The setting of this story is the Spanish Civil War. It is written on an Easter Sunday at the Ebro River during Hemingway's coverage of the Spanish Civil War in April 1938. Rather than sending in his journalistic report as was customary, Ernest Hemingway chose to submit his report as a short story to another source.
In this story the old man has remained in his town to watch over the animals; he tells the narrator that he has stayed to feed and care for them. Apparently, there is a sharp contrast between this old man and the soldier, whose assignment is to cross the bridge and explore the area ahead to discover how far the enemy has advanced. The old man seeks to preserve life, while the soldier's job is to take lives. In fact, the old man seems more concerned about the animals than he is about himself. The soldier urges the man "If you are rested, I would go...Get up and try to walk now." The old man stands, but he is unstable; then he sits down in the dust. To himself, he mumbles, " I was only taking care of the animals." He seems defeated and unconcerned about his own life.