(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

For Whom the Bell Tolls

At first, the only important thing is the bridge. Robert Jordan is a young American teacher who is in Spain fighting with the Loyalist guerrillas. His present and most important mission is to blow up a bridge that will be of great strategic importance during an offensive three days hence. Jordan is behind the Fascist lines, with orders to make contact with Pablo, the leader of a guerrilla band, and with his wife, Pilar, who is the strongest figure among the partisans. Pablo is a weak and drunken braggart, but Pilar is strong and trustworthy. A swarthy, raw-boned woman, vulgar and outspoken, she is so fiercely devoted to the Loyalist cause that Jordan knows she will carry out her part of the mission regardless of danger to herself.

The plan is that Jordan will study the bridge from all angles and then finalize the plans for its destruction at the proper moment. Jordan has blown up many bridges and three trains, but this is the first time everything has to be done on a split-second schedule. Pablo and Pilar are to assist Jordan in any way they can, even in rounding up other bands of guerrillas if Jordan needs them to accomplish his mission.

At the cave hideout of Pablo and Pilar, Jordan meets a beautiful young girl named Maria, who escaped from the Fascists. Maria was subjected to every possible indignity, being starved, tortured, and raped, and she feels unclean. At the camp, Jordan also meets Anselmo, a loyal old man who will follow orders regardless of his personal safety. Anselmo hates having to kill but will do so if necessary.

Jordan loves the brutal, shrewd, desperate, loyal guerrillas, for he knows that their cruelties against the Fascists stem from poverty and ignorance. The Fascists’ cruelty, however, he abhors, for the Fascists come largely from the wealthy, ambitious class. The story of Maria’s suffering fills him with such hatred that he could kill a thousand of them, even though he, like Anselmo, hates to kill.

The first night he spends at the guerrilla camp destroys his cold approach to the mission before him, for he falls deeply in love with Maria. She comes to his sleeping bag that night, and although they talk little, he knows after she leaves that he is no longer ready to die. He tells Maria that one day they will be married, but he is afraid of the future, and fear is dangerous for a man on an important mission.

Jordan makes many sketches of the bridge and lays his plans carefully, but the night before the bridge is to be blown up his work is almost ruined by Pablo, who deserts after stealing and destroying the explosives and the...

(The entire section is 1067 words.)