“For Whom the Bell Tolls” was written by Ernest Hemingway and published in 1940. The story is set during the Spanish Civil War and is about a young man, Robert Jordan, who was assigned to compete for a mission to blow up a bridge. He was an American who taught Spanish at a University in the middle of the country. He was also part of the International Brigades, a group of communists volunteers who helped Spain gain its independence. The Spanish Civil War was a battle between democracy and fascism. Ultimately, fascism won and General Francisco Franco ruled Spain for the next thirty-six years.
Robert Jordan is attached to a guerrilla squad and is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia, Spain. The squad is comprised of a variety of personalities, including, Maria, who has had her life shattered by the Fascist troops. The two fall in love and Robert begins to doubt the wisdom of the battle to come.
Never the less, Robert and his group manage to blow up the bridge even though they have lost the detonator and some of the dynamite, so they have to be closer to the explosion than is safe. Many of the men are killed, but Robert and Maria, with a few more people escape.
Suddenly, Robert’s horse is shot by a sniper and falls on him, breaking his leg. He tells them to go on without him and asks Augustin to take care of Maria. Then, the story ends with him waiting to ambush the coming fascist troops and buy more time for his squad departure.
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” opens with an epigraph by John Donne. The quotation is a poem titled, “No Man is an Island”. The content covers the fact that every person is a part of the whole of mankind. “Every man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind”. Donne says that when we hear a funeral bell ring, not to just ask who is dead, but to realize it rings for us all.
The first scene shows a young man, Robert Jordan, an American university instructor, who is fighting on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War in 1837. He is being guided by an old peasant, Anselmo, to behind enemy lines so he can join a small group of guerrilla fighters that are near a bridge that Robert has been told to blow up. Before they get to the camp of the squad, Anselmo raises ahead to warn the men about the stranger they are about to bring into their midst. While he is waiting for Anselmo’s return, Robert is thinking about the upcoming job, and who gave him the assignment. General Golz and he had discussed the importance of blowing up this bridge the night before, at length. They both knew it would be a difficult job.
When Anselmo returns, he has Pablo, the leader of the squad with him. Pablo doesn’t trust Robert, and takes an instant dislike to him, especially when Robert gives him his orders, and Pablo is forced to admit he is illiterate. At first, Pablo refuses to help carry the dynamite, but, with Anselmo’s scolding, he finally agrees. Along the way, Robert and Anselmo’s conversations with Pablo lead Robert to think that Pablo’s devotion to the cause may be lessening. The man is so disagreeable, that Robert assumes he will know when the man is ready to betray them because he will become nice. Reaching the camp, the first person Robert meets is Rafael. Then Pilar, Pablo’s mate and Maria, a young girl they rescued from the train they attacked earlier, feed him and the rest of the men dinner. The group is composed of seven men and two women. Pilar makes Robert promise to take Maria with him when he leaves and then reads his palm. She tells him that another squad nearby, led by a man called El Sordo, will be of use with the bridge. Afterward, Robert and Anselmo go to check the bridge.
After inspecting the bridge, the two return to camp where they meet another of Pablo’s group, Augustin. He warns Robert to inspect his explosives before using them. Anselmo says that although he trusts Augustin, he thinks Pablo may be untrustworthy. At the camp, Pablo tells Robert that he has decided not to help with the bridge. But, Pilar still pledges their help, and since she is actually the leader of the squad, they are still going to help. Robert wonders if he shouldn’t kill Pablo. Later, after he goes to sleep outside the cave, he is joined by Maria, who says that she loves him and if he loves her she will sleep with him. He says he does, so they are together the rest of the night.
The next morning Robert is awakened by the sound of enemy planes overhead. He worries that they may have discovered their plans to blow up the bridge. After breakfast, Pilar and Maria take Robert to El Sordo’s camp. El Sordo is almost deaf, so the plans they make with him for the upcoming mission are difficult. But, they must be especially careful because they are supposed to blow up the bridge during the day on Tuesday morning right after the Republican’s begin their aerial bombing attack.
On the way back to their camp, Pilar goes on ahead so Robert and Maria can have some time alone. For the first time, Robert debates with himself the possibility of going back to Montana and taking her as his wife. But, then he wonders if he would be accepted since he is now a communist. Robert thinks about writing a book about all his adventures there and when he tunes back into Maria’s words, she shows him a razor blade that she always carries in case she has captured again and promises to take care of him.
Back at the camp, Pilar wants all the details on Maria’s romance and announces that it will snow, even though it is late May. She’s right, of course, and the snow starts to fall heavily. During this time, Anselmo is on guard duty and is spying on a fascist camp. When Robert and one of the men arrive to relieve him, Robert is impressed that Anselmo never left his post. When the three men return to the camp, Robert is happy to have Maria tend to him, while they all tell war stories around the fire. The men question Robert about his job teaching Spanish and about the American government. During this time, Robert tries to provoke Pablo to a confrontation so he can go ahead and kill the man. But, Pablo refuses to rise to the bait, he just leaves to tend the horses. After overhearing the group planning on killing him that night, Pablo comes back in a casually announces that he will help them with the bridge.
While waiting for the snow to stop falling, Robert daydreams about past exploits and the skirmishes he faced while in Madrid with the Russian journalist, Karkov. The man told Robert that he had read one of Robert’s academic writings and admired his style. At that time, Robert decided to write a book, in the future, about the war. Pilar announces to everyone that Robert is the one who shot Kashkin and that the man had had a premonition he would die. Robert, who is not superstitious, says it was a self-fulfilling prophesy. Then after the snow stops, Robert goes outside the cave to sleep again and is joined by Maria.
The next morning, Robert is awakened by a man coming in on a horse. He sees the man is a fascist and shoots him. Then, he wonders where there guard, Rafael was but is not upset when he discovers the man was trapping some rabbits. Robert has Pablo ride the man’s horse away from the camp so his tracks will not lead the fascist to them. Then, he and some of the men hide. Soon, they see more of the fascist going by, following the tracks. All the men are jumpy, and Robert worries that they are all making too much noise. Later, over breakfast Augustin says that he, too, is in love with Maria, and asks that Robert treats her well. While they are talking, Robert hears a noise in the distance and realizes that El Sordo’s camp is under attack. He tells them all to stay out of it. Even though the men want to help El Sordo, Robert tells them that in war, one must make sacrifices. When Pilar arrives, she agrees with him. Then she says that she will send Maria with the papers they took from the dead fascist.
By the afternoon the snow has melted and Robert is wondering whether he is a true Marxist, since he believes in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But, he does count himself lucky to have met Maria. Meanwhile, the battle continues at the top of the hill. El Sordo’s troops are losing. The story is then told through the eyes of both camps involved, the fascist and the Republicans. Both sides have some men who are tired of fighting and some men who are idealist ready to die for their cause. When the smoke clears, the leader of the fascists, Lieutenant Berrendo, orders his men to cut off all the heads of El Sordo’s squad of guerrillas.
When Anselmo arrives back at the camp after avoiding Lt. Berrendo, and seeing the beheaded corpses, he is told that Pablo had already returned and told them all the story. When Anselmo reports to Robert about all the preparations the fascist are making, Robert writes a letter to the General recommending ceasing the plans for blowing up the bridge and the larger attack planned. He sends one of the men across enemy lines to deliver the message, and Pablo congratulates him on his clear thinking. Robert is almost positive the attack will go on anyway. He’s feeling restless, and he imagines the general is, too. Then when he and Maria turn in for the night, she tells him about her capture and all the atrocities committed against her. He tries to get her to plan their future together, but she reveals that Pilar predicted they would all die the next day, and that angers him.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, Karkov arrives in his hotel where his mistress and wife greet him. He learns from a journalist that Fascist have been bombing their own troops. Karkov is very angry at the amount of information leaking out, and is worried about Robert, who is working under the general in the place that he was just told was under fire. He resolves to wake up at two a. m. and meet with the general.
At two a. m. Pilar wakes Robert with the news that Pablo has left and taken some of the dynamite with him. He is angry because she was supposed to be guarding the explosives, but his anger cools and he goes back to sleep, planning to wake at four a. m. Andres, the rider Robert sent with his message to the general is frantically riding through the countryside. He is happy to be taking the message about stepping back from the planned attack because he is afraid of how much he likes to kill other people. He compares it in his head to bull baiting. When Robert finally awakens, he is angry still because of Pablo. He begins to plan how he can complete his mission with too few men, too few horses, and now too little ammunition. After more time with Maria, Robert meets with Pilar and says that he plans to use grenades in place of the dynamite stolen.
While they are talking, Pablo returns, bringing with him a couple of men. He felt contrition after throwing the dynamite in the river and wants to rejoin them. He believes he and his men, can be of help. Although, they are still angry, they forgive him and are happy to have him back. Although Robert isn’t superstitious, he takes Pablo’s return as a good sign. Pilar even recognizes two of the men that have joined their squad. Andres is still having difficulty in getting the message through to the general. The military checkpoints are numerous. Finally, he reaches Captain Gomez, who is the commander of the battalion. Gomez takes him to the next step up the chain of command, Lieutenant-Colonel Miranda. But, before he can meet with him, he must get past the man’s secretary. It takes Gomez holding a gun to the man’s throat for him to finally agree to wake the Lieutenant-Colonel. Miranda orders the man to write a pass for Andres immediately so he can get through to the general. Then he orders Gomez to escort Andres all the way to General Golz’s headquarters.
Robert and his group leave their horses near where they are to blow up the bridge. He leaves Maria to keep an eye on them, and once again ensures Pilar knows her job, which irritates her. Then he gives Maria an awkward goodbye. Then Robert, Anselmo, and Augustin separate from the rest of the squad and head toward the bridge they are planning on blowing up. Robert stations Anselmo with the machine gun and tells him how to shoot one of the guards. Then he takes up his own position to wait until the sun comes up.
Finally, Captain Gomez and Andres reach the command headquarters and the general’s office, but before they can get to him, they have to get through Andre Marty, who is a military adviser. Unfortunately, Andre has become paranoid and orders the two men arrested. Here is where the narrator points out that the general’s army is so badly organized that even if Andres had not been arrested, they still couldn’t have stopped the mission. When Karkov discovers the arrest, he uses his clout to have the men released. They take the missive to Duval, who is the general’s chief of staff. He considers stopping the mission himself, but can’t decide whether it would be a good idea. Whether they would benefit, or not. Finally, the missive reaches the hands of General Golz, but it is too late. The bombing has already begun.
The quiet morning is suddenly interrupted for Robert and his squad. The bombing is the signal they have been waiting for. He and Anselmo shoot the two guards, then the stick the explosives to the bridge near the end. When Robert and Anselmo begin to stick the explosives to the other end of the bridge, Pilar shows up. One of her men is dead and the other is mortally wounded. He convinces them to leave him with a gun to guard the explosives. Anselmo patiently waits for Robert to finish with the set up on the far end of the bridge. Then when a car heads across he releases the charge, blowing the bridge. He is killed by falling debris. Robert is angry at the loss of life, especially Anselmo, but Pilar helps him to release his anger.
Maria is keeping the horses from bolting with the noise from the explosion. She is worried, but when Pilar shouts that Robert is safe she feels relief. Robert stops to gather Augustin who has been manning the machine gun when Pablo returns. He says that all his men are dead, and Augustin accuses him of killing them. He does not deny it. The group reaches Maria, and Robert and she embrace. Then they all get on their horses and leave. Suddenly, a sniper shoots Robert’s horse and it falls on his leg, breaking it. He tells them to all go on without him, and Augustin offers to shoot him so he cannot be taken, prisoner. Robert declines the offer but asks him to take care of Maria.
Robert is laying on the forest floor, waiting for the fascist troops to find him. He thinks about how much he has learned, and how much life he has lived in the last three days. Then Robert considers killing himself but wants to take out as many of the enemy as he can before he dies. Finally, he can hear the troops riding towards him. He sees Lieutenant Berrendo leading the mounted soldiers and thinks about him beheading all of El Sordo’s men. The story ends with his aiming for the Lieutenant’s chest.
Robert Jordan – the protagonist of the story. Robert was a professor from a university in Montana where he taught Spanish. He is a volunteer with the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. He is also a communist in the nineteen thirties. The book covers his oscillating emotions between whether the war is a good idea or a bad idea.
Robert is a munitions expert and is brought on to blow up a bridge in Segovia, Spain and slow the Fascist troop movement down when the Republican’s launch their attack on the city. He was recruited while living in Madrid by a charismatic communist journalist. When Robert meets the guerrillas he is supposed to work with, and falls in love with Maria, a woman who they rescued, he begins to question the point of the conflict. In the end, he gives his life to keep her safe and goes down fighting.
Maria – Robert’s love interest. When he meets her, she is the survivor of an attack by the Fascist troops. She was rescued in an attack on the train by the guerrillas she is now with. Maria watched both parents murdered and then is repeatedly raped before being taken on the train. They also cut off all her hair, which is an embarrassment to her the first time she meets Robert. She falls in love with him instantly and the first night has sex with him, declaring her love. By the second night, she claims they are married and wears her ‘marriage shirt’ to bed. Her movements are always quick and Robert refers to her as his “Rabbit” quite often.
Anselmo – an old Spaniard. He is Robert’s trusted companion among the guerrillas. He often questions the killing involved in a war. He doesn’t like to kill people. Also, he had stopped following his religion with prayer since the communists banned organized religion, and he misses it. He dies in the end, bravely, in touch with the earth.
Pilar – the mother figure of the group of guerrillas. She is the “wife” of Pablo, who thinks he is the leader of the group, but she is actually the leader. The men obey her. She tends their wounds, cooks for them and fights beside them. She is written as part gypsy so she can read palms and tell the future.
Pablo – the quasi-leader of the band of guerrillas. He is tired of fighting and unsure of the validity of the war. Because of the losses he has suffered and the atrocities he has seen, Pablo has begun to drink and therefore has become unreliable. Throughout the book, Pablo is just on the edge of betraying them all to the Fascist. His only true love is his horses.
Karkov – Robert’s friend, he recruited Robert to the cause. He is a charismatic journalist who takes Robert under his wing. Robert thinks he is the most intelligent man he has ever known, especially when he talks about abstract philosophy, and how it is superior to action and intuition. Although Robert seems to idolize the man, the reader also sees his weaknesses. He travels with his mistress and his wife, bringing the two of them into a war zone.
Ernest Hemingway Biography
Born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899, Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American novelist and short-story writer most famous for his works, “The Sun Also Rises”, “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, and, of course, “A Farewell To Arms”. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 and published, in his lifetime, seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. Some additional works of his were published posthumously.
Hemingway drew heavily on his experiences as an avid hunter, fisherman and bullfight enthusiast in his novels. His style is characterized by laconic dialogue and emotional understatement. Many of his novels are regarded as classic American literature and some of his some of them have been made into motion pictures.
Hemingway was raised in Oak Park, Illinois and became a reporter for the Kansas City Star, but left his job within a few months to serve as a volunteer ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. He later transferred to the Italian infantry and was severely wounded. He worked as a correspondent for the Toronto Star after the war and then settled in Paris. While there he befriended other American expatriate writers like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein who encouraged him in his writing.
During World War II, Hemingway became a correspondent for the US First Army. Although he was not a soldier, he participated in several battles. After the war, he moved to Havana, Cuba and then eventually to Ketchum, Idaho. But Ernest Hemingway appears to have had his own personal sadness and after a lifetime of heavy drinking committed suicide in 1961 with a shotgun. He is buried in Ketchum, Idaho.