What is a pontoon bridge? Why are so many people crossing the bridge?

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Quite simply, a pontoon bridge is a bridge that floats on water. It utilizes small barges or boats to stay afloat. The design of the pontoon bridge is reflective of its temporary nature. Pontoon bridges are used predominantly during wartime. The bridges allow one group of people to cross a body of water without necessarily allowing an opposing group to do the same thing, as the bridge is typically destroyed or collapsed after satisfying its intended use.

The people crossing the bridge are refugees that are fleeing from their small village which has become part of a war zone. They fear losing their lives to stray gun or artillery fire. This was one of the unfortunate realities of the Spanish Civil War and, indeed, every war in history.

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"Old Man at the Bridge" by Ernest Hemingway is a story set during the Spanish Civil War, a conflict occupying the years from 1936 to 1939 in which the conservative and protofascist Nationalists were fighting against the liberal Republicans. It was an extremely violent conflict with atrocities perpetuated on both sides--but especially by the Nationalists. Hemingway worked as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance during the war.

A pontoon bridge is a temporary structure using air-filled floats or small boats to support a path across a river. Because these structures are cheap and quick to erect but flimsy and unable to bear large weights, they are normally used only in emergencies or military operations.

The people crossing the bridge are fleeing from a war zone. They know that if they are trapped when the fighting starts, they may well end up as "collateral damage." They are residents of a small village and fear for their lives.

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