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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In For Whom the Bell Tolls how is the rabbit symbol both positive and negative?

The rabbit, a common symbol throughout the text, is positive because it is used as a term of endearment. Robert Jordan calls Maria "my little rabbit" out of love for her. It is also positive because rabbits are used in stews that Pilar makes to feed Pablo's band in the cave. Rafael traps rabbits and hares to bring meat back to the cave, which is partially positive, but Rafael also leaves his post to trap two hares, allowing a Fascist cavalryman to find the cave thus putting the entire band in danger. The idea that rabbits are vulnerable to birds of prey is also used to express the vulnerability of the guerrillas in the mountains when Fascist planes fly overhead. Unless they are in the cave there is nowhere they can hide from the machine guns and the bombs, just as rabbits can't hide unless they are in their burrows. By collapsing positive and negative associations into a single symbol, Hemingway connects the rabbit with the larger world of nature. While the beauty of nature remains largely unaffected by the war, it is also indifferent to human suffering.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 1, what does the mission Golz gives Robert Jordan reveal about Golz's world view?

Because Golz is a fatalist, he believes the events of the war are beyond his power to control. Thus he accepts what he believes will be a failed mission without much protest. However Golz does display some frustration about the mission for several reasons. First, he has not been allowed to order enough supplies to make the attack a success. The Russians have limited their support to just enough to keep the Republicans from turning against them but not enough to actually win the war. Second, the plan to blow up the bridge has been created in what is essentially a backward fashion. The Republican attack will happen in daylight, which means the bridge can't be wired to blow until daylight. Robert Jordan is not to blow up the bridge until the attack has occurred, but wiring the bridge in daylight threatens to expose the entire plan to the Fascists. Both Golz and Jordan know this is a far too dangerous way to conduct the mission and it is likely doomed to fail, but Golz has to follow his orders and so does Jordan.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls how is Pablo's reaction to Robert Jordan's bridge mission similar to the Spanish reaction to Hemingway's depiction of the Spanish Civil War?

Pablo thinks that Robert Jordan is going to destroy his guerrilla band and allow the Fascists to get ahead by going forward with a mission that is doomed to fail. He feels that Jordan is acting with the impulses of a foreigner who is simply following orders without understanding the larger picture. When Ernest Hemingway's novel was released, Spanish critics who had lived through the civil war accused him of romanticizing the war and using stereotypes of the Spanish people and culture. Although Hemingway, like Jordan, had been part of the Republican effort to fight fascism in the war, albeit as a journalist, critics felt that he oversimplified the issues at stake in the war, and as a foreigner didn't understand Spain as well as he thought he did.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls how does the title relate to the content of the novel?

Death is everywhere, on both sides of the Spanish civil war, and while there are characters in the novel who claim the act of killing does not affect them, the result—death—does. For example, Pablo led the effort to wipe out all of the Fascists in his own village, and relished the deaths of all of them, even complaining that the priest should have died better. And yet, later, when he is afraid of his own death, he admits that the deaths of these people still haunt him, and if he could, he would bring them back to life. The title, which comes from a John Donne poem, means that any death affects everyone because human beings are connected to each other. Pablo doesn't understand this until he sees just how close he is to being caught by the Fascists and killed. Being confronted with the prospect of his own death makes him realize that any time a human life is lost, it reverberates and has an influence on the entire community. Pilar feels that Pablo has lost his fire for the revolution, but when she witnessed the killings in his village, she could not forget the woman crying on the balcony for her dead husband. Everyone dies eventually, and every death resonates, as expressed in the title of the novel as well as the story it relates.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls what does Hemingway reveal about his opinions regarding the cost of war?

Hemingway begins the novel by showing Robert Jordan's idealism about serving a righteous cause. He has Jordan describe what it felt like in the first six months of being in the Republican army. Jordan learned to endure physical hardship and death all around him, and learned how to kill without feeling remorse. He felt he was somehow part of a larger good that was defeating the forces of evil. However Jordan realizes, as he defends Pablo's band against a cavalryman and as he watches the enemy near the bridge, that so many of these people are not, in fact, fascist at heart, and are only there because they, too, have been told they are fighting the forces of evil. When he reads the letters that were found in the cavalryman's pockets, he realizes this boy is from a village he knows, has a family who loves him, and is engaged to a woman who will be devastated that he is gone forever. It is far less romantic to be confronted with the losses he has caused, and he begins to see that war solves nothing while it destroys everything.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls how do Pablo's and El Sordo's reactions to Robert Jordan's bridge mission compare and contrast?

Pablo believes the mission to blow up the bridge is going to alert the Fascists to his hiding spot in the mountains. He notes that because the bridge is supposed to be blown up after the attack by the Republicans begins, the bridge mission has to occur in daylight. Robert Jordan knows it's a faulty mission that is doomed to fail or, at the very least, doomed to cause the deaths of those involved in executing the mission, but he isn't willing to admit that to Pablo because he needs his help. Pablo, however, doesn't want to participate in the mission because he knows it will fail and he doesn't want to die. In this way Pablo acts as a foil to Robert Jordan in that Pablo will give nothing to the cause while Jordan will give everything. In both cases the extreme position is dangerous to the well-being of the characters and their cause. El Sordo, like Pablo, is concerned about the fact that the mission is to be completed in daylight. He knows he is putting his own life at risk as well as the lives of his band. He even asks Jordan if there's any way they can wire the bridge under cover of darkness, or at least just before sunrise, but Jordan tells him that his general will shoot him if he doesn't complete the mission as ordered. El Sordo, like Pablo, is not happy about this mission. However, unlike Pablo, El Sordo agrees to help, knowing that Jordan did not choose this route himself. In addition El Sordo is fighting for the Republic, and an order from the army means more to him than it does to Pablo. El Sordo is a fatalist, accepting his inability to change the outcome of the mission, but he operates with a hero's sense of style when he gives Robert Jordan a bottle of whiskey.

How does the meaning of the pines compare and contrast for Pilar and Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 10?

In Chapter 10 Pilar asks Robert Jordan what he thinks of the pines, and he says he likes them. Elsewhere in the novel, their scent and the way their needles soften the ground are features that Jordan loves, and he and Maria have this in common. He also likes the way they allow him to hide from the planes. For him they represent the quiet of the forest and safety. However Pilar is tired of them. Having hidden in the mountains for far too long, she misses deciduous forests with a variety of trees. To her the pines all look the same, and they represent the lack of freedom and the restrictions of war. When they go to visit El Sordo, she is glad to get out of the pines.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls how does Hemingway use other characters to develop the character of Agustín beyond his use of foul language?

Hemingway uses Anselmo's character to further develop Agustín's character in Chapter 3. Anselmo introduces Agustín to Robert Jordan, and Jordan is wary of Agustín because of his language. Anselmo knows this, and takes Jordan aside, letting him know that when he brings his sacks of explosives to the cave, Agustín is one of the only people he can trust to guard them. Jordan will need to guard them at all times, Anselmo says, because Pablo is not to be trusted. In Chapter 9 Hemingway uses a conversation between Pilar and Agustín regarding the need to retreat after the bridge is blown to show that Agustín may be perceptive enough not to trust Pablo with the explosives. But Agustín is also an excellent judge of strategic intelligence, and knows that Pablo is the only one of the group who will be able to guide them safely out of the mountains. He insists to Pilar that she get Pablo to study how to make their escape. This shows that Agustín is not just a blustery, rude man who makes a lot of noise. He ends up being the one Jordan trusts to take care of Maria at the end of the novel, showing that Agustín is a good man.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 9, how do Pablo and Pilar embody the different kinds of intelligence needed to navigate the guerrilla cause and lives of poverty?

In Chapter 9 Agustín says that Pilar is not smart and Pablo is because he knows that Pablo can figure out how to guide the band through the mountains in order to escape from the Fascists once the bridge blows. This statement is not entirely correct. It is true that Pablo has experience getting out of messy situations with the Fascists, so he is the most likely person to lead the band to safety. However both Pilar and Pablo, in their own ways, have figured out the Fascists know about the attack being planned, and they both are aware the bridge mission puts the entire band in danger. In addition Pilar knows Robert Jordan can't walk away from the bridge mission because she is aware that deserters on either side are shot. Pablo may say he is protecting the band, but he is really protecting himself, while Pilar seems more aware of the emotional repercussions of causing Jordan's death, and is willing to take risks to aid the Republic. After all this is why they are hiding in the mountains, to fight for the Republic on their own terms. It is not that Pilar is not smart and Pablo is, but that Pablo has more experience in navigating to safety.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 8, how does Hemingway use the planes to foreshadow what will happen in the rest of the chapter?

In Chapter 8 Hemingway uses planes at the beginning of the chapter to signify the Fascists are aware of the Republican attack being planned. The planes are not Republican; they are Fascist, and they are making reconnaissance missions overhead to assess where they think the Republicans will start the attack and which bridge is being blown up. This sighting of planes symbolizes how vulnerable the guerrillas in the mountains are, and how vulnerable they will be when Robert Jordan blows the bridge. The appearance of planes also foreshadows Fernando's report later in the chapter that the entire nearby town knows all about the attack being planned, and they even know about the bridge being blown up. He tries to dismiss it all as rumors, but everyone in the band knows it is likely true, and their mission is in deep trouble. Jordan especially knows the Fascists have figured everything out, and he will likely die in this mission. The planes also contribute to the mood in that the war technology infuses the natural setting with mechanized sounds that create an atmosphere of menace. There is the sense that perhaps more so than war, it is industrialization that threatens the rural lives of the peasants.

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