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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Chapter 28 | Summary



This chapter begins with Pilar's band eating lunch, but they aren't hungry knowing that El Sordo and his band are dead. Maria has to go back to Pilar for "instruction" and when she greets Primitivo, it is clear that he is still devastated by having to leave El Sordo to die. Robert Jordan says not to talk about it anymore, because they had no other choice but to leave him. The cavalrymen ride by at that point with the guns and a poncho full of heads lashed to the horses. Berrendo is at the front, and is still feeling awful about taking the heads. He prays for the loss of his friend Julián. Anselmo sees them pass, and doesn't know what is in the poncho, but recognizes El Sordo's gun. When he goes to the hill and sees the bodies, he realizes what is in the poncho. He begins to pray for the souls of El Sordo and the other men and pray that he will be able to follow Jordan's orders. When he comes upon Fernando, he asks if Fernando has been told about El Sordo. Fernando calls the Fascists barbarians and says they lack dignity. This makes Anselmo smile, which is somewhat miraculous.


The reactions from both sides to this battle are the same: horror and prayer. Anselmo, who is no longer religious, finds that prayers give him comfort, and help him keep moving forward after his discovery that the bodies of El Sordo and his band have been beheaded. Berrendo, still disgusted at the barbaric order to bring back heads and traumatized by the loss of his close friend, also turns to prayer. These similar reactions also show no matter which side one is on, causing the death of others and being disrespectful about that act after the fact is thoroughly immoral. The leaders for each side may try to avoid talking about that part of war by emphasizing the glory, but the boots on the ground know their actions are going to haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Fernando's obsession with dignity, rather than being annoying, comforts Anselmo and makes him smile at its predictability. But instead of joking with Fernando or teasing him as he usually does, Anselmo acts as if he agrees with Fernando, which comforts them both: an important effort on Anselmo's part to be gentle with the people around him. In this passage Hemingway uses the return to the familiar as a way of self-soothing in an otherwise deeply sad and violent time. He also shows how good-hearted Anselmo is with this modification of behavior to keep Fernando from being too affected by what's going on around him.

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