How does war impact everyone? Explain with reference to the story "Old Man at the Bridge."

In "Old Man at the Bridge," war has a devastating impact on both civilians and soldiers. That impact can be seen in the forced displacement of noncombatants and the disintegration of political and social trust.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrator of "The Old Man at the Bridge " is a soldier. Whether he is a military man by profession or, like Hemingway, someone who joined the Republican army to fight the Fascists out of political conviction, he has a purpose, with specific duties to perform. The subject of...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The narrator of "The Old Man at the Bridge" is a soldier. Whether he is a military man by profession or, like Hemingway, someone who joined the Republican army to fight the Fascists out of political conviction, he has a purpose, with specific duties to perform. The subject of the story, the old man, is in the opposite position. He had a role, looking after animals, but the war took this role away from him. Now, he has nothing to do and cannot even see the point of picking himself up out of the dust and attempting to save his own life.

The impact of war on the life of a soldier is obvious. However, the soldier is prepared to fight, while civilians who are caught up in the war have their lives abruptly thrown into chaos. Across the bridge in Hemingway's story comes a stream of fugitives, all of them forced to abandon whatever they were doing and concentrate on the business of survival. They have no idea what will happen to them or to their homes and livelihoods. Many of them, like the old man, will be "without politics" and may have no clear notion of why the armies are fighting.

For these people, the war has the character of a natural disaster, like an earthquake. They all have their lives turned upside down, and a few, particularly the old and sick, may well resign themselves to death as soon as they perceive the extent of the chaos. Even if they survive, any of the noncombatants can experience the sudden loss of home, family, livelihood, possessions, or sanity. The horror of war is exacerbated in their case by its apparently senseless arbitrariness. Those most affected by war are the ones who have the least theoretical interest in it.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the story, the two principal characters, the old man and the soldier, discuss the advance of the fascist army and the impending war. The old man, like many of his neighbors, has been forced to leave his home. His plight calls attention to the ways in which war contributes to the disintegration of the social structure. Without family, the old man is likely to become one of the first casualties of the war, as he doesn't possess the physical strength to make the trek to safety.

During their conversation, the soldier (also the narrator of the story) asks the old man about his political affiliation. The latter replies that he is "without politics." The soldier's question is significant, for the war is a conflict between two political ideologies.

One can argue that the soldier asks the question out of a sense of preservation. Yet, the old man's obvious emotional trauma is apparent. He has had to flee his home and has already traveled 12 kilometers (about 7 1/2 miles) on foot. At seventy-six years old, he can go no further and is certainly no threat to the soldier's cause. Yet, the soldier is wary. Inevitably, his question highlights how war erodes political and social trust.

The question is also typical for Hemingway, who uses the smallest of details to drive home a critical point. Here, the question highlights the political divide that precipitated the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

Many historians believe that the war was one of the precursors to World War II. The Spanish Civil War pitted the Republicans (the left-leaning Spanish government) against the Nationalists (right-leaning revolutionaries). The Republicans were supported by Mexico and the Soviet Union, while the Nationalists had the support of Italy, Germany, and the Holy See.

In all, the Spanish Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in Western Europe after WWI. It led to widespread atrocities, the deaths of more than 200,000 civilians, and the displacement of millions of Spaniards. The story hints at this through the seemingly innocent interaction between the soldier and the old man.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this story, which takes place during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, we see how far down the suffering caused by warfare reaches.

The narrator is a soldier trying to help get civilians across a bridge because it is clear that the fascists will soon arrive. There will be an engagement or battle, what the narrator calls "that ever mysterious event called contact."

An old man, however, is sitting down and says he cannot go any farther. When the soldier talks to him, he learns the old man has already been displaced once. He had to leave behind the animals he took care of. Now he has left animals behind again. The old man asks the solider,

But what will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?

The solider has no real answer for him. The solider feels helpless, stating to the reader that "there was nothing to do about him."

The story shows how war inflicts suffering on all living creatures, no matter how innocent. The old man, who states he has no politics, is driven from his home as a war refugee—and he may die of exhaustion. His animals will likely be killed. The impact of war is here shown in the lives of ordinary people and animals who have to suffer for reasons they can't understand.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Old Man at the Bridge" shows the devastating impact that war can have on people, especially innocent civilians. As the story opens, thousands of refugees are making their way to safety across a hastily constructed pontoon bridge. The fascists are coming, and their well-deserved reputation for brutality precedes them. With the imminent arrival of enemy forces, local people have no choice but to move on out.

The old man must also leave. But he chooses not to, sitting by the side of the dusty road in a state of debilitating torpor. The soldier tries to get the old man to get up and leave; but, although he manages to rise to his feet, the old man soon slumps back down in the dust, and there he remains.

The war has had a particularly devastating impact on the old man. This is the second time he's been required to leave town as a result of the conflict. He reluctantly had to leave his hometown of San Carlos behind, abandoning the animals he'd been caring for. This is what war does to people—it turns their whole lives upside down. More than that, it deeply traumatizes them, as we can see in the old man's constant worrying over the fate of the animals he was forced to leave behind.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team