What does the reader learn about the characters of the narrator and the old man, in Ernest Hemingway "Old Man and the Bridge?"

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The narrator seems to be with the army that is anticipating the attack of the enemy from somewhere beyond the bridge.  The narrator may be a scout of some kind.  He tells us that his job is to cross over the bridge, assess how close the enemy is and return.  He notices the old man as he crosses the bridge to do his job, and when he returns, although most of the peasant traffic has gone, he finds the old man still there.  He strikes up a conversation with the elderly gentleman and tries to encourage him to move on to a safer location.

The reader learns that the old man has left San Carlos. It is his home town and he reports that he was the last to leave, departing only because of the danger of artillery fire. The elderly man reports that he has no politics, taking neither side in the war raging around him.  He also says that he has no family. The old man reports that he was in San Carlos caring for animals: two goats, a cat, and four pairs of pigeons. The old man was told that he really had to leave because of enemy fire.

The man is exhausted and having a hard time finding the energy to move on. He speaks to the soldier (narrator) about the animals. He is worried about what will happen to them; if it was dangerous for him, will it not also be dangerous for the animals?

The soldier tries to comfort the man, and once again encourages him to leave, but the old man becomes more mentally unfocused; and when he rises, he sways and sits back down.

We get the sense that when the soldier leaves, the old man is still seated next to the bridge.

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