Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Bridge. Strategic target of the Republican offensive and the objective of Jordan’s mission. Pablo opposes the attack on the bridge because he knows that it will provoke retaliation by the fascists, but the other guerrillas eventually agree to support Jordan. Once the Republican bombardment begins, Jordan, with help from the guerrillas, destroys the bridge with explosives.
Comandancia. Headquarters of Commissar André Marty, a paranoid and demented old fanatic who delays the delivery to General Golz of Robert Jordan’s warning that the Republican attack is expected by the fascists.
Escorial. Site of the headquarters of Republican general Golz, who orders Jordan to blow up a bridge behind enemy lines.
La Granja. Village near Pablo’s camp where the guerrillas obtain supplies and news.
Hilltop. Location where El Sordo and his men are trapped and finally killed by the fascists. The desperate courage of the guerrillas is futile in the face of the advanced weaponry brought against them in the form of the fascist airplanes.
Hotel Gaylord. Madrid building used as a headquarters by the Soviet agents who effectively control many aspects of the Republican struggle against the fascists. Jordan finds the Gaylord to be not only a place that...
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The Spanish Civil War
Civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, but the underlying causes can be traced back several years prior to that date. In the 1930s Spain experienced continuous political upheavals. In 1931, after years of civil conflict in the country, King Alfonso XIII voluntarily placed himself in exile, and on April 13 of that year, a new republic emerged. The Leftist government, however, faced similar civil unrest, and by 1933, the conservatives regained control. By 1936 the people voted the leftists back in. After the assassination of Jose Calvas Otelo, an influential Monarchist, the army led a revolt against the government and sponsored the return of General Francisco Franco, who had been exiled because of his politics.
As a result, civil war broke out across the country between the Loyalist-leftists and the Monarchist-rightists. Russia backed the leftists while Germany and Italy supported the rightists. The war continued until 1939 with each side committing atrocities: the leftists slaughtered religious and political figures while the rightists bombed civilian targets. At the beginning of 1936, the Loyalists were suffering from an effective blockade as Franco’s troops gained control. On March 28, the war ended as the rightists took the city of Madrid.
Hemingway, siding with the Loyalists, first lent his support to their cause by raising money for ambulances and medical supplies. In 1937, he ran the...
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Point of View
The novel presents the narrative through an omniscient point of view that continually shifts back and forth between the characters. In this way, Hemingway can effectively chronicle the effect of the war on the men and women involved. The narrator shifts from Anselmo’s struggles in the snow during his watch to Pilar’s story about Pablo’s execution of Fascists and El Sordo’s lonely death to help readers more clearly visualize their experiences.
In “Ringing the Changes: Hemingway’s ‘Bell’ Tolls Fifty,” Michael Reynolds writes, “Without drawing undue attention to his artistry, Hemingway has written a collection of short stories embedded in a framing novel.” Against the backdrop of the group’s attempt to blow up the bridge, each character tells his or her own story: Maria tells of her parents’ murder and her rape; Jordan shares what he learned about the true politics of war at Gaylord’s in Madrid. Pilar provides the most compelling and comprehensive stories of Finito’s fears in the bullfighting ring and of Pablo and his men as they beat the Fascists to death in a drunken rage.
Hemingway employs flashbacks and flashforwards to enhance thematic focus. Pilar’s stories of struggle and heroism make their mission all the more poignant and place it in an historical context. Jordan’s flashbacks to a time when his ideals were not tempered by the reality of war highlight his growing sense...
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While reaction to For Whom the Bell Tolls in the highly charged political atmosphere of 1940 was sharply divided, and remains so to this day, one thing is clear: In this, his most ambitious novel, Hemingway paints his most complex canvas of the individual person's role in the welter of social and political concerns. Hemingway's politics of humanity rather than party managed to anger left, right, and middle. By and large, however, he remained true to his sense of the artist's vocation: Art must always tell the truth, art must never serve propagandistic ends. Although Hemingway, the man and the writer, was a supporter of the Loyalists, the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and in spite of the fact that his protagonist, Robert Jordan, is a disciplined guerrilla partisan fighting against the nationalist and fascist forces of Franco, the artist's steady eye records here the brutality and chaos on all sides — fascist, communist, socialist, syndicalist, and anarchist alike. He tried to "write truly" about all sides of the conflict and to render the tragedy and betrayal of Spain, a land he had loved for many years. "I had no party but a deep interest in and love for the Republic," he said, years later.
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Compare and Contrast
- 1930s-1940s: The world experiences a decade of aggression in the 1930s that culminates in World War II. This second world war results from the rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan. One week after Nazi Germany and the USSR sign the Treaty of Nonaggression, Germany invades Poland, and World War II begins.
Today: The world is threatened by Islamic fundamentalist groups who have declared a holy war against the West. These radical groups have committed terrorist acts in several countries including the United States. On September 11, 2001, the most devastating acts of terror to date worldwide are delivered as terrorists fly planes into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City and into the Pentagon and are responsible for the crash of another plane in Pennsylvania.
- 1930s-1940s: Civil war breaks out in Spain in 1936 between the Fascists, backed by Germany and Italy, and the Loyalists, backed by the USSR.
Today: Spain has been established as a social and democratic country that is governed by a parliamentary monarchy. National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people.
- 1930s-1940s: American women gain a measure of independence in the workplace as they labor in the factories, replacing men who have gone to war. By...
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Topics for Further Study
- Watch the film version of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Do you think the film is dated? What scenes would you update for today’s audience?
- Compare the portrait of war in A Farewell to Arms to that of For Whom the Bell Tolls. How are they simliar? What differences do you see? Which resonates the most for you as the reader, and why?
- Research the Loyalist sympathizers during the Spanish Civil War. Do Hemingway’s guerrilla bands in For Whom the Bell Tolls represent an accurate portrayal of the Loyalist faction during this war? Explain your answer.
- Some critics find the relationship between Jordan and Maria to be overly romantic and unrealistic. Support or refute this conclusion.
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Perhaps the most famous of all epigraphs to a work of fiction, John Donne's poem sets the tone and establishes the theme of For Whom the Bell Tolls to such an extent that the novel almost becomes a dramatization of the poem. On the political level, which was very important to Hemingway, the plight of the mountain people, and indeed the Spanish Civil War, was regarded by the rest of the world as insignificant. For Hemingway, just as "no man is an island unto himself," no injustice can be ignored, wherever it is found, and he was distressed that the rest of the world did not care about this war. In hindsight, the Spanish Civil War is now regarded as a testing ground for the Nazis, and had the rest of the world been more concerned about Spain, World War II might have been averted.
On a personal level, which literary history records, Hemingway solidified his code of 'grace under pressure' in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Philosophically, Hemingway believed that every bell 'tolls for thee;' that death is inevitable, unpredictable, and ruthless, and that the best a person can hope for is to face death gracefully.
With this coda, and through his depiction of lost souls, Hemingway set the direction that would dominate American fiction until the 1970s when the 'metafictionists' turned to interpreting a world that had become more fragmented and complex than Hemingway's. But for three decades, Hemingway's work set the tone, style, and spirit for much...
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Hemingway's first important book, In Our Time (1925), displays great variety of technical experimentation and demonstrates the young writer working out the principles of his manner and method, tackling the enduring themes of his work. The backdrop of the war and the wounded hero making sense of his world provide crucial background for the reader of Hemingway's three major novels. The reader who wishes to understand Hemingway's notion of "grace under pressure," and his love for Spain is referred to his classic non-fiction study of Spain and the bullfight, Death in the Afternoon (1932). Many of the short stories provide variations on the themes of the major novels as well as economically rendered core images and controlling metaphors which reappear in those novels. (For example, as background to A Farewell to Arms , "A Very Short Story," "In Another Country," "A Way You'll Never Be," and "Now I Lay Me" should be consulted.) In the view of many critics Hemingway is the unsurpassed master of the short story and did his finest work in that genre. Thus The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938) must be regarded as the fourth major title in the Hemingway canon.
Finally, The Old Man and the Sea (1952) is indispensable, a parable-like distillation of Hemingway's vision in novella form. In the fable of Santiago, the old Cuban fisherman who catches and loves and loses the great fish, Hemingway embodies his...
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For Whom the Bell Tolls appeared in 1943, with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles. Cooper, generally, may be the only actor who grasped something of the Hemingway mode and manner. The plot line of the film is faithful to the novel, but the film fails to capture the fierce pride and patriotism of the bands, or why an American would become so impassioned for the cause to die for it.
While many other Hemingway works, including a number of the stories, have been adapted to film, the general verdict has been that, at best, the films fail to capture the subtlety and complexity of the work and, at worst, they are travesties of Hemingway's world. Hemingway himself was so disgruntled by the film treatments of his work that he refused even to see the finished movie.
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- For Whom the Bell Tolls was adapted as a film by Sam Wood, with a screenplay by Dudley Nichols, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, from Paramount, 1943. It is available on video and DVD.
- An audio version, read by Alexander Adams, has been published by Books on Tape.
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What Do I Read Next?
- Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929) chronicles a doomed love affair between an American lieutenant and a British nurse during World War I.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) is considered, along with The Sun Also Rises, to be one of the seminal works of the Lost Generation.
- Antony Beevor’s The Spanish Civil War, published in 2001, presents a comprehensive account of the conflict that served as a bloody precursor to World War II.
- Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) focuses on the aftermath of World War I especially on how the war affected the lives of displaced Americans.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Fiedler, Leslie A. Love and Death in the American Novel. Dell, 1960.
Nagel, James. “Ernest Hemingway.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910-1945. Gale Research, 1981, pp. 100-20.
Reynolds, Michael. “Ringing the Changes: Hemingway’s Bell Tolls Fifty.” In Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, Winter 1991, pp. 1-18.
Young, Philip. “Ernest Hemingway.” In American Writers, Vol. 2, 1974, pp. 247-70.
For Further Reading
Buckley, Ramon. “Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.” In Hemingway Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, Fall 1997, pp. 49-57. Buckley places the novel in its historical context.
Martin, Robert A. “Robert Jordan and the Spanish Country: Learning to Live in It ‘Truly and Well.’” In Hemingway Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, Fall 1996, pp. 56-64. Martin presents a close analysis of the character of Robert Jordan and his relationship to Spanish culture.
Meyers, Jeffrey, “For Whom the Bell Tolls as Contemporary History.” In The Spanish Civil War in Literature, edited by Janet Perez and Wendell Aycock. Texas Tech University Press, 1990, pp. 85-107. This essay explores the political implications of the novel.
Wylder, Delbert E. “For Whom the Bell...
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