A Linguistic Analysis of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
Many critics have pointed out that Hemingway’s language in For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the weaknesses of the book. His language was intended to be the intimate expression of the intellectual hero Jordan and also to present the local idiom of the Spanish fighters. Some argue that the meditations of Jordan are turgid and the “Platonic language composed of the Spanish idiom, the Bible, and the Elizabethans . . . is . . . Weighed down with overmuch local color.”(1) Hemingway attempts, through language, to capture the spirit of a nation and, despite any weaknesses in his style, the contrast between Jordan’s inner thoughts, when he reflects in his native English, and the formal archaic language of the guerillas, which represents a contrast in cultures.
There is also, however, the contrast between the archaic language in the conversations between Jordan and Maria, Anselmo and Fernando, and the vulgarity of Pilar and Agustin. The relationship between Jordan and Maria is one of love; that between Jordan and Anselmo one of mutual respect and a basic dislike for killing; and Fernando represents the dignified Spaniard who still reveres pride, manners and honor. The exchanges between these four in the archaic dialogue suggest:
another time when life was simpler, personalized by “thee” and “thou,” a time when human dignity seemed assured.(2)
The present time is represented in the vulgar speech of Pilar and Agustin, reminding that these are harsh days.
Jordan speaks Spanish fluently, although he continues to think in his native tongue. Thus, a division is drawn between his sharing a language and a cause with the guerillas and his individuality and private mind, in which he expresses his deviations from the Spanish culture and values and affirms his Americanism. In Jordans saying and thinking, a contrast of tongues and a double vision is created.(3) The dichotomy also represents the expression of diverging cultures. Often, his thoughts focus on the language, cultural, and psychological differences between himself and the guerillas.
While Pilar’s language is, in general, blunt and vulgar, she is capable, when relating her history, of speaking eloquently and with great beauty of expression. Thus, she tells of the deaths of the fascists in a village taken over by the guerillas and of her past love affairs. Yet when she returns to the present, she asserts her leadership by using strong, aggressive language, matching the men in their obscenities.
The fact that Jordan is linked to both cultures is expressed when, on meeting the deaf El Sordo, the latter speaks to him in pidgin Spanish, assuming that, being of a different race, he will not understand Spanish fluently spoken. But as Jordan reveals his knowledge of the language and at the same time, more importantly, his sympathy with the cause of the guerillas, El Sordo begins to speak to him in fluent Spanish. Thus he is accepted into the culture of the guerilla leader, despite his foreign status....
(The entire section is 1252 words.)