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For Whom the Bell Tolls

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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Set over four days in Spain, Ernest Hemingway packs a lot of action in his 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. A tale that features a sudden romance, a relationship falling apart and several battles. That's without mentioning the blowing up of a bridge. Here we will look at Ernest Hemingway's acclaimed novel.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940): summary

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel written and published in 1940 by American author Ernest Hemingway. The story is set over four days during the Spanish Civil War. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, an American Spanish teacher who volunteers in Spain to fight fascism alongside the Republicans.

The Spanish Civil War was a conflict between the Republicans and the Nationalist Fascist armies. The war lasted from 1936 till 1939. The Republicans were a union of left-wing factions that opposed the monarchists and military junta led by General Francesco Franco.

The book references many actual events and figures from the Spanish Civil war, albeit with their names altered. It is set in 1937, two years before the war ended. As it was published so soon after the war, many readers were familiar with the events that occurred. The book was inspired by Hemingway's time in Spain as a newspaper correspondent.

For Whom the Bell Tolls was hugely popular upon publication. It sold half a million copies just a few months after being published. Within three years the novel was adapted for a film starring Gary Cooper. The film was nominated for nine Oscars.

The novel however was not universally popular. Despite being tipped by many to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, one committee member vetoed the vote. This is assumed because of the book's references to sex and violence.

Plot

Robert Jordan has volunteered to fight for the republican army against the fascist army of Francesco Franco. His specific role is as an explosives expert. He has been ordered to join a band of guerilla fighters to destroy a bridge. He is taken to them by an old rebel named Anselmo. Hidden in the mountains, they meet the guerilla group led by Pablo and his wife Pilar.

Guerilla fighters are small groups of non-military-based fighters who perform irregular acts of war such as ambushes and raids.

Pablo is a drunk and a coward and Jordan takes an instant disliking to him. Pilar and Jordan however, forge an immediate bond. They also meet a young woman named Maria, who had been viscously assaulted by fascists in Valladolid, a city northwest of Madrid. Anselmo and Jordan go to survey the bridge they are to destroy. When they return, Jordan reveals their mission. Pablo refuses to blow up the bridge as tensions rise between him and Jordan. The rest of the group are happy to carry out the mission and one member, Rafael, suggests that Pablo should be killed for his disobedience.

Jordan and Maria strike a romantic bond and spend the night together. In the morning they travel with Pilar to a nearby guerilla group to ask for help with their mission. En route, Pilar tells Jordan how she and Pablo took part in the murder of fascists in Pablo's hometown. The group led by El Sordo agree to destroy the bridge. At night Jordan feels disillusioned with the war and apathetic about its politics.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, a view of the town of Segovia showing buildings and a mountain range, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Segovia and its mountains are the setting for the novel.

As they return to the camp, they are once again confronted by a drunken Pablo. Jordan thinks more seriously about killing Pablo after he storms out of the camp. The band of guerillas agree that Pablo should be killed as he is proving a danger to the group and even Pilar agrees. Pablo, possibly listening behind a curtain, comes back and changes his tone again. The group decide to spare him.

The next morning Jordan is woken up by a fascist cavalryman and promptly shoots him. The group hear the distant sound of gunfire and realise El Sordo is under attack. The point of view then switches to El Sordo and his men. They manage to defend themselves up on a hill, even killing an officer. Eventually, fascist planes fly over and bomb the entire group. Back with Jordan's group, a few of their party want to aid El Sordo, but Jordan and Pilar convince them that it is no good.

On the night before the mission, Jordan writes to the republican general to cancel the mission, believing the fascists are aware of the attack. While the others are sleeping, Pablo leaves the camps with the explosives and throws them in a nearby river. He returns, claiming he has had a change of heart. The group are angry yet have no choice but to trust him as there is little time before commencing the mission.

They get to the bridge and Anselmo and Jordan each shoot a fascist guard. Jordan attaches the explosives. They are successful in destroying the bridge but Anselmo is killed in the blast. Several members of Pablo's group are shot. As the rest of the group escape, Jordan's horse is shot and they fall. Jordan's leg is severely broken and he must be left behind. After an emotional goodbye with Maria, Jordan sets himself up to ambush the chasing fascists. While waiting for certain death, Jordan realises that he has fought for what he believed was right.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: meaning

The title is taken from a 17th century poem written by English poet John Donne. At the time Donne wrote largely about sickness and health as he was recovering from a near fatal illness. The quote is from a poem titled 'Meditation XVII' (1624). A full quote can be found in the novel's epigraph.

Epigraph is a short quote or inscription at the beginning of a book or chapter that would sometimes suggest its theme.

'For whom the bell tolls' is a reference to funeral tolling. Funeral tolling is an old ritual where a bell is rung several times with long pauses between each strike. This ritual is to announce either a death or burial service. Therefore the title could be construed as an announcement of a death, possibly the death of the novel's hero, Robert Jordan.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, a church bell, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A bell 'tolling' is the announcement of a death.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: characters

Below is a brief description of some of the main characters that feature in Ernest Hemingway's novel.

Robert Jordan

The novel's protagonist is a Spanish teacher from Montana, USA. He lived in Spain before the war and volunteered for the Republicans, training in explosives. His grandfather was a veteran of the American Civil War. Robert Jordan's father killed himself with his father's gun and Jordan finds it difficult to forgive him for it. On the outside Jordan appears calm and methodical but the book's internal monologues reveal him to be conflicted and prone to rage.

Maria

A young woman from Valladolid, Spain. In her hometown Maria was traumatised by fascist soldiers. They had shot her parents, assaulted her and then shaved her head as they held her captive. Pilar and her band rescued her from a train they attacked. Maria's time in captivity was so traumatic she lost the ability to speech. Maria is devoted to Jordan almost immediately.

Pilar

Despite Pablo being the official leader of the guerilla group, it is Pilar who is the real boss. She is strong, brash and extremely competent. Pilar is a loyal Republican and is passionate to the cause. She is often described as ugly and coarse yet shows great capacity for warmth. Pilar is disturbed by the violence caused by the war but is devoted to helping win it.

Pablo

Pablo was once a fierce soldier for the Republicans but has since become disillusioned with the war. Pablo is often drunk and confrontational with the rest of the group. He abandons the group several times throughout the novel only to return every time. This shows his internal conflict: does he save his own life or remain loyal to the cause. Apart from drinking, Pablo's other great interest is horses which he seems to rank higher than his fellow man.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: analysis

Here we will look at the language and themes used in the novel.

Language

The dialogue in the novel can seem strange or antiquated with its use of words such as 'thou' and 'thee' and similar pronouns. This is because Hemingway is using a direct translation of the Spanish informal pronouns. This is to let the reader know that the characters are speaking in Spanish. We know this as the informal pronouns such as 'thou' and 'thee' are no longer used in the English language. It also gives as sense of the camaraderie among the Republicans, informal pronouns are normally used for someone you are friends or familiar with.

Main theme

Now we will explore the main theme of the novel- love in a time of war. We follow two romantic relationships through the novel, though they are very different in dynamic. On one hand there is the relationship between Jordan and Maria which is all consuming and passionate. Pablo and Pilar however, are constantly arguing with each other. At one point Pilar goes as far as threatening to kill Pablo. In a sense, Maria and Jordan represent young love while Pilar and Pablo appear to have lost respect for one another.

Both relationships are affected by war. Pilar and Pablo have fought alongside one another almost as much as they have fought with each other. The war has deteriorated their love over time, as each day passed the pair become more resentful toward each other. Jordan and Maria were brought together through Jordan's mission. Despite all that she has suffered, Maria represents hope for Jordan. She is often optimistic of their future together beyond the war. Pablo and Pilar's relationship could be seen to represent the destructive power of war.

For Whom the Bell Tolls: quotes

Below is a series of quotes that appear in the novel.

The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it. - Robert Jordan, chapter 43

In this quote Robert Jordan, facing certain death, is reflecting on his life and involvement in the war. Earlier in the novel Jordan was feeling apathetic with regard to the politics of the war. Here he has realised that he is fighting for a good cause and the world can be good.

I am thee and thou art me and all of one is the other. - Robert Jordan, chapter 5

These are the words Robert Jordan says to Maria after their first night together and he repeats them the last time they see each other. The quote reflects the infatuation of their sudden relationship, they had known each other for less than a day before professing their love.

If you have not seen the day of Revolution in a small town where all know all in the town and always have known all, you have seen nothing. - Pilar, chapter 10

Pilar is talking to Jordan and Maria on their way to see El Sordo. The revolution she is talking about is the day her and Pablo took part in a mass killing of fascists and fascist sympathisers. It shows that Pilar does not wholly agree with all the killing yet is devoted to winning the war.

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Key takeaways

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel written and published in 1940 by American author Ernest Hemingway.
  • The story is set over four days during the Spanish Civil War.
  • The title is taken from a 17th century poem written by John Donne titled 'Meditation XVII' (1624).
  • The story follows Robert Jordan, an American fighting in the war. His mission is to join a group of guerilla fighters and destroy a bridge.
  • The novel reflects the brutality of the Spanish Civil War.

Frequently Asked Questions about For Whom the Bell Tolls

The novel reflects the brutality of the Spanish Civil War.

The story follows Robert Jordan, an American fighting in the war. His mission is to join a group of guerilla fighters and destroy a bridge.

'For whom the bell tolls' is a reference to funeral tolling. Funeral tolling is an old ritual where a bell is rung several times with long pauses between each strike. This ritual is to announce either a death or burial service.

'The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.'

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel. Its title is taken from a 17th-century poem written by John Donne titled 'Meditation XVII' (1624)

Final For Whom the Bell Tolls Quiz

Question

What is the message of For Whom the Bell Tolls?

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Answer

The novel reflects the brutality of the Spanish Civil War.

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Question

What is For Whom the Bell Tolls about?

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Answer

The story follows Robert Jordan, an American fighting in the war. His mission is to join a group of guerilla fighters and destroy a bridge.

Show question

Question

What does for whom the bell tolls mean?


Show answer

Answer

'For whom the bell tolls' is a reference to funeral tolling. Funeral tolling is an old ritual where a bell is rung several times with long pauses between each strike. This ritual is to announce either a death or burial service.

Show question

Question

What is the quote at the end of For Whom the Bell Tolls?


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Answer

"The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it" 

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Question

Who wrote for whom the bell tolls poem?


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Answer

The title is taken from a 17th-century poem written by John Donne titled 'Meditation XVII' (1624)

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Question

Who is the protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)?

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Answer

The protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is Robert Jordan

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Question

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is set during what war?

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Answer

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is set during the Spanish Civil War.

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Question

Robert Jordan is fighting for which army in the Spanish Civil War? 

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Answer

Robert Jordan is fighting for the republican army.


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Question

Which character frequently abandons the guerilla group only to always return?

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Answer

Pablo frequently abandons the guerilla group only to return.

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Question

In what year is the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) set?

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Answer

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is set in the year 1937.

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