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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Chapter 26 | Summary



Robert Jordan reads the letters that were in the pocket of the cavalryman he killed. The boy was from Talfalla, and Jordan is surprised that his regiment is this far south. Many letters are from his sister, but there is a letter from the boy's fiancée, panicking that he will not return. Jordan doesn't want to read the rest of the letters after that. He begins to have an argument with himself in his mind. The voice of his conscience tells him he has to realize what he is doing is serious and has to understand the severity of taking lives. "Because if you are not absolutely straight in your head you have no right to do the things you do for all of them are crimes and no man has a right to take another man's life unless it is to prevent something worse happening to other people." His conscience also tells him to stop fooling himself about Maria, that he has true love, is lucky to have it, and is lucky even if he dies the next day. He thinks of poor Sordo being surrounded. Then he hears the planes coming.


Robert Jordan, with his self-talk, has to come to terms with the ways in which he fools himself. He has tried to be cold about taking lives, and knows it's necessary in war, but his conscience tells him to stop trying to smooth it over and make it normal, because it isn't normal to kill another human being. This is an idea he has struggled with for his entire adult life, and he now realizes, because of Maria, that it was inevitable that he figure out how entwined human emotions are. The morality issue comes up over and over again for him, and this time he has to take it seriously. He has to realize that in the end everyone dies, and that war hastens and makes worse that death. Why would he do that to another human being? He knows now that he can't just sweep the immorality of so many acts of war under the rug.

He also has to be honest with himself about his love for Maria. Instead of trying to act as if she has no place in his life during war, he needs to realize how lucky he is to have her love. With the attack on Sordo, the idea that he may not live very much longer also enters his mind. If he only has a short time left to live, he needs to appreciate what he has more, and revel in it for as long as he can.

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