the Falange fascists, and elements of the Roman Catholic Church.

The forces defending the Republican government were called Loyalists or Republicans. This group included much of the working class and most liberals, socialists, and communists.

The Spanish Civil War was a brutal conflict that included many appalling acts of cruelty and terrorism. The Nationalist forces often found themselves in the position of an alien invading army. Popular sympathy was usually with the Republicans, but the support was largely passive. One way the Nationalists tried to gain control of people was through terror: torture, executions, and bloodletting of all kinds. Loyalists responded with equally reprehensible atrocities, like those described in Chapter 10 of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The Spanish Civil War was, in part, an international affair. Historians have often commented that the war served as a training ground, almost a dress rehearsal, for World War II.

Aiding the Nationalists were approximately 50,000 soldiers from Fascist Italy, 20,000 from Portugal, and 10,000 from Nazi Germany. These countries also provided modern war materials.

On the Republican side were Soviet soldiers, well trained and able to assume positions of leadership, and an estimated 40,000 additional volunteers from around the globe, including the United States. The volunteers were mostly professional soldiers for hire, international adventurers, or persons who sympathized ideologically with the Republicans. This last group included people like Robert Jordan, the main character in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Some arms and equipment were sent to the Loyalists from such countries as the Soviet Union, Mexico, and France, but this aid didn't equal that provided to the Nationalists. Consequently, Nationalist forces were nearly always better equipped.

The Nationalist rebels began by occupying the northwest and the southern tip of Spain and gradually linked these two areas. From there they executed a pincer movement: down from the north, up from the south, and toward the Mediterranean coast in the east.

By the spring of 1937, when For Whom the Bell Tolls takes place, the Nationalists were making serious inroads in Republican-controlled territory. Madrid, the Spanish capital, was held by the Republicans but was constantly under siege. The guerrilla camp depicted by Hemingway in the novel was behind Nationalist lines, about sixty miles from Madrid. It was also during this time, on April 26, that Nazi German airplanes bombed the Basque town of Guernica, killing more than 1600 civilians. Guernica was without military importance, and the bombing brought an international outcry of protest. The incident also inspired one of Spanish painter Pablo Picasso's most vivid and moving paintings, called Guernica, created out of his heartbreak and rage.

Yet for all the Nationalist gains in 1937, the Republicans remained hopeful they could win the war. Hemingway has called this period of brave optimism "the happiest period of our lives," referring to those sympathizers and journalists who were in Spain. But less than two years later, in March 1939, Madrid was captured by the Nationalists, and the war was over.

The toll in human lives was immense. Nearly 110,000 people died in battles and air raids. Some 220,000 persons were murdered or executed. About 200,000 Loyalist prisoners were shot or died of ill-treatment in prison cells even after the Nationalist triumph. And more than 300,000 people sought exile abroad.


The following are themes of For Whom the Bell Tolls.



    Hemingway's choice of a John Donne poem as the source of the novel's title and epigraph emphasizes a major theme of For Whom the Bell Tolls: "No man is an iland," that is, no person can exist separate from the lives of others, even others living in far-away countries.

    The theme is demonstrated most clearly by the actions of Robert Jordan. Throughout his participation in the Spanish Civil War, he has fought actively for a cause- not the cause of communism, as he says, but the cause of antifascism. As the novel progresses, his involvement with the guerrilla band, and particularly his love for Maria, teach him the value of the individual as he or she affects a larger society. The abstractions of an ideology are lifeless without the people they represent; concepts have no meaning except for the ways in which they affect human beings.

    For Jordan, Maria represents human love, the first he has ever known. It is for her that he stays behind to allow the rest of the band to escape, demonstrating his realization that others depend on him as he has depended on them. His decision not to commit suicide at the end of the novel represents his ultimate understanding that he must fight for the people whose lives are affected by the cause, not purely for the cause as a generalized ideology.

    Both Pablo and Pilar represent minor variations of the theme of interdependency. Pablo is full of greedy self-interest now that he owns horses. His decision to betray the guerrilla band is due to his need to survive and thrive. At the last minute, however, he seems to understand how his actions will affect those whom he once led, and he returns to help them. Pilar, on the other hand, is almost blindly devoted to the cause. She will do whatever it takes to win for the Republic. Yet she, too, comes to understand the severe toll the guerrillas' mission is likely to take, and for the first time she expresses doubt about the cause that prompted the demolition.


    Who wants the Spanish Civil War? Is anyone likely to benefit from it? Look for answers to these questions as you read For Whom the Bell Tolls. There is much to suggest that the common people, on whose behalf the war is supposedly being waged, are tired of the war, uninterested in it, and unlikely to benefit from it. Readers have pointed out that Hemingway was prompted in part to write For Whom the Bell Tolls to show his disgust at the way in which the civil war had betrayed the Spanish people, both through internal disputes between the warring factions and through foreign intervention eager for a testing ground for an upcoming war.

    The war's effect on the Spanish is demonstrated in acts of great courage and great cruelty. The challenges of the struggle created both the bloodthirstiness and greed of Pablo, as well as the steadfast courage of Pilar and Anselmo. The war may have exacted a terrible price from its people, Hemingway seems to be saying, but it often revealed them at their best.

    Despite his pro-Republican leanings, Hemingway is careful to point out that both sides are capable of savage behavior and that each side is peopled with human beings with similar human needs. Through Robert Jordan, Hemingway describes how a foreigner comes to view the Spanish struggle. Jordan often states his belief in the "power, justice, and equality to the people" theory espoused by the Republicans. But he soon sees the toll the war is taking on those around him, and he realizes, too, that his own side has committed as many outrages against human rights as the enemy has.

  3. LOVE

    Hemingway writes about several kinds of love in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Romantic love is depicted in the relationship of Jordan and Maria. Before Maria, Jordan had expressed himself sexually, but he had not loved. Loving her transports him from his intellectual world of ideology to the world of real-life relationships. Maria represents the love that humanizes Jordan, making possible his transition from a political partisan to one who recognizes the worth of the individual. For Maria, Jordan's love is the healing touch she needs to cure the psychic wounds inflicted upon her by her former captors.

    Other kinds of love also are discussed in the novel. Many of the peasants in the guerrilla band demonstrate a fierce love of the land that supports their involvement in this brutal war. Jordan's love of liberty has brought him to Spain to fight for the Republican cause. The anguish of Pablo's band as the guerrillas listen to the attack on El Sordo's camp reflects the love among comrades. And Pilar's concern for Maria's happiness and well-being is a kind of maternal love that plays a part in Maria's healing process.

  4. DEATH

    In Hemingway's novels, heroes are often involved in activities that risk death- in fact, they might be said to court death. Robert Jordan is no exception, and from the beginning of For Whom the Bell Tolls death is a palpable presence. Jordan's job as demolition expert is filled with danger, and there are numerous foreshadowings of his fate, such as the death of Kashkin, his predecessor, and the troubling information Pilar reads in his palm (but won't divulge).

    Death also is linked to the novel's major theme of interdependency. The deaths that occur during the story as well as Kashkin's, which occurs before the novel opens, affect the lives of others. Kashkin's death, for example, affects Jordan and the members of the guerrilla band. El Sordo's death has serious consequences for the members of the camp. Jordan is haunted by the deaths of his father and grandfather. And Jordan's decision to hold off his own death by not committing suicide is made in order to save the lives of the others who are trying to flee the enemy. Just as one man's life can have a strong effect on those around him, so his death can have similar consequences.


    Examples of hypocrisy abound in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Prime among them are the Loyalist leaders themselves, many of whom are incompetent and uncaring. They exploit their positions in order to attain a level of comfort and self-indulgence in the midst of war.

    Many of the leaders who were supposed to have sprung directly from the Spanish peasantry at the beginning of the war are not really genuine, and in fact some have been imported.

    In his musings, Jordan admits that he doesn't really believe all the things he says he believes in order to justify his involvement in the war.

    The communist slogans that Joaquin mouths as El Sordo's band is being besieged provide further examples of a philosophy that does not seem to work, yet is regarded by many as sacred.

    The crowning touch is Andre Marty, the visiting French communist leader. Although many regard him with awe, his incompetence regularly sends men to their death- while career officers stand around and do nothing about it. He embodies both tactical bungling and self-centered hypocrisy.



    From the beginning of the story, when Pilar "reads" Robert Jordan's hand, there are hints at an unseen, unavoidable force in control of events. It would be easy for Jordan to dismiss what Pilar sees as mere superstition. But he doesn't, even though he claims not to believe in such things; what she may have seen of his future concerns him a great deal.


    Hemingway did not coin the term code hero. It evolved from the attempts of critics to describe the type of protagonist Hemingway frequently placed in his novels.

    "Code" here means a set of rules or guidelines for conduct. The principal ideals in the code are honor, courage, and stoic endurance through stress, misfortune, and pain. The hero's world is often violent and disorderly; moreover, the violence and disorder seem to prevail.

    The code dictates that the hero act honorably even in the midst of what will be a losing battle. In doing so, he finds fulfillment. He achieves or proves his manhood and his worth. The term "grace under pressure" is often used to describe the conduct of the Hemingway code hero. Robert Jordan fits this mold in many ways, although he is more introspective, more thoughtful, and less physical than other Hemingway heroes (such as Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises and Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not).


    On the surface, religion does not come across favorably in the pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Characters like Lieutenant Berrendo order atrocities and utter prayers almost in the same breath. One character, Joaquin, reveals the conflict that many of the characters underwent as their own religious beliefs were forcibly replaced with communist theories. He returns to his Roman Catholic prayers just as he thinks death is near.

    Some readers feel that Hemingway is criticizing religion as an emotional "band-aid." But others say that his portrayal of religion suggests that a relationship with God is built into the human condition, and that neither evil nor official atheism can eradicate it.


Rarely have authors become so identified with a particular writing style or with the word "style" itself as Ernest Hemingway. Many writers have attempted to "write like Hemingway." Few have succeeded.

To many readers, the essential characteristic of the Hemingway style is simplicity and precision of word choice. That description, while accurate, can be deceptive.

"Simplicity" is not the same thing as short, grammatically simple sentences. "Precision of word choice" does not mean an abundance of unusual words in order to achieve precision. And Hemingway's style cannot so easily be explained as in his own often quoted advice (which needs to be taken with a grain of salt!) to write the story and then remove the adjectives and adverbs.

At the conclusion of For Whom the Bell Tolls, you will have a distinct picture of the places, the objects, the people in the story. If you diagrammed or sketched them, they might be somewhat different from another reader's mental picture. That's inevitable. It's the distinctness- giving the reader the feeling of being there- which is Hemingway's literary feat.

Beyond question this effect is achieved by a heavy use of nouns and verbs. If there is an object in the scene he is relating, Hemingway will mention it. If a character moves, Hemingway will mention it.

It is true that Hemingway often leaves the adjectives and adverbs to the reader. The resulting effect is all the more vivid and memorable. An excellent example is the description of the sights and smells both inside and outside the cave, at the opening of Chapter 5. At the same time, Hemingway does not avoid modifiers altogether. A good example is the description of Joaquin when he is first introduced at the beginning of Chapter 11.

Much has been made of Hemingway's dialogue, through which you get the feeling of being at the scene. Yet when the dialogue is transferred to the motion picture screen, directors have had to be careful to keep it from sounding stilted and formal, because its effectiveness does not depend on reproducing the exact words (including the "uh's" and "er's") that people utter in real life. Hemingway also doesn't often punctuate his dialogue with italics, capital letters, ellipses (...), and exclamation points to suggest emphasis. The effectiveness lies in stating with utmost simplicity the heart of what the characters mean.

In general, however, For Whom the Bell Tolls is often regarded as somewhat of a stylistic departure from Hemingway's earlier novels, such as The Sun Also Rises. Earlier works relied more heavily on colloquial dialogue to communicate action and rarely included lengthy descriptive passages. Some experts have suggested that in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway was responding to criticisms of his style. In this, his longest novel, he inserted lengthy lyric passages that describe the countryside, portrayed the mind of Robert Jordan with extended interior monologues, and replaced flowing conversation with a sometimes stilted attempt to reproduce the Spanish language. The leanness of the prose in his earlier novels- which prompted critics to call him a major literary innovator- was thus sacrificed for what some consider pretentiousness, but what others see as brave and successful strides in experimentation. Those who disliked his work in For Whom the Bell Tolls were pleased when he returned to a simpler, terser style in works like The Old Man and the Sea.

* * *

Stylistic features peculiar to For Whom the Bell Tolls should be noted. They concern Hemingway's deliberate attempt to reproduce in English the flavor of the Spanish language.

Spanish (like other languages) preserves a special second-person singular pronoun and related verb form such as English formerly had (thou, thy, thee). This form is used in speaking to another person in a familiar manner. Hemingway uses the antiquated English form to better approximate the speech of his Spanish characters. Readers differ in their reactions to this device. Some find it awkward and distracting. Others find that it begins to sound natural after a while. You'll recognize other English sentences that display strange word order or style, such as "That this thing of the bridge may succeed." This kind of construction is also an attempt to capture the flavor of the Spanish language.

Both Hemingway's actual Spanish and his attempt to render the flavor of Spanish in English have been criticized as frequently inaccurate by people who know Spanish better than he did. An exiled Loyalist commander, Gustavo Duran, read the manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls before it was published and was critical of Hemingway's Spanish, although impressed by the story. A more contemporary Spanish critic has called the language abstract when it should be concrete (to properly mirror real Spanish) and solemn when it should be simple.

Hemingway also tries to convey the extremely physical and earthy- often crude- dialogue of Spanish peasants (particularly when they are upset with each other). Today, when there is very little censorship in the publishing industry, there would be no problem in printing the exact English equivalent of what Hemingway wanted his Spanish characters to say. But in 1940 there was a problem in using obscenities.

One of Hemingway's solutions was simply to quote the original Spanish word or phrase. It's then up to the reader to check with a Spanish/English dictionary to learn how crudely someone has insulted someone else.

A second method was to employ an all-purpose and acceptable English word that at least suggests the original. Anselmo, in his early tirade about Pablo's negative attitude, says: "I this and that in the this and that of thy father. I this and that and that in thy this." On several occasions one character advises another to "Go unprint thyself."


There are many ways for a writer to tell a story. Point of view depends in part on the author's decision concerning who tells the story. Is it someone intimately involved with the action of the story? Someone who was merely a minor participant? Someone who has an omniscient view of everything and can see into the minds of one or all of the characters?

Hemingway considered the first-person point-of-view (in which one of the story's characters narrates the action) effective but limited. He said that it took him a while to master the third-person omniscient point-of-view used in For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which the narrator knows everything and reports the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters.

Most of the time, Robert Jordan is at the center of the scene, and it is his thoughts that we listen in on. But there are exceptions. Chapter 15, for example, spotlights Anselmo and his soul searching. In Chapter 27, El Sordo reveals the thoughts that occupy his last hours. These occasional departures from Jordan's consciousness serve to create a fuller, more rounded picture of the world the novel portrays.


For Whom the Bell Tolls is a finely crafted novel that builds to a powerful climax. The novel covers approximately sixty-eight hours, outlined as follows:

  • first day late afternoon to midnight 6 to 8 hours
  • second day complete 24 hours
  • third day complete 24 hours
  • fourth day midnight to afternoon 15 to 17 hours

The technique of flashback is used sparingly but effectively. The most notable example is in Chapter 10, where Pilar describes the brutality that Pablo inflicted on the leading men of a Nationalist town his band had taken. Strictly speaking, this is indirect flashback, since it comes through Pilar's narration, rather than through a directly presented scene.

Other significant flashbacks include Jordan's painful recollection in Chapter 30 of his father's suicide and Maria's moving account in Chapter 31 of her abuse at the hands of Nationalist soldiers.

Hemingway heightens the suspense in the final chapters (33 to 43) by devoting alternating chapters to two strands of the story line. The odd-numbered chapters are devoted to Jordan at the scene of the demolition. The even-numbered chapters (with the exception of 38) feature Andres on his mission to find Golz and deliver Jordan's dispatch.

The bridge, described masterfully as "solid flung metal grace" forms the center of the novel. Few readers find the bridge itself to be symbolic, but the entire action of the novel radiates from it- it is the reason Jordan has come to the guerilla camp, it is important to both sides at this point in the war, and the decision to blow it up is a matter of intense controversy among the Republicans hiding in the mountains. Virtually every movement in the novel is directed toward or away from the bridge and is occasioned by the plan to blow it up.



ECC [For Whom the Bell Tolls Contents] []

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