What does the old man symbolize in "Old Man at the Bridge"?

The old man symbolizes war's destructive impact on the innocent. Like the animals he leaves behind, the old man has no idea what the war means or why it is happening, but it nevertheless upends his life. Hemingway uses the old man's fate to critique warfare.

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The old man is symbolic of the devastating effects of war on civilians who have nothing to gain from the conflict.

When the narrator meets him, the old man is simply "too tired to go any farther," and he never wanted to leave his home to begin with. His primary concern was in taking care of animals, which represent the innocent. Now this man, whose life has been devoted to caretaking, is being forced to flee his home because of forces of destruction. Because of this war, he has had to relinquish all he holds dear: his home, his animals, and his sense of belonging.

The old man is emotionally depleted. He is "without politics" in this war and has nowhere to go if he can make it off this bridge. Finally, the narrator successfully urges him to try to move forward, but after a few wobbly steps, the old man is forced to sit down in the dust again.

The narrator comes to understand that "there was nothing to do about" the old man, and in this realization, he also understands that the old man will die at this bridge. Displaced, alone, and dejected, the old man no longer has his animals and faces "enemy" forces whose battles are not his own.

The symbolism of the old man shows the devastating impacts upon those who are surrounded by war and have no voice in either the circumstances or the outcome of the battles around them.

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The old man at the bridge has been forced to flee his home due to war. All he sees is the danger and suffering war brings to the innocent, such as his animals. He worries deeply about what will happen to them. The soldier at the bridge tries to comfort him, but he does not help much. The old man knows his cat will be fine and that his birds can fly away, but he worries about the fate of the other, more helpless animals.

The old man symbolizes all the innocent creatures, including animals, whose lives are destroyed or upended by war. He has no understanding of the ideologies of the different sides in the conflict or what the fighting is about. He simply wants to live his simple, traditional, and peaceful life.

By focusing on the fate of this man, who is too old to start over, Hemingway shines a light on the way war destroys the lives of people and animals who have nothing to do with the conflict. These sorts of ordinary people and living beings are often overlooked when we calculate war's cost.

Hemingway has written a story that calls warfare into question. The suffering of the innocent old man, symbolic of what happens to so many others, renders war cruel and pointless.

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Ernest Hemingway's brief but compelling story "The Old Man at the Bridge" takes place on the side of a pontoon bridge on the Ebro Delta during the Spanish Civil War. The narrator, a soldier exploring the area around the bridge for signs of the enemy, finds an exhausted old man sitting beside the bridge, too tired to go farther. He had been watching his animals in his home town of San Carlos but had been forced to flee without them.

The old man symbolizes all innocent refugees who have been displaced by the horrific realities of wars that they do not understand. Although the narrator makes it clear that the enemy is nearby and they are in danger there on the bridge, the old man understands nothing of this. He only knows that his animals, a cat, two goats, and four pairs of pigeons, have been left behind in the village, and he wonders what will happen to them. The fact that there is fighting nearby and the war has displaced countless people is incomprehensible to him. He is a simple man concerned with the everyday things with which his life has always been absorbed. He represents all such common folk, the main victims of war, who lose their homes and their livelihoods and their possessions when war breaks out around them.

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The old man could be said to symbolize the devastating impact that war has upon ordinary civilians. The old man has no political sympathies; he's completely harmless. Yet he cannot hide from the bitter, bloody conflict that seems to follow him around wherever he goes. He's already had to leave his hometown behind and all the animals he'd been caring for. Now, with the imminent arrival of Fascist forces, he's forced to move on again, just one of many innocent civilians caught up in the midst of the Spanish Civil War.

The old man may have thought that, because he's never been a political animal, he could somehow remain above the fray, letting the two sides get on with fighting each other while he goes about his ordinary life, caring for his animals in San Carlos. But in this age of total war, such detachment is impossible. Whether they like it or not, everyone is involved in the war in some form or another, even those peaceable, harmless souls like the old man, who represent no threat to anyone.

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Ernest Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent in Europe for years before he became a successful freelance writer of stories, novels and nonfiction. Like many foreign correspondents who had to cram a lot of information into brief dispatches under emergency conditions, Hemingway looks for sights and incidents that would represent the bigger picture of what was going on. "The Old Man at the Bridge" is a very short story. It reads like a cabled dispatch from a war correspondent who was up close to the fighting, gathering his own impressions. Hemingway captures the feeling of being close to the war particularly well in one paragraph:

The old man can be seen as a symbol of defeated liberal democracy in Spain, perhaps even the defeat of the hopes for liberal democracy all over the world. He is wearing black dusty clothes and has a gray dusty face, suggesting what he has been through.. He is too tired to go any further. If he stays where he is sitting he would probably get summarily executed by the Fascist forces, who are taking draconian reprisals against Spanish civilians. But he doesn't have the strength to stand up and continue fleeing, and he doesn't seem to care. He has nowhere to go, no future.

He has lost everything that was of importance to him. That was how the Spanish Loyalists felt after being defeated by the reactionary forces of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, aided and abetted by Hitler and Mussolini.

Hemingway was sympathetic to the Loyalist cause. After Franco's victory Hemingway refused to return to Spain, a country he loved. He chronicled the Spanish Civil War in what is widely considered his best novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). The import of the title is that all of us had suffered a defeat along with the Spanish Loyalists. The title was derived from a poem by John Donne, a leading English Metaphysical poet:

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