For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls: Interpretive Analysis
For Whom The Bell Tolls Essay
For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway is a classic piece of literature, leaving out the 400 pages in between is like cutting out the substance of the novel. The characters, the plot, the climax, all the vital features that make up a novel will be undeveloped. Not to mention the reader will never experience the magic of the story like one gets to do with every well-written novel. The suspense when you know something tragic is about to happen, the warm feeling one gets when their favorite characters fall in love, the weariness when something unfortunate is about to happen, etc.. will all be missing as the true essence of reading for pleasure is dismantled. The length of this novel shows that Hemingway knew what he was talking about, he wanted to show the readers the harsh reality of the kinds of things that were occurring in the Spanish Civil War at that time, writing about how we as a human species react when faced with times of war.
If you left out all the content, the ‘heart and soul’ of the novel, you may interpret the novel to be just a story about war, but just as in any novel, there is much more than just the beginning lets one know. While reading For Whom The Bell Tolls, one finds alternate meanings. Something the critics who disregard the 400 pages in between would find odd. But they do not realize that the novel in its entirety is the novel, everything is in those 471 pages. The beginnings of stories except for quality are in no way the basis for evaluation of an entire novel. After reading the novel, I feel among other things, For Whom The Bell Tolls is a coming of age story, but of course Robert Jordan is already of age, so in that sense an internal coming of age story. I base my opinion on the fact that we do not know much about Robert Jordan’s past so he is presented to us as a ‘young’ man, ready to perform his mission, being only focused on the war and his duty. But Robert Jordan unwillingly falls for Maria, as young boys are prone to do. “You were gone when you first saw her. When she opened her mouth and spoke to you it was there already and you know it.” He also meets many characters through the process of ‘his life’ and tackles with his mind about the many situations he must deal with. Finally, at the end, laying there on the forest floor he make his courageous and mature decision to stay behind, say goodbye to Maria, and helps give the others more time to get away, as he makes his descent into ‘adulthood.’ Which is just an example of opinion and content in the novel which would otherwise be missed and not explored.
The diction, the syntax, and the vivid descriptions that lead to vivid imagery employed by Hemingway added with his skill in writing all lead to a good novel. Which may not be liked by all audiences but can still be appreciated. Reading all the content located in the novel is important if one were to create their own opinion on the work, only then will one be able to form a sensible judgment. If someone stopped reading at the mere beginning and concluded that they do not like it, then they would be being narrow-minded. One may not like the beginning but find they enjoy the rest which they will never know if they let the beginning act as a hindrance to continue reading further. Thus to form an accurate opinion on an author and their work, one must have a sound premise on which they are basing it on.
In this novel, there are many events that may seem fairly insignificant when reading them, but they impact the novel significantly. The fact that Pilar wanted Maria and Robert Jordan to be together was because she knew that since Maria had been raped she would not be able to marry in Spain and knew Robert Jordan would take her with him which would be her only hope for a better life. Another event is when Raphael left his post to pursue two hares, thinking it a good idea because they needed something to eat. This led to the Calvary man entering and ultimately to Anselmo being killed by resorting to ignite the dynamite for the mission with a grenade rather than with the detonator. These kinds of events throughout the story show the readers that events escalate, just as they do in real life.
Additionally, the length of this novel is correlated with the life of the protagonist, Robert Jordan. Midway through the novel he comes to terms with the fact that the days he has left before the bridge operation may be his final days, and he must live his whole life in that time span, “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. This is how you life a life in two days.” Showing that for some people in the Spanish Civil War this was a reality, never being able to return home or satisfying all their hopes and dreams just as Robert Jordan could not leave Spain with Maria. The rest of Robert Jordan’s life occurs throughout the novel and without those pages in between one would essentially leave out his whole life, missing the point that is so vital in understanding the reality of the theme; that these events are significant and occur not just in stories.
In conclusion, if one were to say that For Whom The Bell Tolls is a war story that would be valid, but incomplete. For Whom the Bell Tolls is much more than that, it is a story of courage, love, triumph, betraying, consequences, and everything in between. Leaving out content from the novel is like not reading the novel at all. One does not get to experience what goes into reading a good novel, one does not understand the events in between and how they have an impact on the entire novel as a whole. Most importantly they will not have their own opinion on the novel, they will not know the entire story or be able to feel what the characters have felt.
Carpe Diem: Life and Certitude in For Whom the Bell Tolls
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.
Bravery and Altruism: Coming to Terms with Mortality in For Whom The Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a narrative about a young combatant and expert dynamiter, Robert Jordan, fighting with the anti-fascists in Spain during the civil battles. The main leitmotif explored in For Whom the Bell Tolls is mortality. The story which revolves around the violence of war explores death in different angles, but the central subject is each key character faces or comes to terms with their own death or others. During his assignment to destroy the target site, Robert meets Anselmo who is the guide and intercessor between him and the guerrilla rebel soldiers. His quest, however, clashes with the reluctance and aggression of the rebel leader Pablo to take on a mission that will imperil his troop. Pilar, Pablo’s wife who does not agree with his husband stance on the operation, arrogates leadership and supports Robert’s mission. They gain more support from El Sordo, the leader of another rebel camp however they are later delimited and killed by fascist troops. The guerilla leaders all contemplate their own deaths individually, as their plan experiences obstacles and setbacks all through. Each of the key characters is faced with dilemmas and choices through the assignment, that either prompts bravery or self-sacrifice in the face of demise hence coming to terms with their own mortality or of others.
At the start, Robert Jordan is unmindful of mortality until he falls in love, and has to gain valor and altruism to contemplate his own death for the mission. Jordan as a soldier desensitized to the horrors of war but his newfound love with Maria transforms the meaning of death. As death no longer marks the conclusion of a mission but the end of a period adorned by love for Maria prompts a harder choice in altruism that may lead to his own demise. At the end of the book, Robert faces mortality by accepting his fate and sacrificing himself as he is waiting for the impending death (Hemingway 250). Jordan chooses his own mortality over being captured and prepare himself to be exterminated in order to avoid internment. Although as he prepares to sacrifice himself through suicide, he still hopes to avoid killing himself as his father did, who he considered a coward. As he contemplated before that “you have to be awfully occupied with yourself to do a thing like that” (Hemingway 182). Hence the choice of self-sacrifice and accepting his own demise is a complex decision for Jordan at this point. The story concludes as he bids farewell to Maria and the guerrillas as he hopes to strike back at the enemy with his last breath as the rest escaped.
Pablo, the rebel leader, is illustrated as afraid of his own death but through the course of the mission gains bravery and comes to terms with his own mortality. As Anselmo utters about Pablo “He is very flaccid. He is very much afraid to die” (Hemingway 15). Pablo’s fear to put his life and his soldiers in danger is illustrated as he also admits his fear of death to his wife Pilar. His fear of death is actually a symptom of more general despair caused by his guilt over the people he’s killed. Pablo still not committed to the operation steals bomb detonators and equipment dumping them to prevent fascist retaliation, however, he later returns to aid. He exhibits courage admitting his part in destroying the equipment; though still not accepting of the strategy, he overcomes his fear of mortality for his spouse Pilar. As everyone is willing to put their lives on the line, Pablo comes to terms with risking his own life as well in order to not lose Pilar.
Other characters Pilar, El Sordo and Anselmo also contemplate their own deaths and of others as they gather their bravery and altruism to undertake the risky mission. Aware of the early Republic attack, each of the characters anticipates risking their own lives, as surviving seems fairly impossible. El Sordo faces looming death after the attack, as he is dying the narrator states “…one’s death is difficult to accept. Sordo had accepted it…” (Hemingway 168). Illustrating the bravery that had to be gained to come to terms with one’s own demise. While Pablo is reluctant to take on the operation, Pilar makes a stance and takes on the responsibility to participate in the mission regardless of the risk. The highly superstitious Pilar also reads Jordan’s palms and sees his death. Despite her reluctance to admit it, Pilar anticipates Jordan’s death in the near future which she simultaneously contemplates with her own mortality. Moreover, Anselmo feels remorse of the killings in the war while contemplating on atoning for his sins through self-sacrifice. The story illustrates each character’s acceptance of mortality before, during or after the main operation.
The characters in their path during the operation face difficult choices that demand bravery and altruism in the face of adversity prompting contemplating and coming to terms with their own mortality or of others. Robert Jordan undergoes a character arc clearly illustrated by his lack of passion about anything to his heroic act for the greater good. He has to have a resolution regarding his mortality at the end of the mission, by sacrificing his happiness with his love Maria for the operation. On the other hand, Pablo overcomes his fear of death and gains bravery for his troops and his spouse Pilar. Furthermore, Pilar, El Sordo, and Anselmo face the same complex impasse that has to be overcome by true bravery and altruism in the face of demise. The John Donne’s quote that introduces the story interprets to that every man needs others and the brotherhood of society. The story illustrates the essence of the quote through the transition and arcs of a majority of the characters in the book from Robert Jordan to Pablo.