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For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Ernest Hemingway

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What is the main message and audience of John Donne's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"?

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Donne wants us to start reflecting on our own mortality. Although we all know that one day we will pass on, it's not something that we like to think about all that much. But Donne, whose prose writings and poems are often concerned with death, thinks differently. For him, death reveals the fundamental unity of humanity. In our daily lives, we are separated from each other by religion, nationality, ethnicity, and gender. Yet death unites us; death is the great leveler that will finally bring that complete unity which stubbornly eludes us in our mortal lives.

In Donne's day it was commonplace for funerals to be accompanied by the tolling of a bell. Anyone passing by and hearing a funeral bell will doubtless have been curious to know the identity of the person being buried. Though perfectly natural, this is the response that Donne seeks to challenge. As we are all ultimately one, anyone's death, no matter how remote they may be from us, points towards our own inevitable demise. So when we hear the sound of the funeral bell, instead of inquiring as to the identity of the recently deceased, we should recognize that the bell tolls for each and every one of us. The bell, like Donne's Meditation, addresses us all.

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You might center your analysis on the the three analogies that Donne uses in his sermon to a congregation:  the book, the bell, the island, and gold or treasure.  In your discussion you could show how each shows the speaker's faith in God and his belief that all men are connected:  "No man is an island."   These analogies, or conceits, are trademarks of Donne's writing.  As you discuss each of these analogies, you should show how it connects to the main ideas of the essay (faith in God and interconnectivenss of mankind) and why the analogy is appropriate or effective in conveying these ideas. 


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