(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The novel's primary theme is concisely expressed in the John Donne passage which provides the title and the epigraph:

No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse . . . any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Examined closely, this epigraph suggests all of the major themes: the centrality of the Spanish tragedy to European and world history, and as a testing ground for World War II, the necessity of commitment, involvement in the struggle, the fundamental oneness of humanity, and the urgency of love.

Looked at in another light, the central theme turns on the recognition that neither political parties nor struggle in their cause may replace the individual quest for significance through self-knowledge and love. If one perceives the world of the novel through Robert Jordan's eyes, this quest for wholeness occupies center stage and the theme is resolved in his love, his oneness with Maria, together with his sacrifice, his dying knowledge that "the world is a fine place and worth the fighting for."

Another view holds that Jordan's quest, love, and sacrifice as well as his politics are rather muddled and secondary to the true focus of the work: Spain itself as the hero, the people,...

(The entire section is 271 words.)


(Novels for Students)

The elderly peasant Anselmo most fully represents the Loyalist ideals in the novel. Hemingway suggests that his lack of education and his compassionate nature allow him to believe in the cause and to fight for it to the end of his life. Through his idealism, he supplies the human element to the struggle that Jordan and Pablo so often ignore.

Pablo has largely forgotten the ideals of the cause to which he had originally devoted his life. He has seen too much of the reality of war and so participates now more out of self-interest than out of patriotism. As a result, he can take pleasure in his brutal murder of the Fascists. And when he considers the plan to blow up the bridge too dangerous, he flees with the explosives. Yet he appears to retain some of the ideals to which he once dedicated himself. When Pilar asks him why he did not kill Jordan when he had the opportunity, Pablo replies that Jordan is “a good boy,” since his motives are noble. He also notes the camaraderie that results from devotion to the cause when, as he describes his desertion, he notes, “having done such a thing, there is a loneliness that cannot be borne.”

Jordan struggles to retain his sense of idealism throughout the novel. Initially, he volunteers to serve with the Loyalists because of his liberal attitudes toward politics and his deep love of the Spanish people. However, he quickly gets a taste of the reality of war when he sees...

(The entire section is 489 words.)