Arts Books

For Whom The Bell Tolls


For Whom the Bell Tolls is a book written by Ernest Hemingway. It was published in 1940 by Charles Scribner’s Sons and considered one of the author’s best works. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. The president of the Pulitzer board found the novel offensive. He campaigned the board to reverse the decision. He won. For Whom the Bell Tolls lost. No Pulitzer was given in the novel category.

The Spanish Civil War intensifies. The year is 1937. Robert Jordan leaves America and enlists on the Republican side of the war. He goes deep into the mountains behind enemy lines with the Spanish guerilla fighters. Jordan is assigned a dangerous mission. He is tasked with blowing up a bridge controlled by the Fascists to augment the Republican offensive.

The guerilla camp is hidden in a cave. Anselmo is a peasant. He guides Robert to the cave. They run into Pablo. He is the leader of the camp. He yells at Jordan. The operation to destroy the bridge will endanger his comrades. Robert is alert and cautious. He decides that Pablo might choose to sabotage his mission. Everyone walks. They reach the cave. Pablo’s partner Pilar greets Jordan. She commands authority. Pilar is in charge. The pillar. Everything is less hairy, less pilar.

hemingway during the spanish civil war
Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War – Photo Credit: Cassowary Colorizations

The Guerillas

Robert meets six other people. Agustin is glib and crass. Rafael is capricious and unreliable and Fernando is venerable and Primitivo is old. Eladio and Andres are brothers. Maria is a young woman who was abused by the fascists. She is drawn to the protagonist. Robert is enamored by Maria. He leaves the camp with Anselmo. They scout the bridge and return. Pablo announces that he has no intention of assisting with the destruction of the bridge.

Pilar and the others disagree. Pablo acquiesces. Rafael suggests that Jordan kills Pablo. For whom the bell tolls. Pilar says big P is not dangerous. Robert decides to sleep outside. Maria joins him. They confess their love and become intimate. Morning arrives and Robert enters the forest with Pilar. Maria comes. Pilar leads them to El Sordo. He is the leader of another group of guerillas. El Sordo agrees that the daytime mission is dangerous. Retreating without the blanket of night is worrisome. He decides to help.

Robert and Maria copulate in the forest on the return journey. The ground moves. Pilar has no issues. They enter camp. Pablo is drunk. He insults the protagonist. Robert looks for a reason to kill him. Pablo refuses to react. Agustin hits him in the face. Pablo stands strong and leaves. The group decides he must die. Pablo returns to the cave and says he has had a change of heart. Death to the bridge. Maria and RJ sleep underneath the stars. They cuddle. Pillow talk reveals that the two believe they share one body.

for whom the bell tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls book spine – Photo Credit: MOJO MOOMEY

El Sordo and Company

Robert opens his eyes. It is morning. A Fascist cavalryman appears and is greeted with a bullet. Breakfast begins and gunshots explode in the distance. Robert assumes the worst for El Sordo. Breakfast ends. The camp cannot decide if they should investigate or remain still. El Sordo and his men pretend to be dead. The strategy allows them to shoot and kill the Fascist captain. The victory is brief. Planes arrive and carpet bomb the hilltop. Everyone dies. Their corpses are beheaded.

It is time for lunch. The meal is somber. Jordan writes a dispatch for his command. It suggests they should abandon the operation. Andres is sent to deliver the message to General Golz at headquarters. Maria and Robert dream about a future life in Madrid. Pilar wakes up Jordan and whispers that Pablo has stolen some of the explosives for the bridge. He is furious and decides that he will still blow up the bridge. Pablo returns without the explosives and with backup soldiers and apologies for his actions. The fighters prepare for war.

Andres overcomes several complications and delivers the dispatch. It is too late. The offensive has already begun. Robert and Anselmo approach the bridge. They shoot the guards and plant the explosives. Pilar joins the pair and says Eladio is dead and Fernando has fatal wounds. The detonation crumbles the bridge. The blast disperses shrapnel in all directions. Anselmo is hit. He dies. Pablo appears. His backup is dead. Agustin does not believe his story. The survivors retreat.

Bell – Photo Credit: hans s

A bullet pierces Robert’s horse. The animal trashes and crushes his leg. It breaks. He says his goodbyes to Maria. She leaves with Pablo and Pilar. Robert Jordan contemplates ending it all and resolves to live long enough to hold off the enemy rebuttal. He is thankful for his final days and the life he received. Robert reaches a state of nirvana. A Fascist lieutenant is close. Robert takes aim. He feels his heart beating into the forest floor. The same ground he shared with Maria. For Whom the Bell Tolls ends.

“There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.”

― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
forest floor
Forest Floor – Photo Credit: Mark Cutler

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