The novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is based on Ernest Hemmingway’s own experiences in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. This novel depicts how irony and love get in the way of a war and how devastating these affects can be.
Ernest Hemmingway was born on July 21, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois, and the second of six children. Clarence Hemmingway, his father, was a physician and his mother was a religious woman with a talent for music. When he was young he got the nickname “champ” which he felt it showed his rowdy outdoor sense of adventure. His father loved to hunt so in that he took on that love for hunting and did it often in upper Michigan. When he was in High School he edited the school newspaper, loved playing football and boxing, two things that he was very good at, and ran away from home twice.
After graduation he went to Kansas City to try to get into the army for World War I. the only problem was that the army rejected every attempt he made because of permanent eye damage from his years of boxing. Finally giving in to the army’s rejections, he added a year to his age and applied for a job as a reporter for the Kansas City Star. While working at the star, he kept trying to participate in the war, finally succeeding when he joined a volunteer Red Cross ambulance unit as a driver. In 1918 he was seriously injured at Fossalta on the Piave River. He had to get twelve operations and an aluminum kneecap; in return he was awarded two Italian Decorations. After a long time of recuperation in Milan, He once again joined the Italian infantry to fight another round.
The experiences Hemmingway had here gave a base for his lifelong fascination with war. Surviving World War I, he later fought in the Greek-Turkish war as well in 1920. What we might not expect is that he also went through World War II and the Spanish Civil War in 1937, the setting for For Whom the Bell Tolls. In 1928, Hemmingway’s dad committed suicide for now apparent reason. He did not reflect on this event in his writing until the thoughts of Robert Jordan, the main character in For Whom The Bell Tolls, in 1940. The Spanish Civil War followed the failure of a military to overthrow Spain’s democratically elected government. The war divided Spain both geographically and ideologically and it brought to power General Francisco Franco who ruled Spain from the end of the war until his death in 1975.
After the Spanish American War, Spain lost the remainder of its once great nation. This defeat increased dissatisfaction and the demands for change grew. People disagreed on the changes needed, and Spanish politics became grew stronger. In 1936 the Republic was in power of Spain. A rebellion led by Francisco Franco and the Second Republic began and they received lots of support for the people of Spain. They were known as the rebels. Robert Jordan fights on the side of the Loyalists in this novel, as did many Americans and other foreign volunteers, known as the International Brigades. As well as support from the people, the Second Republic had support from Germany and Italy. In the end these forces proved too much to handle for the Loyalists, and the war was lost to the Second Republic.
The novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is the story of Robert Jordan, an American college Spanish professor fighting for the cause with the loyalists as an expert in demolition. The book starts with a flashback of a conversation between Robert Jordan and General Golz, a Russian officer who is directing the forthcoming attack. Jordan is carrying explosives and his mission is to blow up a bridge. Golz is interested in the offensive mainly as a military maneuver and he needs Jordan to blow up a bridge to hinder rebel reinforcements. He knows that Jordan will have to get the help of an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains and he is cynical because he feels that the Spaniards will only get in the way.
Next Jordan arrives at the guerilla’s hideout in the mountains. Pablo, the guerilla leader, resents the fact that a foreigner has come to fun the show for a little while. It puts Pablo in an inferior position where he is no longer the spokesman of the group. Irony is a major theme in this novel and is illustrated frequently in the thoughts and actions of its characters. Pablo is interested only in the safety of himself and his band and Jordan’s military plans are of little importance to him.
Anselmo is also introduced in the first chapter. Anslemo is an important character in that he is one of the few people that Robert Jordan trusts. He is an elderly man, but totally committed to the cause. He in turn places his trust in Jordan.
Robert Jordan has here to fore been shown as an excellent soldier. He is skilled in his work, dedicated, determined to carry out his orders, he is willing to sacrifice himself and others for the good of the cause. In chapter 3 there is resentment when he comes to terms with the fact that the manner in which his mission is to be carried out is very unorthodox and is so highly dangerous. He begins to feel that perhaps a cause isn’t worth sacrificing people for but he brushes the idea aside, not wanting to “think such thoughts”.(p.41 Robert Jordan)In Chapter 4, there is a confrontation between Jordan and Pablo and in it, Pablo announces that he doesn’t want to blow up the bridge. Pilar, Pablo’s wife and one of the only other people that Jordan feels he can trust, sides with Jordan. And with that the rest of the band sides with her, feeling that Pablo has “gone bad” (p 56). Pablo is homesick, tired of the war and scared of getting killed, by his own men at the battle of the bridge. Jordan wrestles with the idea of whether or not he should have killed Pablo in the confrontation but is reassured by Pilar that he was right not to. In spite of all attempts to maintain a professional attitude toward his work and the remain detached from any emotional involvement, Robert Jordan finds himself falling in love with Maria. Jordan’s battle within himself has now passed the beginning stage. He talks to Pilar about his sense of duty but he acknowledges the fact that he cares very much for Maria. It begins to become obvious to all the characters that their enemy is better organized, has more support, is better equipped, and really cannot be defeated. It is becoming less obvious to them that the cause is worth all of their lives and the lives of the others like them.
Chapter 10 serves the purpose of displaying how, in war, the good guys, can be just as cruel as the bad guys. Hemmingway recounts the executions of several members of the Second Republic.
“There were more than twenty. But none was shot” “What was done?” “Pablo had them all beaten to death with flails and thrown from the top of the cliff into the river.” Pilar went on to describe the gruesome way in which the fascists were forced to run the gauntlet to the edge of the cliff, where they were then thrown off. Some of the men went screaming and crying, begging for mercy, some had to be dragged, near paralyzed with terror.
In chapter 13 Jordan’s battle within himself has gotten bigger. He wants to live out a normal life with Maria as his wife and he does not want to die for a cause. He argues bitterly with himself and he becomes disgusted with the politics of both sides. He admits to himself for the first time that he is in love with Maria, and his love has made him see things clearly. He has finally met someone he truly loves and in less than four days he must blow up this bridge and probably die. The urgency of his desire for Maria shows his fear that they have little time left. That fear is shown again when Jordan wakes up one night and holds her tightly as if he were afraid of losing her.
It soon comes to Robert Jordan’s attention that the plans for the attack have been leaked to the fascists. He sends a message to General Golz. Asking to call off the attack. Jordans longing to stay alive grows and , aware of this, he tries to make sure that the message he sends to Golz doesn’t sound like he merely wishes the attack to be called off for personal reasons. He entertains the idea that the offensive could be merely a diversionary tactic to draw enemy troops away from another front. If that were the case, then he had little hope that the attack would be canceled, for fascist knowledge of the attack would mean little to Golz.
In chapter 30 Jordans father committed suicide. This is the first time Ernest Hemmingway ever reflected on the suicide on his father in his writing. Maria’s father was the mayor of her town and that her mother was not a Republican, but was loyal to her husband. Both were killed by a Falangist firing squad. We know also that Maria was a captive of a vicious group of fascists before she was rescued by Pablo’s band, and that she was raped repeatedly by her captors.
The battle at the bridge has grown more and more hopeless up to this point. It has snowed so much that the fascists would be able to follow their tracks.
Jordan awakes to Pilar shaking him. Quickly he returns to reality when he learns that Pablo has vanished taking all the explosives and their means of escape with him. He is terribly discouraged but assures Pilar that he can find another way to set off the explosives at the bridge. Jordan is furious with himself for forgetting that Pablo would only be friendly in order to betray him. He becomes furious with Spain and with both sides of the fight. He decides that they will be able to blow the bridge, but that they will die doing it, as Pablo and his horses were there only source of escape.
Chapter 37 shows Jordan and Maria’s last intimate moments together. He feels as if he has spent his whole life at this cave, that the guerrillas are his brothers, and that Maria is his wife.
The scene in the cave before the fight is one of nervous despair. The men are riddled with angst and are snapping at eachother. Jordans plan which he had thought up the night before doesn’t seem like such a great one now that morning is near. The situation has become worse. He doesn’t have enough men to overcome the enemy guard post, and he has lost the equipment necessary to blow the bridge correctly. Suddenly, Pablo reappears, with additional men and horses in tow. Immediately things begin to look better and the task at hand doesn’t look quite so impossible.
Jordan says several times that no one is going to do anything until they hear the offensive begin. The time of the battle finally arrives. It is a bloody and complicated battle where the importance of the individual is needed. First, when Jordan looks at the sentry he must kill, and sees him as a human being-a fact which makes him decided not look at the man until he has to. Then, when Anselmo cry’s over the fact that he just killed a sentry. Finally comes the ultimate irony of the novel. Robert Jordan has done everything he should have done and his mission has actually been successful. He is in the process of escaping with Maria and everyone else who is left alive, but he will die but not for the cause, but for true love.