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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Chapter 1 | Summary



The first chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls opens in the Pyrenees, near Segovia, Spain. Robert Jordan, an American teacher who has volunteered as an explosives expert for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, has been ordered by Golz, his Russian general, to blow up a bridge on the road to Segovia. However the mission has not been well thought out: Jordan suspects it won't turn out well, and Golz thinks it is bound to fail, but he has his order, and must pass on the order to Jordan, whether or not they have the materials to do the job correctly. More often than not, they don't have the right materials, because Golz can only order a limited supply, and it's never enough.

Right at the start of the chapter, the reader is introduced to Anselmo, an old guerrilla with a band hiding in the mountains. Anselmo has been asked to be Jordan's guide, and he brings Jordan to meet Pablo, the leader of the guerrilla band. Pablo is a big, dangerous character who drinks more than he should, and he doesn't look happy. When Anselmo asks him to take one of the bags that Jordan has brought, Pablo won't do it, and Pablo accuses Jordan of bringing danger and death to his band. He thinks that blowing up the bridge will bring attention to where he and his group are hiding, and the Fascists will find them. Pablo doesn't want any part of the bridge operation, but Anselmo shames him into picking up the bag and moving up the mountain.


Hemingway introduces four characters in the first chapter, using dialogue. The first, Golz, described by Jordan as the best general he's ever served under, is a man who likes to do things right, and yet he can't given that he gets all of his supplies from Russia, and he can never order as much as he actually needs. The reader gets a sense from the dialogue of how frustrated Golz is and how doomed the mission is.

Robert Jordan is a man who doesn't want to get emotionally involved with anyone or anything, so as not to ruin his ability to do his job well. He says he has no time for women, and he prides himself on remaining cold. However his interior monologue is extremely involved: he thinks deeply about everyone he meets, trying to assess their personalities and their possibilities as friends or foes.

Pablo is a mess, a very heavy drinker who had a reputation for being absolutely ruthless in killing Fascists, but is now afraid of death. His explanation to Anselmo, Jordan's guide, about why he doesn't want to help with the mission is all about protecting his band of guerrillas. Anselmo, however, is not about to go against Republican orders. Anselmo is a man who hates to kill people but recognizes that in war he has no choice. His dialogue with Jordan shows his intelligence and his level-headed personality, but with Pablo he knows exactly which buttons to push to shame him into doing what he is asked.

Questions for Chapter 1

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