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For Whom the Bell Tolls

Cover to the first edition

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway published in 1940. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As a dynamiter, he is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia. Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers writes that the novel is regarded as one of Hemingway’s best works, along with The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms.

Background

Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in Cuba, Key West, and Sun Valley, Idaho in 1939. In Cuba, he lived in the Hotel Ambos-Mundos where he worked on the manuscript.[3][4] The novel was finished in July 1940, and published in October. The novel is based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War, with an American protagonist named Robert Jordan who fights with Spanish soldiers for the Republicans.[7] The novel has three types of characters: those who are purely fictional; those based on real people but fictionalized; and those who were actual figures in the war. Set in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range between Madrid and Segovia, the action takes place during four days and three nights. For Whom the Bell Tolls became a Book-of-the-month choice, sold half a million copies within months, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and became a literary triumph for Hemingway. Published on 21 October 1940, the first edition print run was 75,000 copies priced at $2.75.

Title

The title of the book is a reference to John Donne’s series of meditations and prayers on health, pain, and sickness (written while Donne was convalescing from a nearly fatal illness) that were published as a book in 1624 under the title Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, specifically Meditation XVII:

“No man is an Island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Plot summary

This novel is told primarily through the thoughts and experiences of the protagonist, Robert Jordan. The character was inspired by Hemingway’s own experiences in the Spanish Civil War as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Robert Jordan is an American in the International Brigades who travels to Spain to oppose the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. As an experienced dynamiter, he was ordered by a communist Russian general to travel behind enemy lines and destroy a bridge with the aid of a band of local antifascist guerrillas, in order to prevent enemy troops from being able to respond to an upcoming offensive. (The Soviet Union aided and advised the Republicans against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Similarly, Hitler’s Nazis and Mussolini’s Italy provided Franco with enormous military aid.) In their camp, Robert Jordan encounters María, a young Spanish woman whose life had been shattered by the execution of her parents and her rape at the hands of the Falangists (part of the fascist coalition) at the outbreak of the war. His strong sense of duty clashes with both guerrilla leader Pablo’s unwillingness to commit to an operation that would endanger himself and his band, and his newfound lust for life which arises out of his love for María. However, when another band of antifascist guerrillas led by El Sordo are surrounded and killed, Pablo decides to betray Jordan by stealing the dynamite caps, hoping to prevent the demolition. In the end Jordan improvises a way to detonate his dynamite, and Pablo returns to assist in the operation after seeing Jordan’s commitment to his course of action. Though the bridge is successfully destroyed, it may be too late for the purposes of delaying enemy troop movements rendering the mission pointless, and Jordan is maimed when his horse is shot out from under him by a tank. Knowing that he would only slow his comrades down, he bids goodbye to María and ensures that she escapes to safety with the surviving members of the guerillas. He refuses an offer from another fighter to be shot and lies in agony, hoping to kill an enemy officer and a few soldiers before being captured and executed. The narration ends right before Jordan launches his ambush.

The novel graphically describes the brutality of civil war.

Characters

  • Robert Jordan – American university instructor of Spanish language and a specialist in demolitions and explosives.
  • Anselmo – Elderly guide to Robert Jordan.
  • Golz – Soviet officer who ordered the bridge’s demolition.
  • Pablo – Leader of a group of anti-fascist guerrillas.
  • Rafael – Incompetent and lazy but well-intentioned guerrilla, and a gypsy.
  • María – Robert Jordan’s young lover.
  • Pilar – Wife of Pablo. An aged but strong woman, she is the de facto leader of the guerrilla band.
  • Agustín – Foul-mouthed, middle-aged guerrilla.
  • El Sordo – Leader of a fellow band of guerrillas.
  • Fernando – Middle-aged guerrilla.
  • Andrés and Eladio – Brothers. Members of Pablo’s band.
  • Primitivo – Young guerrilla in Pablo’s band.
  • Joaquin – Enthusiastic teenaged communist, member of Sordo’s band.

Main themes

Death is a primary preoccupation of the novel. When Robert Jordan is assigned to blow up the bridge, he knows that he will not survive it. Pablo and El Sordo, leaders of the Republican guerrilla bands, see that inevitability also. Almost all of the main characters in the book contemplate their own deaths.

Hotel Ambos-Mundos (Hotel of Both-Worlds), Havana, Ernest Hemingway’s first residence in Cuba (1932–1939) where the first chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls was written. Much of the rest was written later in his home near Havana, Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm)

Camaraderie and sacrifice in the face of death abound throughout the novel. Robert Jordan, Anselmo and others are ready to do “as all good men should” – that is, to make the ultimate sacrifice. The oft-repeated embracing gesture reinforces this sense of close companionship in the face of death. An incident involving the death of the character Joaquín’s family serves as an excellent example of this theme. Having learned of this tragedy, Joaquín’s comrades embrace and comfort him, saying they now are his family. Surrounding this love for one’s comrades is the love for the Spanish soil. A love of place, of the senses, and of life itself is represented by the pine needle forest floor—both at the beginning and, poignantly, at the end of the novel—when Robert Jordan awaits his death feeling “his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”

Suicide always looms as an alternative to suffering. Many of the characters, including Robert Jordan, would prefer death over capture and are prepared to kill themselves, be killed, or kill to avoid it. As the book ends, Robert Jordan, wounded and unable to travel with his companions, awaits a final ambush that will end his life. He prepares himself against the cruel outcomes of suicide to avoid capture, or inevitable torture for the extraction of information and death at the hands of the enemy. Still, he hopes to avoid suicide partly because his father, whom he views as a coward, committed suicide. Robert Jordan understands suicide but doesn’t approve of it, and thinks that “you have to be awfully occupied with yourself to do a thing like that.”Robert Jordan’s opinions on suicide may be used to analyze Hemingway’s suicide 21 years later. Hemingway’s father also committed suicide and it is a common theme in his works.

The novel explores political ideology and the nature of bigotry. After noticing how he so easily employed the convenient catch-phrase “enemy of the people”, Jordan moves swiftly into the subjects and opines, “To be bigoted you have to be absolutely sure that you are right and nothing makes that surety and righteousness like continence. Continence is the foe of heresy.”[10] Later in the book, Robert Jordan explains the threat of fascism in his own country. “Robert Jordan, wiping out the stew bowl with bread, explained how the income tax and inheritance tax worked. ‘But the big estates remain. Also, there are taxes on the land,’ he said. ‘But surely the big proprietors and the rich will make a revolution against such taxes. Such taxes appear to me to be revolutionary. They will revolt against the government when they see that they are threatened, exactly as the fascists have done here,’ Primitivo said. ‘It is possible.’ ‘Then you will have to fight in your country as we fight here.’ ‘Yes, we will have to fight.’ ‘But are there not many fascists in your country?’ ‘There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.'”[11] Also in the same conversation Robert Jordan is having with the others, he realizes how there are populist policies right in America, namely homesteading which was widely used by American settlers to settle the West from 1863 onward : “Robert Jordan explained the process of homesteading. He had never thought of it before as an agrarian reform. ‘That is magnificent,’ Primitivo said. ‘Then you have a Communism in your country?’ ‘No. That is done under the Republic.'”

Divination emerges as an alternative means of perception. Pilar, “Pablo’s woman”, is a reader of palms and more. When Robert Jordan questions her true abilities, she replies, “Because thou art a miracle of deafness…. It is not that thou art stupid. Thou art simply deaf. One who is deaf cannot hear music. Neither can he hear the radio. So he might say, never having heard them, that such things do not exist.”

Imagery

Hemingway frequently used images to produce the dense atmosphere of violence and death his books are renowned for; the main image of For Whom the Bell Tolls is the automatic weapon. As he had done in “A Farewell to Arms”, Hemingway employs the fear of modern armament to destroy romantic conceptions of the ancient art of war: combat, sportsmanlike competition and the aspect of hunting. Heroism becomes butchery: the most powerful picture employed here is the shooting of María’s parents against the wall of a slaughterhouse. Glory exists in the official dispatches only; here, the “disillusionment” theme of A Farewell to Arms is adapted.

The fascist planes are especially dreaded, and when they approach, all hope is lost. The efforts of the partisans seem to vanish, their commitment and their abilities become meaningless. “, especially the trench mortars that already wounded Lt. Henry (“he knew that they would die as soon as a mortar came up”). No longer would the best soldier win, but the one with the biggest gun. The soldiers using those weapons are simple brutes, they lack “all conception of dignity” as Fernando remarked. Anselmo insisted, “We must teach them. We must take away their planes, their automatic weapons, their tanks, their artillery and teach them dignity”.

The novel also contains imagery of soil and earth, most famously when Jordan has sex with María at the start of chapter thirteen and feels “the earth move out and away from under them” then afterwards asks María, “Did thee feel the earth move?”, variants of which have become a cultural cliché, often used humorously.

Literary significance and critical reaction

Language

Since its publication, the prose style and dialogue in Hemingway’s novel have been the source of controversy and some negative critical reaction. For example, Edmund Wilson, in a tepid review, noted the encumbrance of “a strange atmosphere of literary medievalism” in the relationship between Robert Jordan and Maria.[20] This stems in part from a distinctive feature of the novel, namely Hemingway’s extensive use of archaisms, implied transliterations and false friends to convey the foreign (Spanish) tongue spoken by his characters. Thus, Hemingway uses the archaic “thou” (particularly in its oblique and possessive form) to parallel the Spanish pronominal “tú” (familiar) and “Usted” (formal) forms. Additionally, much of the dialogue in the novel is an implied direct translation from Spanish, producing an often strained English equivalent. For example, Hemingway uses the construction “what passes that”,[21] which is an implied transliteration of the Spanish construction lo que pasa. This transliteration extends to the use of linguistic “false friends”, such as “rare” (from raro) instead of “strange” and “syndicate” (from sindicato) instead of trade union. In another odd stylistic variance, Hemingway referenced foul language (used with some frequency by different characters in the novel) with “unprintable” and “obscenity” and substitutes “muck” for fuck in the dialogue and thoughts of the characters, although foul language is used freely in Spanish even when its equivalent is censored in English (e.g. joder, me cago). The Spanish expression of exasperation me cago en la leche repeatedly recurs throughout the novel, translated by Hemingway as “I obscenity in the milk.”

Narrative style

The book is written in the third person limited omniscient narrative mode. The action and dialogue are punctuated by extensive thought sequences told from the viewpoint of Robert Jordan. The novel also contains thought sequences of other characters, including Pilar and Anselmo. The thought sequences are more extensive than in Hemingway’s earlier fiction, notably A Farewell to Arms, and are an important narrative device to explore the principal themes of the novel.

In 1941 the Pulitzer Prize committee for letters unanimously recommended For Whom the Bell Tolls be awarded the prize for that year. The Pulitzer Board agreed; however, Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University at that time, overrode both and instead no award was given for letters that year.

Allusions/references to actual events

The novel takes place in late May 1937 during the second year of the Spanish Civil War. References made to Valladolid, Segovia, El Escorial and Madrid suggest the novel takes place within the build-up to the Republican attempt to relieve the siege of Madrid.

The earlier battle of Guadalajara and the general chaos and disorder (and, more generally, the doomed cause of Republican Spain) serve as a backdrop to the novel: Robert Jordan notes, for instance, that he follows the Communists because of their superior discipline, an allusion to the split and infighting between anarchist and communist factions on the Republican side.

The famous and pivotal scene described in Chapter 10, in which Pilar describes the execution of various fascist figures in her village is drawn from events that took place in Ronda in 1936. Although Hemingway later claimed (in a 1954 letter to Bernard Berenson) to have completely fabricated the scene, he in fact drew upon the events at Ronda, embellishing the event by imagining an execution line leading up to the cliff face. In Ronda, some 500 people, allegedly fascist sympathisers, were thrown into the surrounding gorge by a mob from a house that faced onto the cliffside.

A number of actual figures that played a role in the Spanish Civil War are also referenced in the book, including:

  • Andreu Nin, one of the founders of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), the party mocked by Karkov in Chapter 18.
  • Indalecio Prieto, one of the leaders of the Republicans, is also mentioned in Chapter 18.
  • General José Miaja, in charge of the defense of Madrid in October 1936, and General Vicente Rojo, together with Prieto, are mentioned in Chapter 35
  • Dolores Ibárruri, better known as La Pasionaria, is extensively described in Chapter 32.
  • Robert Hale Merriman, leader of the American Volunteers in the International Brigades, and his wife Marion, were well known to Hemingway and served possibly as a model for Hemingway’s own hero.
  • André Marty, a leading French Communist and political officer in the International Brigades, makes a brief but significant appearance in Chapter 42. Hemingway depicts Marty as a vicious intriguer whose paranoia interferes with Republican objectives in the war.

Adaptations

  • A film adaptation of Hemingway’s novel, directed by Sam Wood, was released in 1943 starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress; however, only the Greek actress Katina Paxinou won an Oscar for her portrayal of Pilar.
  • A television adaptation, directed by John Frankenheimer, was broadcast in two parts on CBS’s Playhouse 90 in 1956, starring Jason Robards and Maria Schell as Robert Jordan and Maria, with Nehemiah Persoff as Pablo, Maureen Stapleton as Pilar, and Eli Wallach as the gypsy Rafael.
  • Another adaptation was made by the BBC in 1965 as a four-part serial (miniseries in American English).
  • Also, Takarazuka Revue adapted the novel as a musical drama, produced by Star Troupe and starring Ran Ootori as Robert Jordan and Kurara Haruka as Maria in 1978. The show was later revived in 2010 by Cosmos Troupe.
  • A song adaptation was written by American heavy metal band Metallica for their 1984 album Ride the Lightning.

In popular culture

  • In the German film Wir Sind Die Nacht a depressed character is reading For Whom the Bell Tolls and later commits suicide.
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Ernest Hemingway Recording-2

This is a voice-recording of Ernest Hemingway discussing his book “Across the River and into the Trees” which was published in 1950. Se trata de una grabación de voz de Ernest Hemingway hablando de su libro “Al otro lado del río y entre los árboles”, que se publicó en 1950.

Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great honor to be with you tonight and to discuss my new book. This is one of the things that I love to do most. And it gives me great pleasure that I can share it with all of you. Señoras y señores. Es un gran honor estar con ustedes esta noche y hablar de mi nuevo libro. Esta es una de las cosas que me gusta hacer más. Y me da mucho gusto que puedo compartir con todos ustedes.

The Book came to me in a sort of a haze in Harry’s Bar in Venice. Harry’s bar is a small place but it is in effect a microcosm of all of that great and beautiful city which has been so well described by those writers, Ruskin, Sinclair Lewis, Byron and others. El libro llegó a mí en una especie de neblina en el Bar de Harry en Venecia. Bar de Harry es un lugar pequeño, pero es en realidad un microcosmos de toda esa gran y hermosa ciudad que ha sido tan bien descrita por los escritores, Ruskin, Sinclair Lewis, Byron y otros.

The hero, if he can be called a hero, of this book is a young colonel. Eighteen years-old. He was made a colonel. No one knows quite how and stationed in Trieste for his own sins. He is a fanatic at shooting at all things including objects floating down the Grand Canal And he has come to Venice to practice his, shall we say, avocation. El héroe, si se le puede llamar un héroe, de este libro es un joven coronel. Dieciocho años de edad. Fue nombrado coronel. Nadie sabe muy bien cómo y estacionado en Trieste por sus propios pecados. Él es un fanático de disparar a todas las cosas incluyendo objetos flotando en el Gran Canal y ha venido a Venecia para practicar su, digámoslo así, vocación.

In Venice, in Harry’s Bar, which has become almost a sacred place, and those of us who know it and who have enjoyed both the credit and the hospitality of Chipriani. En Venecia, en la de Harry Bar, que se ha convertido casi en un lugar sagrado, y aquellos de nosotros que lo conocen y que han disfrutado tanto el crédito y la hospitalidad de Chipriani. He meets an Italian or rather should we say a Venetian countess, aged eighty-six. Se encuentra con un italiano, o más bien deberíamos decir una condesa veneciana, a la edad de ochenta y seis. In the corner of the room, is a princess of Greece. The Aspasia. En la esquina de la habitación, es una princesa de Grecia. El Aspasia. The young colonel is mad about the Princess of Greece. But still he has his countess and his obligations. El joven coronel está loco por la Princesa de Grecia. Pero aún así tiene su condesa y sus obligaciones.

The action of the book, ladies and gentlemen, only takes place during a period of forty-eight days during which the colonel who is continuously in Harry’s Bar known to the local residents or indigestents as Chiprioni’s, is continuously drunk due to his own efforts and his credit with señor (speaking Italian) Chiprioni.

For fourteen of these forty-eight days the colonel is unable to find his countess. She has taken refuge in the Basilica. Naturally, she is given full facilities there and enjoys herself very much looking out of the upper windows and studying the action of the pigeons! Por catorce de estos cuarenta y ocho días el coronel no puede encontrar su condesa. Ella se ha refugiado en la Basílica. Naturalmente, se le da todas las facilidades allí y se divierte mucho mirar por las ventanas superiores y el estudio de la acción de las palomas!

During this time of indecision of the young colonel who is on indefinite leave by the request of his superior officers he makes the acquaintance of a beautiful Venetian maiden, age no one knows what. Some say sixteen some say seventeen. Others who are treacherous say eighteen. She through her powers of seductiveness induces him to visit the island of Portobello.

The colonel is accompanied by his faithful black priest who is his spiritual advisor and can almost be regarded as his spiritual manager. El coronel es acompañado por su fiel sacerdote negro que es su consejero espiritual y casi puede considerarse como su manager espiritual. Together they make a pilgrimage to this island, a very ancient part of the lagoon which surrounds Venice the town which I shall describe later after consulting my vatic. Juntos hacen un peregrinaje a la isla, una parte muy antigua de la laguna que rodea la ciudad de Venecia que describiré más adelante después de consultar mi vatídico.

It was love at first sight between the colonel and Aspasia. There is nothing to be done it is a hopeless love but much can come of it. Fue amor a primera vista entre el coronel y Aspasia. No hay nada por hacer, es un amor sin esperanza, pero mucho puede salir de ahí. And the colonel takes advantage of this situation in a manner which might be criticized in certain circles but which we will attempt to condone due to the presence of his faithful black priest who at this moment is passed out. el coronel se aprovecha de esta situación de una manera que podría ser criticado en algunos círculos, pero que vamos a tratar de tolerar debido a la presencia de su sacerdote negro fieles que en este momento se desmayó.

Afgarra or Afgerra as the name is pronounced by the local inhabitants is indomitable. Nothing like her has been seen since Attila the Hun that in the sacred chair of Pornicello. Afgarra o Afgerra como su nombre es pronunciado por los habitantes locales es indomable. No hay nada como la ha vuelto a ver desde Atila el Huno que en la silla sagrada de Pornicello. The Colonel who is an extremely devout Catholic having only been expelled from the Church at the age of sixteen, loves Atara as he has never loved anyone in all of his existence. El coronel, que es un católico muy devoto haber sólo sido expulsado de la Iglesia a la edad de dieciséis años, ama Atara ya que nunca ha amado a nadie en toda su existencia. Afgarra loves him as she loves the front page of

What greater comparison can we make? God Himself is absent for a time probably on His own business, but He returns to Tornecello to bring happiness to these star-crossed lovers. Afgarra the colonel married. ¿Qué mayor comparación podemos hacer? Dios mismo está ausente por un tiempo, probablemente, en su propio negocio, pero él vuelve a Tornecello para traer felicidad a estos desventurados amantes. Afgarra el coronel casado.

But ladies and gentlemen, there is tragedy in all of this. There is a tragedy that one can hardly say without having his voice break. Afgarra is the victim of a heart condition. A cardiac condition acquired during her youth. Pero señoras y señores, no es una tragedia en todo esto. No es una tragedia que casi no se puede decir, sin tener su ruptura voz. Afgarra es víctima de una afección cardíaca. Una condición cardíaca adquirida durante su juventud.

The colonel cannot stand to see her die, and so he himself, swims off into the sunset. In it as far as we know toward Cobia, a fishing port well down the coast, but the Colonel can swim and we hope that he can make it. El coronel no puede soportar verla morir, y por eso mismo, nadadas hacia el atardecer. En ella como lo que sabemos hacia Cobia, un puerto de pesca bien abajo de la costa, pero el coronel sabe nadar y esperamos que él pueda hacerlo.

There in a quick renovee is the story of my new book. And I hope that everyone will buy it, paying three dollars and the twenty-third sale being three dollars will go to me. then to go to the Fundacion which is to commemorate that great soul which brought us that happiness. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your patience.

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