What does the story "Old Man at the Bridge" suggest about nature?

The story "Old Man at the Bridge" suggests that nature is invincible despite humanity's destructive tendencies. In the story, an old man worries about animals he had to abandon during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway illustrates that although unprotected, these natural creatures can take care of themselves. The old man knows the cat will look out for itself. The narrator comments that the pigeons will instinctively fly from danger since the old man left their cage doors open.

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In his short story "Old Man at the Bridge," Hemingway explores the effect of politics and warfare on nature and natural creatures like the old man's animals. He shows that nature is vulnerable but can survive without and despite humanity's intervention.

While guiding civilians over a bridge in order to avoid enemy troops, the narrator happens upon an old man sitting alongside the dusty road. Instructed to evacuate from his hometown of San Carlos, the old man is reluctant to continue because he is concerned about the animals he was forced to leave behind. He cared for two goats, a cat, and four pairs of pigeons; they were his family. The peaceful life and relationship he and his animals shared are affected and disturbed by the war.

The old man wonders how his animals will endure now that he is gone:

The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others.

The feline can naturally fend for itself. After all, a cat can always land on its feet and has nine lives! But the old man forgets about the other animals' natural instincts. When he asks the narrator what he thinks will happen to the other animals, the narrator replies,

"Why they'll probably come through it all right."
"You think so?"
"Why not," I said.

The old man stresses out that he (a human) was told to evacuate due to gunfire yet the animals were left among gunfire:

“What will they do under the artillery when I was told to leave because of the artillery?"
"Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?" I asked.
"Yes."
"Then they'll fly."

The narrator points out to the old man that despite military fallout around them, the birds intuitively know to fly out of their homes and escape to safety. The old man agrees but still worries about the goats:

Yes, certainly they'll [the pigeons] fly. But the others. It's better not to think about the others.

Hemingway, the characters, and the reader do not know what happens to the abandoned goats. Nevertheless, the old man's statements overall reveal his strong bond with them. Humans and nature have a special bond despite humanity's destructive effects on nature, and nature figures out a way to survive.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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