For Whom the Bell Tolls

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Novel by Hemingway, published in 1940. The title is derived from a sermon by Donne: “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent … And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Robert Jordan, an American, has entered the Loyalist army during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and has been sent to join a guerrilla band in the mountains near Segovia to blow up a strategic bridge at the exact minute that will help a Loyalist advance. During the three days and nights that he spends in the guerrillas' cave, he awaits with a romantic opposition to heroism what he suspects will be his own destruction and that of his companions. He falls in love with Maria, daughter of a Republican mayor, who has seen her parents killed and was herself raped by Falangists. Her close-cropped hair is a symbol of her tortures; Jordan helps her to regain her desire to live. Their passionate love is abetted by the powerful woman Pilar, who dominates the group by her force of character, gusto, and love of the Republic. Her man Pablo is wily but lacks belief and hence courage. The others include foul-mouthed Agustín; pedantic, dignified Fernando; the gypsy Rafael; and the adoring Andrés. A sense of impending disaster develops, with smoldering opposition within the group, a Falangist attack on the guerrilla leader El Sordo on a neighboring hill, acts of cowardice by Pablo, and a mission by Andrés to Loyalist headquarters to carry a note from Jordan saying the advance is likely to fail, with the messenger impeded by the Communists' bureaucracy and suspicion. The generals finally realize they should have cancelled the attack, but it is too late. Leaving the retreat, Jordan successfully blasts the bridge. In the attempt to flee he is wounded, and forces the others to leave him. He lies on the hillside almost delirious, restraining himself from suicide so that he may shoot the leader of the Fascists, and thinks, “I have fought for what I believed in for a year now. If we win here we will win everywhere …”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Ernest Hemingway (1899—1961) American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist