|In June 1937, Ernest Hemingway addressed the Second Congress of
American Writers at Carnegie Hall in New York City. His subject was
the Spanish Civil War, which had started in 1936 and which he had
observed first-hand for some months as a correspondent of the North
American Newspaper Alliance. In his speech, which was warmly
received by the audience, Hemingway spoke of his deep hatred for the
fascist forces trying to overthrow the Republican government in Spain,
particularly for the way they suppressed artists, notably writers.
"Really good writers are always rewarded under almost any existing
system of government that they can tolerate," Hemingway said in his
speech. "There is only one form of government that cannot produce good
writers, and that system is fascism. For fascism is a lie told by
bullies. A writer who will not lie cannot live and work under
Hemingway's apparent devotion to the Republican cause in this war
was greeted with cheers by liberals in the United States. Here was
Ernest Hemingway, a famous novelist, declaring his allegiance to their
cause! His pledge of support seemed particularly welcome, since he had
long resisted public political commitment of any kind and had been
criticized for his reluctance to become involved in the important
issues of the day. Now he had thrown himself into the midst of the
Hemingway returned to Spain to watch the battle rage, and he
became increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Republicans to
hold their own against the fascist rebels. He was also sickened by the
corruption and ineptness of Republicans and Nationalists alike. He
called this situation "the carnival of treachery and rottenness on
both sides," and was especially critical of the military leaders.
Hemingway decided that he could best serve the Republican cause by
writing about the war as honestly as possible. "The hell with war
for awhile," he said, "I want to write." The result of his creative
urge was the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, which was published in
1940, the year after the Republicans had lost the war.
* * *
For someone who lived his adult years with bold, muscular strokes in
public view across three continents, Hemingway's early life was
relatively uneventful. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb
of Chicago, on July 21, 1899. His mother was artistic and cultured,
and might have followed a career as an opera singer. She tried to urge
Ernest to develop musical inclinations, but with no results. His great
love was the outdoors, the appreciation of which he learned from his
father, a physician, who relished fishing, hunting, and the lore of
the woods. Ernest acquired ideals of endurance, physical prowess,
and courage that later show up in his writing and his life.
When he was graduated from high school in 1917, Hemingway had no
desire to go to college. His interest was World War I, which had
been raging for three years. He wanted to participate before the
fighting ended, but he was met by disappointment. At first Hemingway's
father refused to let him enlist, and when his father finally
relented, the American armed forces rejected Hemingway for poor vision
in one eye.
Hemingway then worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star for six
months until he found a way to participate in the war- as an ambulance
driver with the American Red Cross. By June 1918 he was at the front
lines in Italy. During a furious Austrian shelling of Italian
troops, he carried a wounded soldier to safety, but was struck along
the way by pieces of mortar shrapnel.
The Italian government decorated Hemingway for his heroism,
newspapers printed glowing stories, and a hero's welcome awaited him
in Oak Park. But Hemingway was nonetheless plagued by rejection in
other areas: He had fallen in love with Agnes von Kurowsky, a nurse
who had cared for him in an Italian hospital, but in 1919 she broke
off their relationship. And his determination to be a writer was
dampened by rejection slips from one magazine after another.
Coloring almost everything was his disillusionment with the values
he had learned while growing up. His experience in the war overseas
had changed his outlook, and he became more and more estranged from
his parents. In Europe he encountered cynicism about the war, not
patriotism, and there was an overwhelming loss of hope and belief in
In September 1921, Hemingway married Hadley Richardson. The couple
moved to Paris, where Hemingway served as a correspondent for The
Toronto Star. Paris was a gathering place for American expatriates-
people who chose to live away from their homeland, mostly because they
were disillusioned or confused about their lives and their country.
One writer dubbed these rootless people "the lost generation."
Hemingway's desire to be a full-time writer of fiction was still
unfulfilled. Manuscript after manuscript was turned down by
publishers. Another devastating blow came in December 1923 when a
suitcase containing almost everything he had written was stolen and
But in 1924 a small collection of his short stories, in our time,
was published in Paris. In 1925, retitled with capitals, In Our Time
was published in the United States and ultimately received high
critical praise. His terse, direct style (developed in part by his
need to use as few words as possible as a foreign correspondent) and
his ability to articulate intense, complex emotions without flowery
excess, was greeted with warm welcome by many critics, who saw him
as helping initiate a departure from the verbal indulgences of many
writers of the 19th century. Hemingway further polished his style in
his first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926). The book, a telling
depiction of life among American expatriates in Europe, was warmly
received by both critics and the reading public.
In 1927, Hemingway divorced Hadley and married Pauline Pfeiffer, a
writer for Vogue magazine. They moved to Key West, Florida, where he
worked on A Farewell to Arms (1929) and Pauline gave birth to the
first of their two sons. Just as he was completing the final draft
of A Farewell to Arms, which would bring him even more critical and
financial success, he learned that his father- despondent and ill with
diabetes- had shot himself to death. Hemingway considered suicide a
cowardly act, and never forgave his father for it. Yet the suicide
would ultimately have a grim echo in Hemingway's own life.
The 1930s brought Hemingway adventure and broad, bold experiences.
He indulged his love for deep-sea fishing off the coast of Florida and
hunting in the American West and Africa. Always seeking intense
physical experience, Hemingway spoke with awe about the thrill of
the "clean kill." He wrote many magazine articles that glorified these
brawny adventures, until the public generally identified him with
the image of the hearty and rugged outdoorsman. Hemingway wrote two
nonfiction books during this period, Death in the Afternoon (1932),
which honored the ritual of the bullfight, and Green Hills of Africa
(1935), detailing the glory of an African safari.
The Great Depression and other world problems helped develop a new
side of Hemingway. Because the heroes in Hemingway's novels had been
loners, independent and aloof from the problems of the masses, the
generally left-leaning writers of the time disdained him and his
outlook. That's one major reason why Hemingway was cheered so heartily
in his address in 1937 to the Congress of American Writers: this was a
new, politically committed Ernest Hemingway!
Hemingway's zeal for the Republican, or Loyalist, cause was revealed
in actions as well as words. He accompanied both regular Republican
army groups and guerrilla bands as a correspondent. He spent time in
the Spanish cities, in the countryside, in the mountains. He also
bought ambulances for the Loyalists, and helped prepare a pro-Loyalist
documentary film, The Spanish Earth.
There was another aspect of Hemingway that lured him to the scene of
battle- his love of conflict itself. It would be simplistic to say
that Hemingway glorified war, as some have charged. He was as sickened
by its cruelty and waste as anyone could be. Yet he was also excited
by what he saw as the more positive aspects of battle- courage,
camaraderie, loyalty, dedication to a cause. According to one
observer, Hemingway was "attracted by danger, death, great deeds";
another said he was "revived and rejuvenated" by seeing those who
refused to surrender, no matter what the odds. Hemingway was also
buoyed by what he called "the pleasant, comforting stench of comrades"
fighting together for a common goal. Instincts similar to those that
drew him to a bullfight or to the stalking of wild game sharpened
his senses during the Spanish Civil War.
It is the conflicting impulses of attraction and repulsion that
create much of the tension in For Whom the Bell Tolls. The publication
of the novel was greeted with acclaim by some, but with disdain by
others. Some liberals and some conservatives were angered because they
felt Hemingway had betrayed them by not writing a novel that favored
their respective political outlook. But Hemingway responded, "In
stories about the war I try to show all the different sides of it,
taking it slowly and honestly and examining it in many ways. So
never think one story represents my viewpoint because it is much too
complicated for that."
For Whom the Bell Tolls was a great commercial success. Paramount
Pictures acquired the film rights for $150,000, an astronomical sum at
the time. Hemingway stipulated who the principal actors should be- the
very popular Gary Cooper would be Robert Jordan, the main figure in
the novel, and the rising star Ingrid Bergman would be Maria, the
guerrilla with whom Jordan falls in love.
In the later 1940s and 50s, the novel's critical standing declined
compared with some of Hemingway's other works. Readers noted
inaccuracies in the use of Spanish in For Whom the Bell Tolls. They
criticized details of the presentation of Spanish culture, such as the
scene where Agustin, a Spanish guerrilla, asks Jordan about Maria's
sexual performance. Such curiosity would violate a strict Spanish code
of decorum. Other readers said the relationship between Jordan and
Maria lacked credibility.
In more recent times the novel has regained critical stature. Some
regard it as Hemingway's finest achievement. And few doubt the
personal passion and experience he brought to its writing.
How objective a reporter was Hemingway? Can you read For Whom the
Bell Tolls as an accurate picture of Spain during the civil war?
Opinions vary. His war correspondence itself has received labels
that range from "stirring accounts" to "a kind of sub-fiction in which
he was the central character."
In For Whom the Bell Tolls he was objective enough to point out
deficiencies of the Republican side and to write vividly of the
atrocities they committed. He could also show the enemy in a favorable
light. For instance, in the novel's final scene, the representative of
the Nationalists, Lieutenant Berrendo, is not an odious barbarian
but a richly human character for whom you may feel considerable
The famous British writer George Orwell, whose books include 1984
and Animal Farm, was another of the many leading writers who became
actively involved in the Spanish Civil War. He wrote Homage to
Catalonia (1938), a detailed recollection of experiences with one of
the Loyalist organizations. You might want to compare the fictional
details of For Whom the Bell Tolls with Orwell's account of the way he
saw the war. You will also learn about the war by reading Arthur
Koestler's Spanish Testament (1937), a vivid account of the writer's
imprisonment by Nationalist forces. Man's Hope (1938), by the noted
French intellectual Andre Malraux, is considered a masterly
depiction of early stages of the war. In addition, several
historical works on the Spanish Civil War contain a wealth of
material. Such studies include books by Gabriel Jackson (1965), Hugh
Thomas (1977), and Peter Wyden (1983).
Hemingway's second marriage ended in divorce in 1940, and he married
Martha Gellhorn, a writer and foreign correspondent during the Spanish
Civil War. For Whom the Bell Tolls is dedicated to her.
World War II (1939-45) captivated Hemingway. Both his finances and
his reputation were solid, and he needed neither the notoriety nor the
money from being a war correspondent. Nevertheless, he took a job as
chief of the European bureau of Collier's magazine. He accompanied the
British Royal Air Force on several bombing raids over occupied
France and crossed the English Channel with American troops on
D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was in the thick of fighting during the
liberation of Paris and the Battle of the Bulge, often seeming as much
a soldier as a correspondent, according to one source.
In 1945, at the age of 46, Hemingway divorced Martha Gellhorn and
married his last wife, Mary Welsh. The couple lived on a luxurious
estate outside Havana, Cuba, until the revolution begun in 1959 by
Fidel Castro forced them to leave.
Hemingway's novel Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) was
eagerly awaited. But when published it was scorned, receiving
biting, almost vicious, reviews. Critics accused Hemingway of
writing self-parody; another claimed to feel "pity, embarrassment,
that so fine and honest a writer can make such a travesty of himself."
It became fashionable to consider Hemingway washed up as a writer.
Returning to Africa to re-create some of the adventures of the
1930s, Hemingway was nearly killed in an airplane crash. But he
survived, and went on to write The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, the
last major work published while he was alive. (A Moveable Feast,
Islands in the Stream, By-line: Ernest Hemingway, and The Dangerous
Summer were published after his death.) The Old Man and the Sea
revived Hemingway's flagging career. He received a Pulitzer Prize
for the book, and it helped him win the prestigious Nobel Prize for
literature in 1954.
In subsequent years the hearty and death-defying Hemingway began
to lose his health. Nothing, including visits to the Mayo Clinic in
Minnesota, was able to restore him to his previous vigor. His
illnesses (including a rare disease that affects the vital organs)
were compounded by severe states of depression.
Did he decide that, if he could not live as aggressively and
boldly as he once had, he would prefer not to live at all? Whatever
the reason, he took his own life at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, on
July 2, 1961. He shot himself with a silver-inlaid shotgun, choosing a
method used by his father years earlier. He thus duplicated an act
that he had denounced as cowardly.
Hemingway the artist left a rich legacy of work that has found a
permanent place in American literature. That he is likely to endure
can be attributed to many factors, but is perhaps best summed up in
his own words, spoken to the Writer's Congress in 1937: "A writer's
problem... is always how to write truly and having found out what is
true to project it in such a way that it becomes part of the
experience of the person who reads it." Hemingway wrote truly, and
he becomes part of everyone who reads him.
THE PLOT (HFORPLOT)
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
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
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.
THE CHARACTERS (HFORCHAR)
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
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
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
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
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,
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?
SELECTED MINOR CHARACTERS
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
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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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
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.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (HFORHIST)
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
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
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
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
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
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.
1. RELATIONSHIP OF THE INDIVIDUAL TO MANKIND
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.
2. NATURE OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR
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