In this novel, Hemingway clearly demonstrates what the title, taken from a John Donne poem, promises. The essence of the poem from which the title is drawn is that when anyone dies, all humankind is involved—everyone dies a little. Hemingway, himself a correspondent in Spain during its civil war, uses his novel to show that a small skirmish confined to a single nation affects the entire world and cannot be dismissed as something local.
Robert Jordan, the protagonist, is an American teacher who is in Spain to fight alongside the Loyalists. The book chronicles three crucial days in his life and in the lives of the Loyalists he is there to help. Jordan’s mission is to destroy a bridge that is a vital link for the Fascists. He has had considerable demolition experience in the past, but this is the most intricate job he has undertaken. It must be timed precisely, and to orchestrate the demolition, he must enlist the aid of a band of Loyalist guerrillas, working through their leader, Pablo.
Pablo is not dependable, although his wife, Pilar, is. Pablo drinks too much and is weak. Pilar is outspoken, vulgar, direct, and dependable. Jordan knows he can depend upon her, but he is less sure of her husband. Jordan needs to concentrate on how the bridge is constructed so that he can plan his demolition as effectively as possible. He is holed up in a cave with Pablo and Pilar, along with members of their band. Among those in the cave is Maria, a young girl who has been ravaged by the Fascists, who have humiliated her every way they could. Jordan, hearing of this, is so morally indignant that killing the enemy becomes in his mind a moral act.
Another inhabitant of the cave is Anselmo, an old man who can be depended upon to do what he is told, even if it means killing, to which he is basically opposed. Jordan likes the guerrillas; he respects their stand against Fascist oppression. He understands their motives, which are less ideological than his, and he sympathizes with their lot. During Jordan’s first night in the guerrilla camp, Maria makes her way into his sleeping bag, and they have a night of blissful sex. He promises Maria that he will marry her someday, although he fears what lies ahead. He deplores his fear because he realizes that fear weakens anyone who is...
(The entire section is 937 words.)