For Whom the Bell Tolls

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
For Further Reading


When For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940, it immediately became a resounding critical and popular success and helped cement Ernest Hemingway's reputation as one of America's foremost writers. Readers praised its realistic portrait of not only the political tensions in Europe that would soon erupt into World War II but also the complexities of the entire experience of war for the individual who found him or herself fighting for a cause. Hemingway had previously explored this theme, most notably in his short story collection, In Our Time (1924), and in his novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). Yet his attitude toward his subject in For Whom the Bell Tolls reveals a subtle shift. While his previous works focused more on the meaninglessness of war, this novel ends with a reaffirmation of community.

For Whom the Bell Tolls chronicles the experiences of American college professor Robert Jordan, who has volunteered to fight for the Loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War. His initial idealism is quickly tempered by the realities of war. Yet his courage enables him to remain devoted to the cause, even as he faces death. Hemingway's compassionate and authentic portrait of his characters as they struggle to retain their idealistic beliefs has helped earn the novel its reputation as one of Hemingway's finest.

Author Biography

Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, to Clarence Edmunds (physician) and Grace (music teacher) Hemingway, both strict Congregationalists. He started writing when he was a teenager, penning a weekly column for his high school newspaper. During this period, he also began to write poems and stories, some of which were published in his school's literary magazine. After graduating high school in 1917, Hemingway started his career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, covering city crime and writing feature stories. The position helped him develop a journalistic style, which would later become one of the most identifiable characteristics of his fiction.

When World War I broke out, he volunteered as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy. After suffering severe leg injuries, Hemingway met and fell in love with a nurse who would eventually break off their relationship. Disillusioned with the war and with romantic relationships, Hemingway returned home and turned his attention to fiction writing. To support himself, however, he returned to reporting, accepting a position at the Toronto Star.

Like many of his compatriots of the Lost Generation, Hemingway left America for Europe, where he joined the group of literary expatriates in Paris, including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He lived in Paris for the next seven years, working on his fiction and serving as a European correspondent for American newspapers. From 1937 to 1938, he covered the Spanish Civil War, and from 1944 to 1945, he reported on the battles of World War II.

Edward J. O'Brien named Hemingway's short story "My Old Man," which appeared in his first publication, Three Stories and Ten Poems, in his list of the best stories of 1923. Hemingway's next publication, a series of short stories interspersed with vignettes, entitled In Our Time (1924), was well received, and he began to earn a reputation as an astute chronicler of the Lost Generation. This reputation was solidified after the publication of his next story collection, Men Without Women (1927), and the novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). When For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940, it was regarded by the public and the critics as one of his best works.

Along with his growing reputation as one of the most important contemporary American writers, Hemingway developed a mythic persona that he helped perpetuate. During the middle of the century, the public began to envision Hemingway as the personification of his heroes—a hard drinking, forceful American, who could stand his ground on the battlefield, in the boxing ring, and on safari. Several American magazines, such as Life and Esquire, chronicled his adventures. Yet, during this period, he also devoted himself to his craft, which he considered of paramount importance in his life and his time.

During the 1950s, a life of alcohol abuse and rough living took a toll on his health. His health problems, compounded by his three failed marriages and periods of creative stagnation, resulted in a mental breakdown in 1960, and the following year on July 2, Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.

Hemingway has retained his reputation as one of America's most significant and influential writers. During his long literary career, he earned several accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea, the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954, and the Award of Merit from the American Academy of Arts & Letters in 1954.

Plot Summary

The novel chronicles the experiences of American professor Robert Jordan from Saturday afternoon to Tuesday noon during the last week of May 1937. Jordan has volunteered to fight with the Loyalist guerrilla army in the Spanish Civil War. His mission is to blow up a bridge near Segovia prior to a Loyalist offensive in that area, scheduled to occur in three days. When the novel opens, he is behind enemy lines, ready to meet up with Pablo and his wife Pilar, his contacts, and the leaders of one of the guerrilla factions.

Jordan studies the bridge as he determines how he will blow it up at the necessary moment. He has previously blown up bridges and trains, but he never has had to time a demolition so carefully. Pablo and Pilar have been set to help Jordan plan and execute the mission, gathering together other guerrilla bands if necessary.

Jordan finds Pablo and Pilar and travels with them to their hideout in a mountain cave where he meets Maria, a beautiful young woman. Maria has escaped the Fascists after being tortured and raped. Jordan also meets Anselmo at the hideout, an elderly guerrilla fighter who is determined to die, if need be, for the Loyalist cause. Even though he recognizes that the Loyalists have committed atrocities during the war, Jordan has aligned himself with them, blaming their poverty and oppression for their cruel actions. He hates the Fascists as much as the others do, noting that their cruelty stems not from a desire for freedom but from naked ambition and a lust for power. After hearing Maria's shocking tales of abuse, Jordan redoubles his determination to kill as many Fascists as he can, even if he sacrifices his own life as a result.

That evening, however, he begins to fall in love with Maria, after spending most of the night with her, and considers a future with her. As a result, for the first time, Jordan becomes fearful about the mission since he now has something to live for other than stopping the Fascist occupation. He knows, though, that fear will prevent him from keeping a cool head as he plans his operation.

Jordan is able to suppress his fears, and he carefully plans the destruction of the bridge, drawing several sketches to familiarize himself and the other guerrillas with the area and to determine the best course of action. The operation, however, is almost destroyed by Pablo, who, fearing for his safety, deserts the camp after stealing the explosives.

Pablo returns on the third morning after having a change of heart, accompanied by more Loyalists with horses. The explosives and detonators, however, have been damaged so severely that Jordan has no other choice than to try to blow up the bridge with hand grenades, which would be a much more dangerous task.

The group begins to carry out their mission, unaware that the anticipated Loyalist advance has failed. First, Jordan and Anselmo kill the guards while Pablo and the others attack the Fascists who are approaching the bridge, in order to slow their movement. After Jordan blows up the bridge, he scrambles to safety. Anselmo, however, has been hit by falling debris and dies. Jordan blames Pablo for the death of the old man, determining that if they had used the explosives, they all would have been safe.

Jordan reunites with Pablo, Pilar, Maria, and two of the men Pablo had brought with him. Pablo insists that the others had been killed in the battle, but Jordan determines that Pablo had killed them for their horses. Pablo acknowledges the murders with a shrug, noting that the men had not been part of his group.

Jordan plans their escape away from the front. He insists that Pablo should go first, since he knows the territory, accompanied by Maria. Jordan knows that those in front will have the best chance of reaching safety before the Fascists discover them. He then sends Pilar and the two guerillas on and follows them. The others make it safely across the open road, but Jordan is injured when his horse, wounded by the Fascists' bullets, falls on him. The others pull him out of the line of fire, but he insists that they go on ahead and leave him there, knowing that his injuries would slow them down and place them all in danger. Despondent, Maria tries to convince him to allow her to stay with him, but he refuses, insisting that he will live through her. The others have to carry her away.

After the others leave, Jordan sits against a tree with his gun propped up in his lap and waits for the Fascists, hoping to slow them down as the others escape. As he waits, he thinks about what has brought him to this point and determines that he has done the best that he could and thus his death will not be in vain. The novel ends as Jordan sees a Fascist lieutenant coming into view and prepares to fire.



Anselmo is an elderly member of Pablo's band. Anselmo lacks education but reveals a moral and compassionate nature. He supplies the human element to the struggle that Jordan and Pablo so often ignore, as he embodies the Loyalist ideals to which the two men had originally devoted their lives. Each time he witnesses or participates in a killing, the event profoundly troubles him. He is killed as he helps Jordan blow up the bridge.

General Golz

General Golz is one of the Russians who have been sent to help the Loyalist army. He oversees the upcoming planned attack against the Fascists.

Media Adaptations

  • For Whom the Bell Tolls was adapted as a film by Sam Wood, with a screenplay by Dudley Nichols, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, from Paramount, 1943. It is available on video and DVD.
  • An audio version, read by Alexander Adams, has been published by Books on Tape.

Robert Jordan

Before the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan had been a college Spanish instructor with a deep love of Spain and its people. His liberal political leanings prompted him to join the Loyalists in their fight against the Fascists. Initially, he idealized the Loyalist cause and the character of its devotees, but as the novel begins, with Jordan embroiled in the realities of war, he experiences a profound disillusionment. He notes that his devotion to the cause had been almost like a religious experience, likening it to "the feeling you expected to have but did not have when you made your first communion." That "purity of feeling," however, soon dissipated. He has observed atrocities on both sides of the con-flict and has been chided for his naivete and "slight political development." At Gaylord's Hotel in Madrid, where he heard the callousness of the Russian officers, he concluded that they could "corrupt very easily" but then wondered "was it corruption or was it merely that you lost the naivete that you started with?"

He has come to the realization that most of the people of Spain have, like him, become disillusioned about their noble cause and so are not as willing to sacrifice themselves to it. As a result, he no longer defines himself as a communist; now he insists instead that he is an "anti-fascist," not a firm supporter of a cause but at least a dissenter to a movement he finds abhorrent.

His sense of duty compels him to complete the task he has taken on—the blowing up of a bridge in Fascist territory in an effort to aid the Loyalists' advance—even when he understands the probability of failure and the danger to himself and others. His courage, evident throughout the novel as he carries out his perilous mission, faces its greatest test after the mission fails to impede the Fascist movements and he suffers a severe injury when his horse stumbles. Understanding that his injuries will slow the others' escape, he convinces them to go on ahead to safety without him. He quickly overcomes his desire to kill himself and determines to face the oncoming Fascist forces in a last effort to help his comrades escape.


Jordan meets the young and beautiful Maria at Pablo's hideout. She has been brutalized by the Fascists after they murdered her father, a Loyalist mayor. Fascist sympathizers shaved her head as punishment for her association with the enemy, and, as a result, she is tagged with the nickname "Rabbit," which also suggests her timid demeanor. She gains strength, however, through her intense and short-lived love affair with Jordan.

Several critics, including Leslie Fiedler, have noted that Maria, like many of Hemingway's women, lacks development. She appears in the novel as an idealized image of a devoted woman who enjoys extreme sexual pleasure in her relationship with the protagonist. She seems to exist in the novel as tool to help reveal Jordan's character and to provide him with a sense of meaning. By the end of the novel, he must decide between his love for her and his duty to his compatriots.

Maria's immediate sexual attraction to Jordan seems unlikely given the sexual abuse she has repeatedly experienced at the hands of the Fascists. Yet her romantic insistence on staying with the injured Jordan at the end of the novel inspires readers' sympathy.


Pablo serves as a foil to Jordan. He is the leader of the central guerrilla band and Pilar's husband. Prior to Jordan's appearance, he had earned the group's fearful respect. Yet, when Jordan challenges his authority and outlines the dangerous plan to blow up the bridge, Pablo's cowardice and self-absorption emerge. He tries to cover his fear by insisting that the mission is too dangerous, claiming that the lives of his men would be put at risk and their headquarters would most likely be discovered, since it is close to the bridge. His men, however, determine that they will follow Jordan's plan of action in an effort to ensure a Loyalist victory.

Pablo's vicious battle with Jordan for supremacy over the group, coupled with the fear that he will endanger the mission, prompts the band to consider killing him, but Pablo escapes with the explosives before they can act. Pablo's return to the group the next morning appears to be generated by his feelings of remorse over his actions; yet his primary motive may be his jealously over Maria's love for Jordan. When he returns, he insists that he now wholeheartedly supports the mission.

Hemingway suggests that, like Jordan, Pablo has lost his idealism by witnessing the brutalities of war on both sides. His acknowledgment of these atrocities has weakened his resolve to fight for the cause and has made him fearful for his own safety. Yet, though Jordan also at some points in the story becomes afraid for his life, he eventually exhibits the strength of character necessary to help ensure the safety of the others in the group. Pablo too often gives in to fears for his own safety and to jealousy over Jordan's power and his relationship with Maria.

Yet his character is contradictory. When Pilar asks him why he did not kill Jordan when he had the opportunity, Pablo replies that Jordan is "a good boy." Pablo appears to redeem himself at the end of the novel when he admits that he returned to the camp because, as he describes his desertion, "having done such a thing, there is a loneliness that cannot be borne." Ironically, Jordan must depend on Pablo for the group's survival. After Jordan is severely wounded, Pablo leads the rest of them to safety.


Pilar is married to Pablo, the leader of the central guerrilla band. Unlike many of Hemingway's other women, Pilar is a complex, strong woman who does not allow her husband to dominate her. When Pablo's actions threaten to subvert their mission, Pilar promptly takes over as leader of the guerrillas. Hemingway suggests that Jordan could not have carried out his mission without her. She comes to represent in the novel the ideals and dedication of the Spanish Loyalists.

She also helps engineer Jordan and Maria's relationship, giving her as a gift to him. Pilar tells Maria that she supports and encourages her union with Jordan but admits that their relationship will make her jealous. Pilar insists that she is "no tortillera (lesbian) but a woman made for men": "I do not make perversions," she claims, yet she refuses to explain her jealousy.

Michael Reynolds, in his article "Ringing the Changes: Hemingway's 'Bell' Tolls Fifty," writes that this scene, more than any other, reveals her complexity. Hemingway, he notes, "who would become increasingly fascinated with such triangles, realized the androgynous side of men and women earlier than most have given him credit." Pilar has insisted elsewhere, "I would have made a good man, but I am all woman and ugly. Yet many men have loved me and I have loved many men." However, as Reynolds notes, Hemingway has characterized her as androgynous, juxtaposing her insistence of her attraction to men with her tenderly holding Maria at the end of the novel, as the band leaves Jordan behind, waiting to die.

Her strength of character also emerges in her supernatural powers. When she reads Jordan's palm, she foresees his death, yet she stays devoted to the mission even at the risk of her own life. Her powers of perception allow her to recognize the depths of Jordan's and Maria's suffering, which prompts her to help them come together.

Pilar serves as the group's storyteller, spinning her stories as appropriate thematic backdrops to the action. As the group prepares for their mission, she tells the story of Finito, a bullfighter overcome by fear in the bullring, and of Pablo and his men murdering Fascist sympathizers by throwing them over a cliff.

El Sordo

El Sordo is the leader of a neighboring guerrilla band. Jordan asks him and his men to join Pablo's band to help blow up the bridge.



The elderly peasant Anselmo most fully represents the Loyalist ideals in the novel. Hemingway suggests that his lack of education and his compassionate nature allow him to believe in the cause and to fight for it to the end of his life. Through his idealism, he supplies the human element to the struggle that Jordan and Pablo so often ignore.

Pablo has largely forgotten the ideals of the cause to which he had originally devoted his life. He has seen too much of the reality of war and so participates now more out of self-interest than out of patriotism. As a result, he can take pleasure in his brutal murder of the Fascists. And when he considers the plan to blow up the bridge too dangerous, he flees with the explosives. Yet he appears to retain some of the ideals to which he once dedicated himself. When Pilar asks him why he did not kill Jordan when he had the opportunity, Pablo replies that Jordan is "a good boy," since his motives are noble. He also notes the camaraderie that results from devotion to the cause when, as he describes his desertion, he notes, "having done such a thing, there is a loneliness that cannot be borne."

Jordan struggles to retain his sense of idealism throughout the novel. Initially, he volunteers to serve with the Loyalists because of his liberal attitudes toward politics and his deep love of the Spanish people. However, he quickly gets a taste of the reality of war when he sees atrocities committed on both sides. He notes that his education on the true politics of war came as he listened to the cynical attitude of the Russian officers at Gaylord's in Madrid as they discussed their intentions to pervert the Loyalists' devotion to their cause for their own ends. This attitude is reflected in the opening chapter as Jordan discusses the mission with Golz, who focuses only on the military aspect of the plan.


Jordan's courage emerges in the face of his growing disillusionment. James Nagel, in his article on Hemingway for the Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that Jordan "has a realistic skepticism about what the war will actually accomplish, but he dedicates himself fully to the cause nonetheless." Even though he suspects the mission will fail, he carefully plans and executes it, accepting the fact that failure most likely will result in death. His relationship with Maria helps provide him with the strength to continue as he allows himself to envision a future with her. His final act of courage appears at the end of the novel, as he faces imminent death at the hands of the Fascists. His fear initially prompts him to consider suicide. However, his strength of character returns when he recognizes that he can help ensure the safety of the rest of the group by staying alive to delay the advance of the Fascists.


Point of View

The novel presents the narrative through an omniscient point of view that continually shifts back and forth between the characters. In this way, Hemingway can effectively chronicle the effect of the war on the men and women involved. The narrator shifts from Anselmo's struggles in the snow during his watch to Pilar's story about Pablo's execution of Fascists and El Sordo's lonely death to help readers more clearly visualize their experiences.

In "Ringing the Changes: Hemingway's 'Bell' Tolls Fifty," Michael Reynolds writes, "Without drawing undue attention to his artistry, Hemingway has written a collection of short stories embedded in a framing novel." Against the backdrop of the group's attempt to blow up the bridge, each character tells his or her own story: Maria tells of her parents' murder and her rape; Jordan shares what he learned about the true politics of war at Gaylord's in Madrid. Pilar provides the most compelling and comprehensive stories of Finito's fears in the bullfighting ring and of Pablo and his men as they beat the Fascists to death in a drunken rage.

Hemingway employs flashbacks and flashforwards to enhance thematic focus. Pilar's stories of struggle and heroism make their mission all the more poignant and place it in an historical context. Jordan's flashbacks to a time when his ideals were not tempered by the reality of war highlight his growing sense of disillusionment. His dreams of a future with Maria in Madrid add a bittersweet touch to his present predicament and his final death scene.


One of Hemingway's most distinct and celebrated characteristics is his deliberate writing style. Trained as a newspaper reporter, Hemingway used a journalistic style in his fiction, honed down to economical, abrupt descriptions of characters and events. His goal was to ensure that his words accurately described reality. The best example of his economical style comes at the end of the novel, as Jordan faces death. Hemingway's spare, direct description of Jordan's final moments as he considers suicide and then determines to survive long enough to help the group escape reflects Jordan's stoicism and his acceptance of the inevitable.

Topics for Further Study

  • Watch the film version of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Do you think the film is dated? What scenes would you update for today's audience?
  • Compare the portrait of war in A Farewell to Arms to that of For Whom the Bell Tolls. How are they simliar? What differences do you see? Which resonates the most for you as the reader, and why?
  • Research the Loyalist sympathizers during the Spanish Civil War. Do Hemingway's guerrilla bands in For Whom the Bell Tolls represent an accurate portrayal of the Loyalist faction during this war? Explain your answer.
  • Some critics find the relationship between Jordan and Maria to be overly romantic and unrealistic. Support or refute this conclusion.

Historical Context

The Spanish Civil War

Civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, but the underlying causes can be traced back several years prior to that date. In the 1930s Spain experienced continuous political upheavals. In 1931, after years of civil conflict in the country, King Alfonso XIII voluntarily placed himself in exile, and on April 13 of that year, a new republic emerged. The Leftist government, however, faced similar civil unrest, and by 1933, the conservatives regained control. By 1936 the people voted the leftists back in. After the assassination of Jose Calvas Otelo, an influential Monarchist, the army led a revolt against the government and sponsored the return of General Francisco Franco, who had been exiled because of his politics.

As a result, civil war broke out across the country between the Loyalist-leftists and the Monarchist-rightists. Russia backed the leftists while Germany and Italy supported the rightists. The war continued until 1939 with each side committing atrocities: the leftists slaughtered religious and political figures while the rightists bombed civilian targets. At the beginning of 1936, the Loyalists were suffering from an effective blockade as Franco's troops gained control. On March 28, the war ended as the rightists took the city of Madrid.

Hemingway, siding with the Loyalists, first lent his support to their cause by raising money for ambulances and medical supplies. In 1937, he ran the Ambulances Committee of the American Friends of Spanish Democracy. During the war, he often returned to Spain as a journalist, penning articles for the North American Newspaper Alliance and Esquire. When the Fascist army won control of Spain in 1939, Hemingway had just started writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1930s–1940s: The world experiences a decade of aggression in the 1930s that culminates in World War II. This second world war results from the rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan. One week after Nazi Germany and the USSR sign the Treaty of Nonaggression, Germany invades Poland, and World War II begins.

    Today: The world is threatened by Islamic fundamentalist groups who have declared a holy war against the West. These radical groups have committed terrorist acts in several countries including the United States. On September 11, 2001, the most devastating acts of terror to date worldwide are delivered as terrorists fly planes into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City and into the Pentagon and are responsible for the crash of another plane in Pennsylvania.
  • 1930s–1940s: Civil war breaks out in Spain in 1936 between the Fascists, backed by Germany and Italy, and the Loyalists, backed by the USSR.

    Today: Spain has been established as a social and democratic country that is governed by a parliamentary monarchy. National sovereignty is vested in the Spanish people.
  • 1930s–1940s: American women gain a measure of independence in the workplace as they labor in the factories, replacing men who have gone to war. By 1945, the peak of the war production, approximately 19 million women hold jobs. Independence is difficult to relinquish when, at the end of the war, the men come home and demand their jobs back, and their wives return to their traditional roles in the home.

    Today: American women have made major gains in their fight for equality even without the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment Bill. Discrimination against women is now against the law.

The Lost Generation

This term became associated with a group of American writers in the 1920s who felt a growing sense of disillusionment after World War I. As a result, many left America for Europe. T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound initially relocated to London, while F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway traveled to Paris, which appeared to offer them a much freer society than America or England did. During this period, Paris became a mecca for these expatriates, who congregated in literary salons, restaurants, and bars to discuss their work in the context of the new age. One such salon was dominated by Gertrude Stein, who at one gathering insisted "you are all a lost generation," a quote immortalized by Hemingway in the preface to The Sun Also Rises. That novel, like For Whom the Bell Tolls and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, presents a penetrating portrait of this Lost Generation.

The characters in works by these authors reflected the authors' growing sense of disillusionment along with the new ideas in psychology, anthropology, and philosophy that had become popular in the early part of the century. Freudianism, for example, which had caused a loosening of sexual morality during the Jazz Age, began to be studied by these writers as they explored the psyches of their characters and recorded their often subjective points of view of themselves and their world. Hemingway's men and women faced a meaningless world with courage and dignity, exhibiting "grace under pressure," while Fitzgerald's sought the redemptive power of love in a world driven by materialism.

This age of confusion, redefinition, and experimentation produced one of the most fruitful periods in American letters. These writers helped create a new form of literature, later called modernism, which repudiated traditional literary conventions. Prior to the twentieth century, writers structured their works to reflect their belief in the stability of character and the intelligibility of experience. Traditionally, novels and stories ended with a clear sense of closure, as conflicts were resolved and characters gained knowledge about themselves and their world. The authors of the Lost Generation challenged these assumptions as they expanded the genre's traditional form to accommodate their characters' questions about the individual's place in the world.

Critical Overview

When For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940, Hemingway's reputation as one of America's most important writers was already well established. The new novel received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics and the public alike, with many insisting that it was Hemingway's best novel to date. It quickly became a bestseller, as the first printing's 210,000 copies immediately sold out. In less than six months, that figure jumped to over 491,000. Michael Reynolds, in his assessment of the novel for the Virginia Quarterly Review, notes that a reviewer in the New York Times insisted that it was "the best book Ernest Hemingway has written, the fullest, the deepest, the truest. It will be one of the major novels in American literature." Reynolds adds that Dorothy Parker claimed that it was "beyond all comparison, Ernest Hemingway's finest book," and an article in the Nation proclaimed that it set "a new standard for Hemingway in characterization, dialogue, suspense and compassion."

These and other critics praised Hemingway's thematic focus on idealism and responsibility, especially as a reflection of the mood of the times, as the world braced for the devastation of the impending world war. Reynolds writes, though, that the novel "transcends the historical context that bore it, becoming a parable rather than a paradigm."

Later, however, some critics found fault with the novel's politics. Hemingway's inclusion of Loyalist as well as Fascist atrocities drew criticism from liberal sympathizers. Other critics have complained about the idealized relationship between Jordan and Maria. Leslie A. Fiedler, for example, in his Love and Death in the American Novel, finds fault in all of Hemingway's characterizations of love. He comments that if, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway "has written the most absurd love scene in the history of the American novel, this is not because he lost momentarily his skill and authority." Fiedler suggests that the love affair between Jordan and Maria "illuminates the whole erotic content of his fiction."

While the novel has never regained the critical status it enjoyed when it was first published, the novel is currently regarded, as James Nagel notes in his article on Hemingway for Dictionary of Literary Biography, as "nearly perfect." Philip Young in American Writers comments, "none of his books had evoked more richly the life of the senses, had shown a surer sense of plotting, or provided more fully living secondary characters, or livelier dialogue." Reynolds concludes his review with the following assessment: "And thus, softly, across time, For Whom the Bell Tolls continues in muted tones to toll for us."


Wendy Perkins

Perkins is an associate professor of English and American literature and film at Prince George's Community College and has published several articles on British and American authors. In this essay, she defines Robert Jordan as one of Hemingway's "code heroes."

Several of Hemingway's protagonists share qualities that define them as a specific type of character that has come to be known as Hemingway's "code hero." The world in which Hemingway's code heroes find themselves helps to define them. Often the setting is war or some other dangerous arena, like the plains of Africa or a boxing ring, where the hero faces the ultimate test of courage. The protagonist must face fear along with a growing sense of despair over the meaninglessness of experience. Fear results not only from physical danger and impending death but also from the gradual disintegration of the self in a world of "nothingness," a world stripped of consoling ideals. He reveals his courage as he stoically faces his inevitable defeat and accepts it with dignity.

In his early work, Hemingway's heroes find dignity through purely personal moments of fulfillment. For example, the protagonist in his short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" becomes a code hero when he stands his ground as a buffalo charges at him on an open plain in Africa. Previously, he had shown himself to be a coward when he had run from a lion, an action his wife uses to humiliate him and thus gain power over him. Yet, by the end of the story, Macomber has found his courage and so experiences a perfect moment of transcendence when he faces the buffalo without fear. His perfect moment is a purely personal one, based on his own desperate need to prove himself a man. Robert Jordan, the protagonist in For Whom the Bell Tolls, presents another example of Hemingway's code hero. However, Hemingway alters his traditional type in his characterization of Jordan. Instead of defining him as a hero through a personal moment of dignity, as he does with Macomber, Hemingway presents a man who becomes a hero through an expression of communal responsibility.

Robert Jordan volunteers to help the Loyalists in their war with the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War because of his liberal politics and his great love for the Spanish people. Initially, he is devoted to their cause; however, he soon becomes disillusioned about the reality of war. He sees atrocities committed on both sides and listens to Loyalist sympathizers plot, not for the good of the cause, but for their own personal gain. During his frequent internal debates, Jordan comes to the conclusion that he distrusts the politics and practices of those he has sworn to support. He has heard Russian of-ficers, who in theory have come to aid the Loyalists, discuss their intentions to gain personal advantages during the war. He has also heard of how the Spanish people, for whom he is ultimately fighting, can take enjoyment from the brutal slaughter of the enemy.

The world of For Whom the Bell Tolls appears to lack meaning like the God-abandoned world of Macomber on an African safari or of Frederick Henry on the battlefield of A Farewell to Arms (1929). Both Macomber and Henry eventually exhibit a strong sense of dignity in the face of their meaningless existence in very personal moments. Both men are alone at the end of their stories, revealing a certain "grace under pressure," a courageous standing of their ground as they confront their fear of the unknown. Jordan, however, stands his ground not for a purely personal sense of dignity and self-worth but for the common good. Even though he suspects that their plan to blow up the bridge and thus check the Fascist advance will fail and even though he recognizes that many of his compatriots have lost their belief in the cause, he refuses to turn his back on them.

In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway expressed one of the tenets of his code heroes: "What is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after." As Pablo notes, Jordan is a "good boy" whose sense of morality is tied to the protection of his community. This moral code frames the novel. On the first page, Hemingway quotes from a poem by John Donne. The poem opens with the statement "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent" and closes with an insistence that, as a result, "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." This opening suggests that Jordan's experience will inevitably be a common one—that his test will be to find the courage to work toward the good of the community. He can only fulfill his personal destiny if he fulfills that of the group.

Jordan struggles with this philosophy throughout the novel as he plans the destruction of the bridge, assuming that the mission will fail, and as he considers suicide while facing death at the hands of the Fascists. At one point, near the end of the novel, he tries to convince himself, "why wouldn't it be all right to just do it now and then the whole thing would be over with?" Yet, finally, he recognizes that he must resist the urge to end his suffering and must, instead, stand his ground, because, he notes, "there is something you can do yet." He forces himself to retain consciousness so that he can stall the Fascists and so give the others a few more minutes to get to safety.

Thus while Jordan is certainly a member of the Lost Generation, facing a world bereft of meaning and sense, he ends his life in a community of the lost, insisting to his comrades that he will remain with them, even after death. One of his final images is of the group making their way to safety, to a place where they can continue to fight for the cause. The ultimate dignity that Jordan achieves in the novel is through his determination not to give up his hope for the future, even though he knows that he cannot be a part of it. Thus he achieves the status of a true hero, one who not only honors his own sense of responsibility but also, ultimately, that of his community.

Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on For Whom the Bell Tolls, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Ramón Buckley

In the following essay, Buckley examines the historical background of Ronda in order to understand Hemingway's fictional depiction of revolution staged there in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ronda sits perched in the hills of southern Spain, halfway between Seville and Malaga. Its dramatic setting, hanging on the cliffs above a river splitting the town in two, has inspired poets and artists for generations, most notably Rainier Maria Rilke. It is therefore not surprising that Hemingway should have chosen Ronda as a destination during his first visit to Spain in 1923. Carlos Baker tells the story:

The night life of Seville was boring to Hemingway. They watched a few flamenco dances, where broad-beamed women snapped their fingers to the music of guitars … "Oh for Christ's sake" he kept saying, "more flamingos!" He could not rest until Bird and McAlmon agreed to go on to Ronda. It was even better than Mike had predicted—a spectacular village with an ancient bullring, high in the mountains above Malaga.

His love affair with Ronda did not diminish. In Death in the Afternoon (1932) Hemingway wrote:

There is one town that would be better than Aranjuez to see your first bullfight in if you are only going to see one and that is Ronda. That is where you should go if you ever go to Spain on a honeymoon or if you ever bolt with anyone. The entire town and as far as you can see in any direction is romantic background … if a honeymoon or an elopement is not a success in Ronda, it would be as well to start for Paris and commence making your own friends.

Later on in his life, when Hemingway returned to Spain in the mid-1950s, Ronda again became a favorite destination, especially when he befriended bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez, who is from Ronda. Like fellow expatriate Orson Welles, Hemingway spent long sojourns at Ordóñez's "cortijo" (country house) near Ronda.

When Hemingway arrived in Spain in February 1937 to cover the Spanish Civil War, most of the south, including Ronda, had already fallen to Franco. He was therefore unable to go to Andalusia during the war, but there is little doubt that, even before reaching Spain, he had heard innumerable stories about the peasant uprisings that took place in the south following the July 1936 military coup. Chapter 10 of For Whom the Bell Tolls is Pilar's painfully graphic account of one such uprising. More than any other chapter in the novel, it has stirred readers' imaginations with its gruesome realism, sparing no detail in recounting the massacre of fascist landlords by Andalusian peasants.

Although Hemingway does not mention the location of the massacre in For Whom the Bell Tolls, scholars have traditionally assumed that Ronda was the site of the peasant uprising. This assumption, however, has not gone uncontested. Angel Capellán has argued that because both Pilar and Pablo (the peasant leaders) say they come from Castilla (central Spain) we should look for an appropriate town in this area. Capellán suggests Cuenca, like Ronda dramatically perched on the ledge of a cliff. Hemingway himself, however, put the matter to rest when he told Hotchner: "When Pilar remembers back to what happened in their village when the fascists came, that's Ronda, and the details of the town are exact."

The details of the town may be "exact" in For Whom the Bell Tolls, but not necessarily the details of the events that took place in Ronda in 1936. Writing to Bernard Berenson in 1954, Hemingway stated that the fascist massacre in the novel was a thing that he had "invented completely." However, he hastened to add that a writer has "the obligation to invent truer than things can be true." This would seem to indicate that Hemingway was trying to reach beyond actual events in a small Spanish town to a "higher reality," a description of the July peasant revolution which would reveal its "inner truth," to paraphrase Hemingway himself.

Because Pilar's description of the massacre is generally considered a highlight of the novel, Chapter 10 has attracted a fair amount of critical attention. Robert Gajdusek analyzes the revolution in terms of Jungian archetypes and points to the myth of Dionysus to explain the peasant revolution. Gajdusek also points out that when Hemingway compares Pilar's skill as a narrator to that of the Spanish writer Francisco de Quevedo, he is shining his own boots, so to speak, for all to see.

As if to balance Gajdusek's approach to the chapter through pagan myth, H. R. Stoneback has argued that it possesses an undercurrent of Catholic doctrine which he claims runs throughout the novel as a whole. Stoneback argues that the priest who is finally slaughtered is the real protagonist of Pilar's tale, and that the priest points to one of the novel's central themes, the need for atonement.

As engaging as these two readings of Chapter 10 may be, it seems to me that there is a need to examine the real history of Ronda—the actual events that took place in this town in July 1936—in order to understand Hemingway's fictional rendering. In 1996 I was invited to Ronda for a conference on Hemingway and Orson Welles, a perfect opportunity to do research in the local archives and to browse through the records of the Town Hall, and above all, to talk with senior citizens who could still remember those days of passion and death. Oddly enough, no book has been written on the subject, and those books that mention the massacre of Ronda do so from a partisan perspective. This, then, is a brief—and certainly incomplete—narration, pieced together from different written and oral accounts of the revolution.

On 19 July 1936 the commander of the small army garrison in Ronda, upon reports of a military uprising in Morocco, went to the Town Hall with a small platoon and demanded that the mayor submit to his authority and publicly announce that the city was under martial law and the army was taking control. The mayor belonged to the left-wing coalition known as the Popular Front. He refused to follow the commander's orders and swiftly disarmed him and his small band of soldiers, heavily outnumbered by the peasant groups beginning to assemble on the plaza outside the town hall. Thus, Ronda remained loyal to the Republican government of Madrid, and did not fall to the fascists until 18 September 1936.

However, it would be would be wrong to assume that during these two months the Republican government in Madrid had any control over the town or its inhabitants. As soon as the reports of a military rising in Africa began to spread, the peasants from neighboring villages poured into Ronda and in effect took control. Although the mayor was nominally in charge, the real power belonged to a "Comité" formed by the peasants themselves, most of whom belonged to CNT (Conferación Nacional del Trabajo), the Anarchist Labor Union.

The task of this committee was three-fold: first, to arrest all persons suspected of having fascist sympathies; second, to insure that food was evenly distributed to all inhabitants (money was outlawed and vouchers with the CNT rubber-stamp were issued); third, to prepare to defend Ronda from a probable attack by fascist troops stationed in Seville.

The word "revolution" immediately comes to mind when we attempt to describe the situation in Ronda in summer 1936. The Secretary's "Record of Proceedings" for 28 July 1936, preserved in Ronda's Town Hall, displays revolutionary rhetoric: "[W]e are living through a moment of historic transcendence … the fascist coup has spurred the populace to rise to the last man and to demand social justice … a new society is being born, based upon liberty, justice and equality … justice has now become 'revolutionary justice' designed to cleanse the state of all fascist elements as well as to establish the basis for a new social order etc."

What Do I Read Next?

  • Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms (1929) chronicles a doomed love affair between an American lieutenant and a British nurse during World War I.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) is considered, along with The Sun Also Rises, to be one of the seminal works of the Lost Generation.
  • Antony Beevor's The Spanish Civil War, published in 2001, presents a comprehensive account of the conflict that served as a bloody precursor to World War II.
  • Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926) focuses on the aftermath of World War I, especially on how the war affected the lives of displaced Americans.

Ronda—like so many other towns and villages in Andalusia—was living through a revolution characterized, according to Pitt-Rivers, by "its moralism, its naturalism, its millenarian belief, its insistence upon justice and order in the organization of social relations, its refusal to tolerate authority not vested in the community, to admit any social organization other than the pueblo." The Andalusian anarchists had been waiting for generations for the right moment to strike. In July 1936 a weak government in Madrid, together with a coup by the fascist generals in Morocco produced the ideal situation for such a ris-ing. The Anarchists realized the vacuum of power affecting great parts of Spain and Moved quickly to take control:

There is no official record of how many people were killed during the summer 1936 peasant revolution of Ronda. Estimates range from 200 to 600. Hugh Thomas remarks: "Hemingway's account is near to reality of what happened in the Andalusian town of Ronda … 512 were murdered in the first month of the war." Thomas took this figure from the Catholic writer José María de Peman, so he is not necessarily accurate. Still, the figure is staggering considering that the town's population in 1935 was 15,000 people.

The summer 1936 massacre in Ronda did not take place quite in the way Hemingway described it. Normal procedure would be for the Anarchists' Committee to draw up a list of people who were either fascist or had fascist sympathies and to order their arrest. Some were arrested, but others were taken to a lonely location out of town (sometimes the cemetery itself) and shot dead. I was told that the truck which carried this doomed cargo came to be known as "Dracula," and that the sight of this truck entering a neighborhood, usually at night, was not a welcome one for those fearing arrest.

No mass carnage occurred in front of the Town Hall—as Hemingway describes—but several massacres did occur, the most notorious involving the killing of a number of local priests: "On the twenty-third of July two hundred armed peasants entered the castle, where the local Salesian priests have their residence, in order to search for machine guns, which, they said were stored secretly in the basement … On the following day, they returned and took the priests under arrest … In the evening, a number of these priests were taken from the prison where they were being kept and driven to an out-of-town location known as El Tajo, where they were shot dead … They were the first victims of the red terror in Ronda."

No fascists were thrown over the cliff, as Hemingway would have it. One person did commit suicide by throwing himself over the cliff, according to an eyewitness report. Edward Stanton has drawn my attention to a passage in Death in the Afternoon that seems to foreshadow the fascist massacre in For Whom the Bell Tolls:

The bull ring at Ronda was built at the end of the eighteenth century and is of wood. It stands at the edge of the cliff and after the bullfight when the bulls have been skinned and dressed and their meat sent out for sale on carts they drag the dead horses over the edge of the cliff and the buzzards that have circled over the edge of the town and high in the air over the ring all day, drop to feed on the rocks below the town.

It is hardly surprising that the dramatic cliffs of Hemingway's beloved Ronda should come to mind as a setting for the portrayal of revolution in a small Spanish town.

One key element in Hemingway's description was apparently absent in the Ronda revolution of 1936: the practice of ritual. There is nothing haphazard or disorganized—as one would expect in a mob action—in Hemingway's fictional massacre. Everything follows Pablo's carefully established plan and unfolds in three stages. First, the fascists are arrested in their homes, taken to the Town Hall, and imprisoned. Second, Pablo's men besiege the small local garrison of the Guardia Civil until it is finally conquered and its defenders shot. The final stage of Pablo's plan is the most surprising and (for some critics) the most shocking: "While the priest was [hearing confession,] Pablo organized those in the plaza into two lines. He placed them in two lines as you would place men in a rope pulling contest, or as they stand in a city to watch the ending of a bicycle road race with just enough room for the cyclists to pass between or as men stood to allow the passage of a holy image in a procession." The ritual of death is about to begin.

According to Blackey and Paynton, ritual in a revolutionary process serves two important functions: it reaffirms individual loyalties and brings mob violence under control by curbing the destructive instincts which any revolutionary process inevitably arouses. There is therefore nothing "morbid" or "gruesome" about the organized lynching of the fascist prisoners. Only by so doing—Blackey and Paynton would argue—does the peasant community become truly "revolutionary." Only through this "communion of blood" are revolutionary loyalties firmly established.

The ritual of death—the sacrifice of the landlords—will bring about the regeneration of the peasant community. "'We thresh fascists today' said one [peasant], 'and out of this chaff comes the freedom of this pueblo'." The peasants themselves understand that the revolution—like other rituals they have participated in (harvest fiestas, bullfights, the Catholic mass)—should bring about a catharsis, a spiritual cleansing.

Pilar explains both the nature of revolutionary ritual and the reasons for its failure: "Certainly if the fascists were to be executed by the people, it was better for all the people to have a part in it, and I wished to share the guilt as much as any, just as I hoped to share in the benefits when the town should be ours. But after Don Guillermo ['s death] I felt a feeling of shame and distaste, and with the coming of the drunkards and the worthless ones into the lines … I wished I might disassociate myself altogether …" The exemplary punishment of a few fascist landlords became a bloodbath by a mob totally out of control, as Hemingway so vividly portrays in his novel.

He does not, however, condemn the revolution itself, but rather the way it is mishandled when the drunkards take over. Pilar puts the blame squarely on the CNT for the bloodbath: "It would have been better for the town if they had thrown over [the cliff] twenty or thirty of the drunkards, especially those of the red-and-black scarves, and if we ever have another revolution, I believe they should be destroyed at the start." While it is true that CNT members ("red and black scarves") got out of hand and turned "revolution" into "bloodbath," it is also true that without the CNT there would hardly have been a revolution in Spain at all. The Anarchists in general should be credited both for the early success of the revolution in most of Andalusia as well as for their failure to control it. As we noted earlier, it was precisely through "ritual" that Pablo—a true anarchist—attempted to control his own revolutionary coup. The fact that he failed in no way discredits the ritual he engaged in.

But was this "ritual-of-death" a Hemingway invention or a common practice amongst Anarchists? Although I found no evidence of such ritual in the massacre at Ronda, I did locate several instances in the records of neighboring towns and villages. Here are but a few examples—In Almeria, a bullfight took place in which six fascists were shot dead for each of the six bulls in the fight. In Huercanal (Cordoba), the whole village lined the streets to stab, with their own kitchen knives, a sexton reported to have received as many as two hundred wounds before he was finally put to death (the report is strikingly similar to Hemingway's own story). In the village of Grazalema, close to Ronda, a local peasant being questioned about the fascists he murdered during the uprising first refused to answer, and then finally stated that "he" did nothing … that "Grazalema" did it (this recalls the medieval story of Fuenteovejuna—a town that rose in arms against its Governor and then refused to apportion individual responsibility for the deed—"Fuenteovejuna did it").

Stories such as these—which Hemingway must have heard in plenty as soon as he arrived in Spain in February 1937—ultimately inspired him to write his own account of the July 1936 peasants' uprising. Pilar's long and detailed story of this revolt becomes the cornerstone of the whole novel. The revolution failed not simply because "three days … later the fascists took the town", but because, the peasant revolt of Andalusia drowned in its own blood. The failure of the Anarchist revolution of July was the perfect justification—nine months later—for the May 1937 Communist takeover of the Republican government. It is no idle coincidence that Hemingway begins the narration of his story at precisely this moment. Robert Jordan receives his orders from a Soviet commander, General Golz, and although Jordan is not affiliated with the Communist Party, he strongly believes (as did Hemingway himself) that only the Communists could win the war for the Republic.

Thus Hemingway takes us from the beginnings of the war (the Anarchist revolution of July 1936), to its midpoint (the Communist takeover in May 1937) and then points to the end of the war with the death of Robert Jordan and his reflections on what the war has meant for him and his reasons for fighting "the good fight." Although the main action of For Whom the Bell Tolls takes place in May 1937, the novel should be read as a "total" commentary on the war, spanning its commencement and its final moments.

Much has been written about Hemingway's political position during the Spanish Civil War. William Watson has shown the close ties, mediated by Joris Ivens, between Hemingway and the Communist Party. It was Hemingway's deep conviction—while the war lasted—that only the Communist Party could possibly bring final victory to the Republic. But as soon as the war was over and Hemingway began to write For Whom the Bell Tolls, he "detached himself politically," as Allen Josephs puts it, and contemplated the war from a broader perspective. It is from this politically detached position that Hemingway narrates, through Pilar, the Anarchist rising of 1936. It is no accident that he chose Pilar to tell the tale of revolution, for only Pilar, as Stanton has suggested, has the epic grandeur, the tragic feeling, and the duende to tell such a story. Her tale echoes Yeats' of the Irish Easter Rising: "a terrible beauty is born!".

Source: Ramón Buckley, "Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls," in Hemingway Review, Vol. 17, No. 1, Fall 1997, pp. 49-56.

Wolfgang E. H. Rudat

In the following essay, Rudat briefly explores Hemingway's satirization of macho posturing in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway presents us with a strange dialogue between Fernando and the gypsy woman Pilar, whose praise of melons from the Valencia region draws this reply:

"The melon of Castile is better," Fernando said. "Qué va," said [Pilar]. "The melon of Castile is for self abuse. The melon of Valencia is for eating." (85, italics, except for the Spanish, added)

Why does Hemingway have Pilar recommend the melon of Castile as an object for self abuse for the male Fernando and thus as an object of vaginal signification? Is this one of the numerous seemingly meaningless obscenities in Hemingway's Spanish Civil War novel, some of which appear to serve no other purpose than providing comic relief? Hemingway offered an explanation when he remarked in his famous interview with the Paris Review in 1958 that

it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer's province to explain it or run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work. (Plimpton 29-30, italics added)

I approach For Whom the Bell Tolls as a text where not only do earlier parts determine the meanings of later parts as is customary, but where the meanings of earlier parts are retroactively informed by later passages: phrases, passages, or scenes palimpsestically interact with those that come later in the novel. How, then, does Hemingway retroactively endow with thematic significance the foulmouthed Pilar's remark about certain melons being vaginal objects? In a novel that seems to celebrate the bravery of a few good men. "Andrés Lopez of Villaconejos," as he identifies himself to guards he encounters while trying to deliver a message from Robert Jordan to a Loyalist headquarters, replies, when asked where he was born:

"Villaconejos," Andrés said. "And what do they raise there?" "Melons," Andrés said. "As all the world knows." (375, italics added)

What the ironist Hemingway wants to communicate to the reader is that, according to Pilar's and even Andrés's own pronouncement, in Señor Lopez's home town they raise something which males can employ for the purpose of "self abuse"—"As all the world knows."

That Hemingway could expect the reader to discover a palimpsestic intertextuality between Andrés's mention of melons from Villaconejos on page 375 and Pilar's obscene pronouncement almost 300 pages earlier concerning the proper use of the "melon of Castile" results from his writing a linguistic-game novel that centers around the nickname the protagonist gives to his lover—"Rabbit"—the Spanish word for which is conejo. Andrés Lopez comes from a place named "Village of Rabbits." But then, conejo is also a slang term for the female pudendum, comparable to English "[P―――――s]." Therefore an association between Pilar's "melon of Castile" and the melons of "Villaconejos" indeed makes sense—if Hemingway is presenting Andrés's home town as a "Village of [P―――――s]." But is this what Hemingway is doing?

Señor Lopez had gained quite a reputation among the men in the village he grew up in when, during a bullbaiting, he had the animal's "ear clenched tight in his teeth" as he was driving "his knife again and again and again" into the bull's neck. "And every year after that he had to repeat it. They called him the bulldog of Villaconejos and joked about him eating cattle raw." "Or they would say. 'That's what it is to have at pair of cojones! Year after year!'."?

But Andrés isn't happy about having to live up to his reputation, and he feels relieved every time he doesn't have to go through with it:

Surely. He was the Bulldog of Villaconejos and not for anything would he have missed doing it each year in his village. But he knew there was no better feeling than the one the sound of the rain gave when he knew he would not have to do it.

The reader perceives the irony that, whereas Andrés is afraid of repeating his performance, his fellow villagers extol his courage. However, Hemingway also may be satirizing the concept that underlies the use of the word cojones in the meaning of courage: he ridicules and perhaps even questions the appropriateness of such a male-sexist concept by presenting Andrés's hometown as a "Village of Pussies."

Hemingway thus poetically transmogrifies those men who would restrict a universal character trait, courage, to those humans who possess male genitalia into conejos/ "pussies" / "wimps" / cowards. The change in my word selection suggests my belief that Hemingway was more interested in exposing macho posturing by "wimps" than actually "vaginifying" those men. But then we must not forget that the palimpsestic interaction of the novel does transform a paragon of "what it is to have a pair of cojones" into what Pilar views as sexually symbolized by a melon. A middle ground would be that without necessarily meaning any physiological references, Hemingway spiritually unmans or "melonifies" the would-be bullfighters of Villa-conejos.

It is important to note that Hemingway does not tell us of Andrés's boyhood adventures and adolescent fears until his cowardice as a soldier has been revealed. Andrés is ordered to deliver a message that might prevent his returning for the dangerous bridge-blowing, and it is that order that prompts Andrés to remember his bullbaiting days:

[Andrés] wanted to get this message-taking over and be back for the attack on the posts in the morning. Did he really want to get back though or did he only pretend he wanted to be back? He knew the reprieved feeling he had felt when the Inglés had told him he was to go with the message … when the Inglés had spoken to him of the message he had felt the way he used to feel when he was a boy and he had wakened in the morning of the festival of his village and heard it raining hard so that he knew that it would be too wet and that the bullbaiting in the square would be cancelled. (363-64, italics added)

Hemingway carefully sets Andrés up for his eventual exposure during adulthood. We know from pages 363-64 that Andrés has the "reprieved feeling": that having been given an opportunity to escape the dangers of the bridge-blowing mission he is reminded of the reprieve rain afforded him when bullbaitings in his boyhood village were cancelled. It is therefore appropriate that Hemingway has Andrés mention the melons of Villaconejos when he is on a journey that he knows will grant him a "reprieve" from the deadly fighting at the bridge.

It is through having Andrés relive his adolescent bullbaiting reprieves during his military reprieve that Hemingway performs a "melonifica-tion" of this extolled paragon of manhood. When the guerilla group meets on the morning of the bridge-blowing mission, Agustin makes a seemingly strange remark to Andrés's brother about his brother's absence: "And thy brother?… Thy famous brother has mucked off?." Why does Hemingway have Agustin refer to Andrés as a "famous" brother, and why is that famous brother's name conspicuously absent from this context? While Agustin presumably is referring to the "Bulldog of Villaconejos" and his famous "pair of cojones," the author actually is calling on the reader to take a closer look at the absentee's name. Hemingway is making a hilarious pun in his satiric portrayal of the cowardly Señor Lopez: the name of Andrés's Biblical predecessor, Andrew, literally means "manly."

Once we discover that Hemingway actually uses Señor Lopez's first name for a linguistic pun, we see how Pilar's pronouncement on the usefulness of melons fits into the linguistic games the author plays in the "Andrés Lopez of Villaconejos" context: Hemingway poetically un-Andrews Señor Lopez not only into a conejo, but also into a "melon"—into something that "All the world knows … they raise in Villaconejos." And we as readers might do well to consider the possibility that Hemingway actually may have used For Whom the Bell Tolls to satirize, however subtly, macho posturing—including the macho posturing that he himself had been guilty of in his own writings.

Source: Wolfgang E. H. Rudat, "Macho Posturing in For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Role of Andrés of Villaconejos," in ANQ, Vol. 94, No. 1, Winter 1996, pp. 27-30.


Fiedler, Leslie A., Love and Death in the American Novel, Dell, 1960.

Nagel, James, "Ernest Hemingway," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 9: American Novelists, 1910–1945, Gale Research, 1981, pp. 100-20.

Reynolds, Michael, "Ringing the Changes: Hemingway's Bell Tolls Fifty," in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 67, No. 1, Winter 1991, pp. 1-18.

Young, Philip, "Ernest Hemingway," in American Writers, Vol. 2, 1974, pp. 247-70.

For Further Reading

Buckley, Ramon, "Revolution in Ronda: The Facts in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls," in Hemingway Review, Vol. 17, No 1, Fall 1997, pp. 49-57.

Buckley places the novel in its historical context.

Martin, Robert A., "Robert Jordan and the Spanish Country: Learning to Live in It 'Truly and Well,'" in Hemingway Review, Vol. 16, No. 1, Fall 1996, pp. 56-64.

Martin presents a close analysis of the character of Robert Jordan and his relationship to Spanish culture.

Meyers, Jeffrey, "For Whom the Bell Tolls as Contemporary History," in The Spanish Civil War in Literature, edited by Janet Perez and Wendell Aycock, Texas Tech University Press, 1990, pp. 85-107.

This essay explores the political implications of the novel.

Wylder, Delbert E., "For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Mythic Hero in the Contemporary World," in Hemingway's Heroes, University of New Mexico Press, 1969, pp. 127-64.

Wylder presents an analysis of Robert Jordan who, he writes, "follows the mythical journey of the hero in a modern setting."

More From