Carpe Diem: Life and Certitude in For Whom the Bell Tolls

April 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

The life expectancy in the United States is about seventy-eight years. Zambia’s life expectancy is roughly thirty-three years. Does this mean it is impossible for a person in Zambia to have a more fulfilling life than a person in the United States? In Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan conforms externally, but raises questions internally about the value of life, and discovers that it is possible to live a fulfilling life in any span of time if one lives life to its fullest.

In the beginning, Robert is sure of his causes and beliefs, and is willing to sacrifice his life to win the war. But by the end, Robert’s experiences and newfound acquaintances all work in synergy to persuade him otherwise. His companions change the value of human life for him. Anselmo, Pablo, and Robert are killers. They have all taken human life before, but have different views about doing so. For Anselmo, “it is a sin to kill. To take the life of another is…very grave” (Page 41). Religious and idealistic, Anselmo is the type of man Robert would like to look up to, but knows he can never be. No matter which path he takes, he can never parallel the peace-loving Anselmo—Robert has too much to fight for, too much to live for. On the other hand, Pablo is the most different from Robert, yet the most similar at the same time. For most of the novel Pablo is portrayed as a weakling, a man whose spirit has been broken, even though he was once a terrible killer. As Pilar has said, “Thou hast seen the ruin that now is Pablo, but you should have seen Pablo on that day” (Page 74). Unlike Anselmo or Robert, Pablo actually likes killing; he enjoys it, for the most part. But, he is broken before Robert arrives, and so Robert is not able to witness Pablo’s transformation from a ruthless killer to a drunken slob. Pablo underwent change, through a psychological transformation, much like the change Robert goes through. The only difference between the two is that Robert continues conforming outwardly to the needs of society despite his inward transformation, while Pablo chooses to forsake society, and chooses to fully display his inward transformation. True to his character, Robert becomes even more conflicted towards the end. He does not want to kill, and does not want to be killed, but he chooses to continue fighting for a cause he no longer completely believes in. These changes occur within Robert because of his newfound friendships, especially his bond with Maria.

Robert’s view on life changes as he journeys onward, especially after meeting Maria. Prior to meeting Maria, Robert fully believes that “There are necessary orders…and there is a bridge and that bridge can be the point on which the future of the human race can turn” (Page 43). At that point, he is full of conviction and ready to fight for the cause he fully believes in. With high hopes to change the future, he is even ready to die for his cause, although he is not fond of the prospect. His life is meaningless. Soon enough, Robert meets Maria, and she redefines the boundaries of his world. Life actually begins to mean something—Robert wants to live because of Maria. Yet, he sees the future, and sees time running out. This is the critical point, and he realizes that “There is only now and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion” (Page 167). For Robert, there is only one path. He cannot simply stop fighting—he can only change his reasons for fighting. Robert sees his fate, and grudgingly accepts it. Yet despite such acceptance, he does not abandon hope for life, and thus he learns to “seize the day.” By doing so, Robert lives an entire lifetime in merely two days and dies a fulfilled man. Instead of fighting the war to end the fascist regime, Robert changes his inward beliefs, and chooses to fight for Maria; he chooses to fight for life.

Robert outwardly accepts his fate as a soldier, but inwardly he continues to question the value of life and his own existence. In doing so, Robert distorts his reality into a anomalous relationship of life and death. Of the two paths, Robert chooses death, while Pablo, the counterpart of Robert, chooses the path of life. Pablo lives on, but he does not live a greater life—he is a drunken slob living in apathy. Even though Robert lives a much shorter life than Pablo, he still lives a much more fulfilling life than Pablo. Because of his love for Maria, Robert learns to “seize the day” and is thus able to live a much more gratifying life than Pablo’s in merely two days. He shows how a promising life can be lived in seventy-eight years—or, if one must, thirty-three.

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