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For Whom the Bell Tolls | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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For Whom the Bell Tolls | 10 Things You Didn't Know


In Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, published in 1940, American protagonist Robert Jordan fights alongside the Spanish forces during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s. As he fights for the Republican government against the Fascist regime led by Francisco Franco, Jordan experiences war in vivid, graphic, and illuminating ways.

A well-traveled expatriate himself, Hemingway conveys the inevitable brutalities of war and considers the effects of technology on warfare. Concerned with the rise of automatic weapons and explosives in particular, For Whom the Bell Tolls is a solemn reflection on the similarities and differences between modern warfare and the battles of "primitive" civilizations—and how technology has made killing more impersonal.

1. Hemingway borrowed his title from a famous poet.

The 17th-century English poet John Donne wrote in "Meditation 17" from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions:

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Hemingway chose this title to reflect how, so many years after Donne, humankind was still interconnected yet torn apart by war, chaos, and death. The same poem by Donne is also the source of the adage "No man is an island."

2. For Whom the Bell Tolls was inspired by Hemingway's time as a reporter.

Hemingway actually traveled to Spain during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Hemingway sided with the Republican government, while his wife supported Franco's Fascist regime.

3. For Whom the Bell Tolls was cheated out of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1941 the members of the Pulitzer Prize board voted For Whom the Bell Tolls as the winner. However, the chairman, Nicholas Murray Butler, vetoed this decision because he was offended by Hemingway's novel. His decision overrode the rest of the committee.

4. Hemingway insisted that Ingrid Bergman star in the film adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ingrid Bergman starred as Maria in the 1943 film adaptation of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway first saw Bergman in the 1939 version of Intermezzo and purportedly later sent her a copy of his novel, with the inscription, "You are the Maria in this book."

5. Hemingway experimented with translation in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Literary scholars have long been fascinated by the language Hemingway uses in his novel. Though written in English, For Whom the Bell Tolls features strange literal translations from Spanish phrases and sayings. Hemingway also uses the antiquated words thee and thou to mimic the words vos and vosotros used to address others formally in Spanish.

6. The massacre Hemingway describes in For Whom the Bell Tolls was based on a real event.

Though critics debate the exact setting of the massacre in Chapter 10, many believe the scene was inspired by events that occurred in the Andalusian town of Ronda during the summer of 1936. It is estimated that between 200 and 600 people were executed in the town during the Spanish Civil War.

7. Metallica was inspired by For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The famous metal band Metallica included a song by the same name on their 1984 album Ride the Lightning. The song aims to capture Hemingway's tone in relation to the effects of modernized warfare on soldiers.

8. Hemingway traveled quite frequently as he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway began work on For Whom the Bell Tolls in Cuba in 1939, after he purchased a house there. However, he brought the manuscript with him and continued to write it as he spent time in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Key West, Florida, over the next year.

9. Hemingway used to assist Irish novelist and poet James Joyce in bar fights.

Much like the character Pablo in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway was a drinker who considered himself something of a brawler. His frequent adventures abroad made him confident during fights. On at least one occasion when Hemingway was drinking with James Joyce, Joyce yelled, "Deal with him, Hemingway, deal with him!" regarding a man Joyce had picked a fight with but was unable to match in strength.

10. One of For Whom the Bell Tolls's characters broke gender stereotypes in Spain.

Throughout the novel, Maria, Robert Jordan's lover, is described as wearing trousers instead of skirts. This was virtually unheard of in Spain before the civil war and highlighted Maria's stance as a guerrilla fighter, rebelling against the gender roles of her culture.

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