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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 15, how does Hemingway explore the tension between a political ideology and religion?

In Chapter 15 Anselmo is spying on the guards in the sawmill, writing down what they do and what goes by on the road so that Robert Jordan can use this information to plan his bridge mission. As he compares his position to that of the guards who are warm and in each other's company while he is cold and lonely, he also thinks of what he used to do to get over loneliness. He thinks about his beliefs regarding killing people, and he remembers the prayers he used to say to get through that lonely feeling. He also revisits his strong sentiments that killing is a sin. Without his religion there is no way to atone for that sin, and he wishes there could be a way to relieve his guilt. These beliefs and sentiments are part of the religion he had to leave behind in order to be part of the Republican movement. His reactions in times of crisis show a political movement can never successfully erase a person's religion if those beliefs were central to that person's life before they joined the movement. As Hemingway does throughout the novel, he reveals Anselmo's true character and his innermost beliefs in his self-talk, and underneath his Republican exterior, Anselmo is a religious man who is comforted by prayer.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 15, how does Hemingway reveal his thoughts on civil war?

In Chapter 15 Hemingway uses Anselmo's character to voice his thoughts on civil war. Anselmo, who is stuck in a snowstorm, writing down vehicles that pass on the road below, can see the guards in the sawmill near the bridge, and they are warm and dry. But Anselmo notes they are peasants, just like him. The only difference between Anselmo and these men in the sawmill is that Anselmo is hiding in a cave, and these men are stuck in a sawmill. He realizes they may not even be Fascists, but are there because their towns chose a side and if they didn't go along with it, they and their families would be shot. This revelation shows frustration about the fact that in this war, the people on both sides come from the same types of families, the same backgrounds, and the same economic conditions. They are equally frustrated and yet equally controlled by their side's political and religious stance. After a certain point, the glory of fighting for principles becomes the horror of fighting against and killing people just like oneself.

How do the events in Chapter 16 explore views on masculinity in For Whom the Bell Tolls?

In Chapter 16 Pablo tells everyone he is completely drunk, and begins to pick on Robert Jordan, insisting that he wears skirts, though Jordan is an American and not Scottish. He then calls Jordan a false professor because Jordan lacks a full beard. The insinuation Pablo is making is that anything that marks Jordan as less than completely masculine makes him less acceptable as a man, as a soldier, and as a leader. Pablo is being accused of being less than a man by Pilar because he isn't willing to risk his life for the Republican cause. Jordan doesn't take the bait, but Agustín does, trying to get Pablo to fight with him. However Pablo has determined that if he is not the leader, it is because no one is willing to listen to his assessment of the situation, and he will not be goaded into proving his manhood by fighting. Hemingway is often thought of as a writer whose male characters are "manly men" who do typically male things to save the day, but Pablo isn't doing those things. Pablo has remorse for all of the killing he has done so far, and doesn't want to enter into a mission that is only going to cause more deaths, the deaths of the people he cares about, with no effect against the enemy side. While Hemingway does use typically manly details in Pablo's insults toward Jordan, such as wearing skirts and having a full beard, he also shows that Pablo is deeply affected by violence, and his assessment of the current situation is deeper than just a blind charge forward for the Republic. It is Pablo's intelligence, thoughtfulness, and love for Pilar that gets them out of the mountains alive, rather than his blustering manliness, which ends up not being useful at all. While the band gains the use of horses through Pablo's murder of their riders, Hemingway shows it is not always manliness and violence that wins in the end.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 18, how does Pablo's behavior affect Robert Jordan's feelings about his role in the war and in the group?

In Chapter 18 Pablo lays much of the blame on the increasing danger of their situation on Robert Jordan, but it isn't necessarily true the band would have been able to continue hiding in the mountains and affect change in the war without getting hurt if Jordan hadn't shown up. Jordan's mission puts the Fascists' focus on the bridge and the road, as well as the area around it, but the Fascists also regularly patrol the area, and it was only a matter of time before a fleet of planes saw one of them outside the cave and figured out what they were doing there. However Pablo's constant barrage of insults and threatening stance toward Jordan makes him slip into his thoughts in a self-destructive way. Hemingway's penchant for interior monologue comes out in this chapter, as Jordan thinks about what life was like before he came to Pablo's camp, and how much clearer he was on his duties in war before he fell in love with Maria. And it isn't just Maria that has changed his ideas about the glory of the fight against fascism. Jordan feels a connection with the rest of the band, and would like to just be able to blow up the bridge and walk away without feeling responsible for everyone in Pablo's group. He learned about cynicism in war and the ability to lie with Karkov, but that won't fly here with the group. He is torn between the relationships he has developed with these people and his commitment to a doomed mission. In the long run he makes the commitment to the mission, but at the ultimate personal cost.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 19, how does Robert Jordan's story about Kashkin reveal culturally different ideas about death?

In Chapter 19 Robert Jordan tells Pablo's band the man he replaced, Kashkin, had seen terrible things before he was sent to blow up the train. The band then begins to understand that even the foreigners who come to fight with them end up traumatized by the horrors of war. Kashkin had come very close to death already, and he was in shock by the time he came to them. Jordan selflessly shoots Kashkin to alleviate his suffering and prevent him from being captured and subjected to torture. Robert Jordan views this series of events as rational. On the other hand Pilar suggests death is a sensory experience that began while Kashkin was still alive. She argues that Kashkin smelled of death, and that Kashkin knew of his own coming death when he said he might have to be shot. This point of view suggests a supernatural connection between life and death that Robert Jordan denies, even when Pilar reads his fate in his palm.

What do the footprints of El Sordo's horses in the snow foreshadow, and what do they say about El Sordo himself in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 19?

In Chapter 19 Robert Jordan looks out into the snow and realizes that at that moment, El Sordo is out stealing horses so his band can help Jordan and his group get through the bridge mission and escape. With this realization comes the idea the horses will have left hoofprints in the snow. Any sign of life in the mountains, especially life with horses as companions, will alert the Fascists to the presence of guerrillas forming up to make an attack. This knowledge adds a layer of doom to the mission, and it also says a lot about El Sordo's dedication to the Republic. El Sordo has enough experience in this war that he knows his horses' hoofprints will give away his location and his intentions, but he has also told Jordan that blowing the bridge in daylight is a fool's errand. However he still has to do whatever he can to fulfill his promise to Jordan, and if this means more risk for him and his band, he is willing to take that on. He is hoping his band will at least be able to take out a few Fascists before they are completely blown apart. In that way he will have done what he can for the Republic.

How does Andrés's question about whether a man can know in advance what will happen to him foreshadow Robert Jordan's panic in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 20?

In Chapter 20 Robert Jordan, after making love with Maria and feeling as if they are one and the same person, wakes up in a total state of panic worried that Maria is going to be taken away from him. Somewhere in his heart, he knows this is true, because he expects that he will die blowing up the bridge. The mission's problems have reached the point where even if he can successfully blow up the bridge, no one is going to get away unscathed. The retreat that Pablo is engineering is risky, and since the Fascists are aware of all of their plans, they also must know Pablo's band will be somewhere in the mountains, viewable by plane. After all the talk with Pilar about visions of what will happen before it actually happens being superstition and stupidity, he's having visions of what he knows is going to happen. For a while with Maria, wrapped up in the sleeping robe, he can forget they only have a short time left together, but when he wakes up, that awareness is as strong as ever.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 21, how does Rafael's hunting expedition to trap two hares mating compare and contrast with Robert Jordan's behavior regarding his bridge mission?

In Chapter 21 Rafael is drawn away from his post to trap two hares who are mating, leaving the path to the cave open to a Fascist cavalryman who sees Robert Jordan in his sleeping robe. Jordan quickly grabs his gun and shoots the cavalryman, killing him, but he is furious with Rafael for abandoning his duty to keep the group safe. Similarly Jordan is drawn away from his military duty by Maria, his "little rabbit," when he neglects his own responsibility to monitor every aspect of his bridge mission, meaning that some details, like the types of vehicles that were going to Segovia, escape him. Robert Jordan's anger toward Rafael is hypocritical. Both men abandon duty to pursue sensory pleasure, and in neither case would the fulfillment of duty change the inevitable failure of the mission.

How do Anselmo's impulses and those of Agustín as they watch the four cavalrymen ride by compare and contrast in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 23?

In Chapter 23 Agustín sees the four cavalrymen ride by and wants to shoot them right away. He is sweating as they point toward the place where the machine gun is hidden under pine boughs, and yet Robert Jordan tells him not to shoot. As they pass through, Agustín wants to know why Jordan didn't want him to shoot the men, but he doesn't realize that sometimes, the best and most courageous thing to do is to hold one's fire. Sure enough, 20 more cavalrymen come by, and although Agustín realizes they could not have handled that many people, he still wants to shoot them all. Anselmo, however, has no trouble holding his fire because he really doesn't want to kill anyone, ever. Agustín wants to kill everyone who isn't a Republican when the war is over, and Anselmo doesn't want to kill anyone. Their views on the value of human life and the morality of taking a life are very different.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 23, why does Jordan regret talking badly about Pablo?

In Chapter 23 Robert Jordan finally understands that Pablo is extremely intelligent, and knows that he won't get caught with the cavalryman's horse. It is likely that Pablo is taking a long time because he is laying down a track that will confuse the other cavalrymen. All of the rest of the band, at this point, support Pablo because he has been their leader, and he survived through the night's insults and offers to fight. He was too smart to get upset with everyone, and calm enough to take the horse and think through his options. Jordan doesn't want to alienate anyone in the party, so he stops talking about Pablo. Jordan will probably never like Pablo, but he has to admit that Pablo is a brilliant strategist.

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