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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 24, how are Agustín and Robert Jordan different?

While both men love Maria, Robert Jordan initially represents cool calculation. He is ruled by self-control, fearlessness, and a sense of duty. However his love for Maria opens up for him the possibility of a life filled with personal connection that is less lonely if also less clear-cut. On the other hand, Agustín is led throughout by passion. He patriotically supports the Republic, and he is courageous in battle. Like a chivalric Spanish knight, he threatens to kill Robert Jordan if his intentions toward Maria are less than honorable, and he is the one, not Maria, who offers to shoot Robert Jordan and relieve him of his misery at the novel's end.

How does Hemingway show that Robert Jordan cannot keep his love for Maria out of his head when on duty in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 24?

In Chapter 24, when Agustín chastises Robert Jordan about sleeping with Maria and tells him that Maria has not given herself lightly to him, Jordan immediately says that he plans to marry Maria. Hemingway frequently uses dialogue to show personalities and character development, but for emotions he often uses descriptions of physical reactions. In this case he uses both. As Jordan did when he first fell in love with Maria, he gets a thick feeling in his throat when he says to Agustín a second time that he will marry Maria. But he also changes his wording, from a desire to a definite decision. He wants there to be no doubt in Agustín's mind that he truly loves Maria. It is when he has this intense physical reaction just speaking of marriage with Maria that he realizes his love for her permeates his life, and he can't separate himself from it when he is on a mission. True feelings of love can't just be set aside as if they don't exist, but this is the first time Jordan has actually been in love, and the first time he has had this realization. Up until this point, he thought he could compartmentalize his life in war.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 25, how does Primitivo embody the themes of the horrors of war and courage and self-sacrifice?

In Chapter 25, when Robert Jordan comes to Primitivo to tell him that they can't help El Sordo and his band, his explanations are followed by the sounds of grenades exploding. The double line of cavalrymen heading toward the place where El Sordo is hiding seals the deal. There is no way that Jordan and the others can go down to defend El Sordo, because they are outnumbered. Primitivo doesn't want to leave them undefended and alone, and the thought of what is happening at that moment to El Sordo and his men brings Primitivo to tears. But he has to stay where he is, and even Pilar, who has been friends with El Sordo for a very long time, knows it is likely the Fascists have been planning to attack his band and knew where he was even before they saw the tracks in the snow. She is sad, but holds her emotions steady. Primitivo, however, falls apart. He has to stand by as his friends are blown to pieces, and it is emotional torture for him.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 26, how is the timing of the plot device of the letters found in the cavalryman's pocket important to Robert Jordan's character?

In Chapter 26, when Robert Jordan reads the letters that were found in the cavalryman's pocket, he undergoes a profound shift in his thinking about life and war. Instead of believing the war is merely a conflict of material social forces, Jordan realizes he is taking the lives of real people who, like him, are worthy of pursuing life, liberty, and happiness. After his relationship with Maria begins, Jordan tries to convince himself that he can separate love from war, but these letters prove to him he can't. Jordan realizes that he is extremely lucky to have found true love with Maria, and no matter what happens, even if he dies during the bridge mission, this love is a treasure and he should treat it as such instead of trying to convince Maria and himself that she has no place in his heart when he is fighting. Jordan begins to understand that, given how El Sordo met his end, it is likely he will die the next day, as well. As if on cue, the planes begin to arrive, and Jordan is forced to admit vulnerability in all areas of his life—in love, in friendship, and in war.

How is El Sordo's behavior a reaction to, and a method of, coping with the symbolism of the planes in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 27?

In Chapter 27 when the planes begin to arrive, it is clear that El Sordo and his band are helpless under that kind of attack. El Sordo knows that this will happen, and while he is waiting on the hill, he manages to shut up the foulmouthed Mora by killing him. For El Sordo that is the only control he has over the situation, because he knows he is going to die. He knew he would die when there was no way to get the horses out in time without creating hoofprints, and that helplessness has caused him to have a strong emotional reaction on the hill. When put in that kind of hopeless situation, people react out of fear, sometimes crying, but sometimes laughing. There is humor even in darkness, and El Sordo, finding the humor in his situation, finds a way to cope with the fact that he is going to be blown to bits. He makes his last hours enjoyable, and it is almost a relief to him that the pain will be over. It seems like he has lost his mind on that hill, but in reality, it's a reasonable coping mechanism in the face of a hopeless situation. He can't affect the final outcome, but he can do his small part before he loses his life.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 28, how does Berrendo embody the theme of the horrors of war?

In Chapter 28, when El Sordo's band is dead, having been wiped out in the previous chapter of the novel, Berrendo is traumatized by the fact that he is required to order the beheading of the enemy's bodies. He is so disgusted by the order that he can't even watch it happen, much less participate. They not only have to be beheaded, which he finds barbaric, but he has to carry their heads to his supervisor to prove that his mission was successful. He can't do it himself, so one of his cavalrymen carries the heads in a poncho on the back of his horse. This gruesome order from the top, along with Berrendo's best friend having been shot to death in the conflict, wears him down emotionally. Berrendo resorts to prayer to try to get him through the grief and the horror, but his emotions are too strong and the bloodshed too fresh for prayer to really help.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 29, how does the letter to Golz represent a lack of courage?

In Chapter 29, when Robert Jordan tries to compose a letter to General Golz to get him to stop the Republican attack, three things are apparent to readers. First, Jordan knew at least a day earlier that the Fascists knew about the attack. He could have sent a warning to Golz earlier, allowing him to rethink the mission. Second, Jordan's efforts to just muscle through a situation he knows is going to endanger the lives of many people shows that he does not have the courage to admit when things go wrong until it is too late. Third, Jordan is far too wrapped up in what Golz thinks of him. He is concerned that Golz will think that he doesn't have the courage to blow the bridge, but that's not the problem at hand. The problem is not a lack of courage but a failure in all other aspects of the mission that makes the bridge an incredibly bad idea that will end up costing the army a lot of people. Jordan's lack of courage masquerades as courage by blowing the bridge and taking everyone with him on the mission, and pretending that he has enough weaponry and enough people to get the job done right. He doesn't—not even close—so his efforts to continue the mission show not only a lack of courage but a strong capacity for self-deception in the name of self-sacrifice. It isn't glorious to put everyone else's life at risk just for the sake of making oneself look brave.

How does Robert Jordan's line of thought compare and contrast with that of El Sordo on his last stand in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 30?

In Chapter 30 Robert Jordan is having a panicked bout of self-reflection. He wishes his grandfather could advise him, and still feels ashamed of his father for committing suicide. But in not knowing what led his father to do so, he realizes that his own situation is suicide in a different light. Like El Sordo, he recognizes that he is going to die on this mission, so he may as well accept it, make the best of it, and find aspects of his life up to the end that are rewarding. Sticking with the plan comforts him. El Sordo felt the same way, sticking with his plan, even though he knew that no matter what he did he would die. When all roads lead to death, one might as well take the road that is the most comforting. The difference between the two is that El Sordo could not have altered his fate. Jordan could have, but didn't.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 31, how does Maria's level of honesty compare and contrast with that of Robert Jordan?

In Chapter 31 Maria and Robert Jordan are in the sleeping robe together, but they are talking, not making love, as Maria is in pain. Maria asks Jordan if it's true that he knows they're going to die the next day, as Pilar told her that he does know this for certain. Jordan lies to Maria, thinking that it will allow them to have a better evening together, focusing on their love rather than the end of it. However Maria talks about the terrible things that happened to her at the hands of the Falangists, and describes them in great detail, trying to make it clear that she fought them at every turn. She needs Jordan to know the truth about her. Her insistence on being honest with the person she loves so that everything is out in the open is remarkable and mature. Jordan, however, can't manage to be honest with Maria. It is strange that Jordan, who is older and supposedly wiser than Maria, is the one who believes that it is better to lie and protect her from a terrible truth, while Maria believes that it is better to lay everything out in the open for him. In the end his desire to protect Maria from the truth hurts her more. She is unprepared to let him go, and thus has a more difficult time the next day coping with the reality of the doomed mission. They both make these decisions out of love, but Maria's decision to be honest is a far more mature way to look at love.

How does the story that Karkov hears exemplify the lack of communication suffered by the Republican side in the civil war in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Chapter 32?

In Chapter 32 Karkov learns from a journalist that the Fascists are fighting each other near Segovia, but he isn't sure whether to believe it, even though the great revolutionary La Pasionaria is set to announce this as fact. Rumors are spread all the time from camp to camp, but if there isn't an actual report from Robert Jordan about the fighting, Karkov can't be sure about it. He is told that Golz would have the report, but Jordan has only just sent out a letter to Golz, which he should have done earlier. In addition the fighting that was happening outside Segovia is the fighting between El Sordo and the Fascists. A rumor that there is infighting among the Fascists will encourage Golz to send his troops to attack as planned, since the Fascists must be weakened from fighting each other. But the truth is the exact opposite: the fighting happened between the Fascists and El Sordo, who, along with his entire band, is dead. The Fascists hope that the Republicans will attack, so that they can meet them and mow them down. Communication blips and errors like this plagued the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and contributed to their defeat.

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