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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In For Whom the Bell Tolls how does Robert Jordan's decision not to speak up when Pablo identifies problems with the mission help build conflict and tension in the plot?

Robert Jordan's decision not to speak up creates tension in the plot as the characters struggle with each other over the decision about whether or not to move toward a doomed fate. In Chapter 4 Pablo asks, "Am I the only one who sees the seriousness of this?" and Robert Jordan thinks to himself that he also sees it, but he says nothing to Pablo's band, and lets them continue thinking that Pablo is weak rather than a man who has, as Pablo says, "tactical sense." While Pablo is afraid to die, he is also a man who doesn't want to carry out a doomed mission that the army has concocted. He has brought together a band of guerrillas because he doesn't want to be part of the Republican army. He wants to orchestrate his own attacks. But if Jordan admits to any of this and says that Pablo is right, the entire band will side with Pablo and he will have no help carrying out his mission.

How does the relationship between Pilar and Maria work to explore concepts of beauty and femininity in For Whom The Bell Tolls?

Maria represents youth, beauty, femininity, and a primal connection to nature. She attracts sexual attention from Pablo, and she has a sexual affair with Robert Jordan, during which the earth moves beneath them. The narrator compares Maria's motion to that of a colt, and Robert Jordan refers to her as a rabbit. In contrast Pilar is close to 50 and considers herself ugly. She feels there is no chance for her to ever have the kind of love that Robert Jordan and Maria have again. Maria represents Pilar's lost youth and her true love for her matador, Finito. Yet her character marries concepts of masculinity and femininity. She keeps the home and mothers other characters, but she also engages in warfare. She has degrees of intuitiveness and mysticism that likely come only with age.

What elements of tragedy does Hemingway employ in the plot of For Whom the Bell Tolls?

Hemingway creates a plot that, from the beginning, has the seeds of failure for the main character Robert Jordan. Jordan is given a mission that even his commanding general says is doomed to fail, but he does his duty anyway, trying to figure out a way to accomplish the mission without losing his life or endangering the lives of others in his party. If this was the only storyline in the plot, readers would consider it a tragedy because Jordan is heading toward an inevitable bad ending, with the Fascists figuring out that he is planning to blow the bridge and setting themselves up to foil the Republican attack. The slaughter of El Sordo's band ensures that Jordan's mission is going to fail, because there are not enough people to help him. The classic unavoidable ending in a tragedy is part of this plot. However there is also a love story that is central to the plot, which makes the novel even more tragic. Readers don't get to find out if Maria makes her escape successfully or not, and Jordan may or may not lose his life at the hands of the Fascists when he breaks his leg and stays behind. But the the main characters, who are in love, cannot be with each other at the end of the novel, and this separation is also seen as unavoidable, especially by Jordan. Throughout the novel their love is intensified by the fact they both know they only have a few days to be in love. The separation forms part of the unavoidable sad ending that makes the plot a classic tragedy.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 7, how does the sleeping robe, entered only by certain characters, establish another setting—Madrid—in the minds of the characters?

Hemingway uses the symbol of the sleeping robe as part of the setting, the place where Robert Jordan sleeps, but it is also where Maria is most intimate with Jordan. Once Maria has spent one night with Jordan in the robe, it begins to represent safety and the one place where it feels like time has stopped. Jordan and Maria plan their lives together in Madrid while wrapped up in the robe, though they both know this future version of Madrid exists only inside the robe. The robe gives them a place to fully love each other, to live their lives together, with no interference from the outside world or the pesky passage of real time.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 7, what makes Maria both an innocent character and a worldly one?

In Chapter 7 Maria's innocence is expressed by the fact that she has never been kissed before and doesn't know where to put her nose. She is also unsure about how to make love in a way that is loving, because the only sexual contact she has had with men has been hurtful and traumatic for her. However she knows there are certain things about being in a sexual relationship she needs to learn, and she has already gone about asking Pilar to educate her before she even sets foot in Robert Jordan's bed. The fact she is aware that loving Jordan may help her to heal from her trauma is also wise for her years. Hemingway portrays Maria as a woman who is innocent because she lacks experience, but is worldly and emotionally intelligent because she thinks about how she is going to have a relationship with Jordan before she approaches him to begin, and she asks right away if he loves her, so as not to get into a relationship that will end in heartache.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 8, how does Pilar's description of life with Finito both embody the theme of courage and contrast her present life with Pablo?

In Chapter 8 Pilar describes a life where she took care of Finito, who was not only a matador, but suffered from tuberculosis. She had to help him recover physically from each bullfight, and he was completely covered with scars where he had been gored by bull horns. Because of Finito's short stature, even though he won all of his fights, he still was injured every time he fought. But they went to places that she loved, he was loving toward her, and even though he was terrified of bulls and his tuberculosis kept getting worse, he was a master in the ring. His bravery impressed her, and his ability to be attentive to her still goes through her mind. She can still picture him, with all of his scars, and does so fondly and wistfully. Finito embodied courage for her because he overcame his fears every time he fought, in order to make a living. With Pablo her life has become an endless task of putting up with a drunken, fearful man who gives her no love because he loves to drink more than he loves her. To Pilar everything she once saw in Pablo is gone, and she blames his drinking for the loss.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 11, how does Joaquín's reaction to Pilar's desire to kiss him set her up to be angry with Robert Jordan?

In Chapter 11 Pilar tells Joaquín that she would like to kiss him as well, after he has been crying about his parents being killed. Joaquín recoils, but he does it because he is embarrassed that he has shown emotion in front of them. Pilar thinks his reaction is related to her ugliness, which, now that Maria and Robert Jordan are together, seems to be an issue that is very much on her mind. When Jordan suggests it would be better for the band to retreat to Gredos rather than go back to the Republic, Pilar flies into a rage and swears at him for several minutes. She is not at all pleased he has tried to tell her where the band should end up, when he is the one who is leading them into a doomed mission. She tells him to "leave us others alone here to decide what part of these hills we'll die in." She also insults Maria, which is a clue this fit of anger is brought on by being jealous of Maria's beauty and youth, and the belief that Joaquín is disgusted by her looks.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 11, how are characters' relationships with others as well as themselves negotiated and revealed through word choice and naming?

In Chapter 11 El Sordo speaks to Robert Jordan in what Jordan refers to as "pidgin Spanish." For example, when he offers whiskey to Jordan, he says, "Get whiskey. For you. You like?" in Spanish. It is as if he thinks Jordan can't really understand Spanish, so El Sordo must simplify everything for him. Jordan finds this strange and a little uncomfortable, but then he hears El Sordo speaking in regular Spanish to Pilar and realizes this is how El Sordo tries to make the conversation easier for foreigners. Eventually after Pilar flies into a rage and swears for several minutes at Jordan, El Sordo realizes that Jordan not only understands Spanish very well, but he must also be a member of Pilar's extended family if he is getting yelled at like this. After this episode El Sordo seems to open up more to Jordan and speaks in the same style he uses with Pilar. In addition Pilar, whose name translates as "pillar," provides the structural support for the guerrilla fighting group. Primitivo, whose name translates as "primitive," reflects values for idealism and naturalism that are untainted by the war. El Sordo, whose name translates as "the deaf one," not only has trouble hearing, but he utters few words, as well.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 12, how does Hemingway use setting to evoke emotions?

In Chapter 12 Hemingway uses the setting of the field of heather to evoke romance. In every other chapter of the novel, Robert Jordan and Maria are surrounded by either tall pines or scrub pines, rocks, or the cave. However in the most free and moving love scene in the novel, the setting is an open field, filled with heather, a tall, spikey, purplish pink flower that has a clean smell. Instead of the darkness of the pine forest or the mouth of the cave, here, the sun is shining directly on them both as they make love, and it highlights Maria's features in a way that Jordan will never forget. Maria has to close her eyes in order not to have the sun directly in them, but her eyelashes flutter, and she can see the orange glow that one sees when one closes one's eyelids against bright sun. This vision adds to the beauty of the passage, and for Maria it adds to the beauty of the experience. For both lovers the earth moves from under them, an experience that neither of them has ever had before. Hemingway's descriptions of the setting align with his descriptions of the emotion in the scene and the connection between the lovers.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 14, how does Pilar's story about Finito's behavior contrast with Pablo's behavior?

In Chapter 14 Pablo has been drinking all day, and everyone is stuck inside because of the snowstorm. Pablo chooses this moment to harass Robert Jordan about his sleeping arrangements. He doesn't say he is telling Jordan to sleep inside to keep him from sleeping with Maria, but this is how Jordan perceives his insistence and Pilar notices it, too. She becomes angry because now that Pablo is drunk again, he is lusting after Maria and trying to keep her from other men. Then when Pablo mentions Finito and the bullfights, one of the band members says Finito wasn't much of a matador, Pablo criticizes Finito's height, and Primitivo calls Finito "tubercular." Finally Pilar can't take it anymore: she is furious with Pablo and tells him that Finito fought through his fear and was "like a lion" in the ring, unlike Pablo, who is afraid to die and is drinking his life away. She tells Jordan that people were too poor to have been trained in anything else, so they were forced into professions like bullfighting, and usually, people like Finito wouldn't last one fight. A good many of the matadors suffered from tuberculosis, being in the ring surrounded by crowds, and having their chests crashed into by the bulls in every fight. She tells Jordan about Finito's evening at a club named for him, and how he fought through his fear of the bull's head they put on the wall, and stayed there even though he was coughing a great deal of blood into napkin after napkin. She is obviously telling these stories to upset Pablo and to let him know that she is disgusted with him now. Being with a man who was like the bulls her former lover fought brings her a great deal of sadness.

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