Essays and Criticism
A Linguistic Analysis of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
Many critics have pointed out that Hemingway’s language in For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the weaknesses of the book. His language was intended to be the intimate expression of the intellectual hero Jordan and also to present the local idiom of the Spanish fighters. Some argue that the meditations of Jordan are turgid and the “Platonic language composed of the Spanish idiom, the Bible, and the Elizabethans . . . is . . . Weighed down with overmuch local color.”(1) Hemingway attempts, through language, to capture the spirit of a nation and, despite any weaknesses in his style, the contrast between Jordan’s inner thoughts, when he reflects in his native English, and the formal archaic language of the guerillas, which represents a contrast in cultures.
There is also, however, the contrast between the archaic language in the conversations between Jordan and Maria, Anselmo and Fernando, and the vulgarity of Pilar and Agustin. The relationship between Jordan and Maria is one of love; that between Jordan and Anselmo one of mutual respect and a basic dislike for killing; and Fernando represents the dignified Spaniard who still reveres pride, manners and honor. The exchanges between these four in the archaic dialogue suggest:
another time when life was simpler, personalized by “thee” and “thou,” a time when human dignity seemed assured.(2)
The present time is represented in the vulgar speech of Pilar and Agustin, reminding that these are harsh days.
Jordan speaks Spanish fluently, although he continues to think in his native tongue. Thus, a division is drawn between his sharing a language and a cause with the guerillas and his individuality and private mind, in which he expresses his deviations from the Spanish culture and values and affirms his Americanism. In Jordans saying and thinking, a contrast of tongues and a double vision is created.(3) The dichotomy also represents the expression of diverging cultures. Often, his thoughts focus on the language, cultural, and psychological differences between himself and the guerillas.
While Pilar’s language is, in general, blunt and vulgar, she is capable, when relating her history, of speaking eloquently and with great beauty of expression. Thus, she tells of the deaths of the fascists in a village taken over by the guerillas and of her past love affairs. Yet when she returns to the present,...
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An Analysis of Robert Jordan and Frederick Henry
In the characters of Robert Jordan and Frederick Henry, novelist Ernest Hemingway has given us examples of the prototypical existential rebel. These figures are seen as a breed apart, men who have rejected value systems imposed upon them from the outside in favor of action determined from within themselves. In both A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls, “those who adhere to the ideal of self-fullfillment are in the minority, and their very existence becomes intolerable to the majority who follow another course.”(1) This concept is given eloquent expression by Frederick Henry when he concludes, “If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them.” This conflict, then, is basically the “antithesis between the self and the anti-self”(2) and finds its expression both in external events and within the minds of the characters.
In both Jordan and Henry we find men who have left the common path. Jordan leaves his intellectual seclusion to deliberately fight “for all the poor of the world,” while in A Farewell To Arms, “Frederick Henry at first participated in a common adventure, war, but then by deserting he struck out on his own.”(3) In both cases, we find the Hemingway hero distinguishes himself from the commonality, and “in his struggle for a decent life . . . he must conquer old habits and conventions, he must keep free from gilded chains, and to preserve his inner freedom he must assert life by action.”(4) As Henry says after the retreat from Caporetto, “I had seen nothing sacred and the things that were glorious had no glory.” In the case of Jordan, the protagonist finds a cause within himself to which he gives primary importance. As he says to himself, “neither you or this old man is anything, you are instruments to do your duty . . . you have only one thing to do and you must do it.” We see that the price is indeed high but that the debt is to one’s self.
This departure from the common path has its internal effects on both Jordan and Henry. Jordan forces himself to kill, although “he never kills with pleasure but always with reluctance.”(5) He is, as one critic has said, “a true man of action yet wrestling with his own un-communistic honest to God soul.”(6) Another conflict within Jordan’s...
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Robert Jordan as a Hemingway “Code Hero”
Several of Hemingway’s protagonists share qualities that define them as a specific type of character that has come to be known as Hemingway’s “code hero.” The world in which Hemingway’s code heroes find themselves helps to define them. Often the setting is war or some other dangerous arena, like the plains of Africa or a boxing ring, where the hero faces the ultimate test of courage. The protagonist must face fear along with a growing sense of despair over the meaninglessness of experience. Fear results not only from physical danger and impending death but also from the gradual disintegration of the self in a world of “nothingness,” a world stripped of consoling ideals. He reveals his courage as he stoically faces his inevitable defeat and accepts it with dignity.
In his early work, Hemingway’s heroes find dignity through purely personal moments of fulfillment. For example, the protagonist in his short story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” becomes a code hero when he stands his ground as a buffalo charges at him on an open plain in Africa. Previously, he had shown himself to be a coward when he had run from a lion, an action his wife uses to humiliate him and thus gain power over him. Yet, by the end of the story, Macomber has found his courage and so experiences a perfect moment of transcendence when he faces the buffalo without fear. His perfect moment is a purely personal one, based on his own desperate need to prove...
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Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ronda sits perched in the hills of southern Spain, halfway between Seville and Malaga. Its dramatic setting, hanging on the cliffs above a river splitting the town in two, has inspired poets and artists for generations, most notably Rainier Maria Rilke. It is therefore not surprising that Hemingway should have chosen Ronda as a destination during his first visit to Spain in 1923. Carlos Baker tells the story:
The night life of Seville was boring to Hemingway. They watched a few flamenco dances, where broad-beamed women snapped their fingers to the music of guitars. . . .“Oh for Christ’s sake” he kept saying, “more flamingos!” He could not rest until Bird and McAlmon agreed to go on to Ronda. It was even better than Mike had predicted—a spectacular village with an ancient bullring, high in the mountains above Malaga.
His love affair with Ronda did not diminish. In Death in the Afternoon (1932) Hemingway wrote:
There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda. That is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background. . . . if a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start...
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Macho Posturing in For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Role of Andrés of Villaconejos
In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway presents us with a strange dialogue between Fernando and the gypsy woman Pilar, whose praise of melons from the Valencia region draws this reply:
“The melon of Castile is better,” Fernando said. “Qué va,” said [Pilar]. "The melon of Castile is for self abuse. The melon of Valencia is for eating.” (85, italics, except for the Spanish, added)
Why does Hemingway have Pilar recommend the melon of Castile as an object for self abuse for the male Fernando and thus as an object of vaginal signification? Is this one of the numerous seemingly meaningless obscenities in Hemingway’s Spanish Civil War novel, some of which appear to serve no other purpose than providing comic relief? Hemingway offered an explanation when he remarked in his famous interview with the Paris Review in 1958 that
it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work. (Plimpton 29-30, italics added)
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