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For Whom the Bell Tolls


For Whom the Bell Tolls Cover

ISBN13: 9780684803357
ISBN10: 0684803356
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for For Whom the Bell Tolls


Ernest Hemingway was born July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. After graduation from high school, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he worked briefly for the Kansas City Star. Failing to qualify for the United States Army because of poor eyesight, he enlisted with the American Red Cross to drive ambulances in Italy. He was severely wounded on the Austrian front on July 9, 1918. Following recuperation in a Milan hospital, he returned home and became a freelance writer for the Toronto Star.

In December of 1921, he sailed to France and joined an expatriate community of writers and artists in Paris while continuing to write for the Toronto Star. There his fiction career began in "little magazines" and small presses and led to a volume of short stories, In Our Time (1925). His novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929) established Hemingway as the most important and influential fiction writer of his generation. His later collections of short stories and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) affirmed his extraordinary career while his highly publicized life gave him unrivaled celebrity as a literary figure.

Hemingway became an authority on the subjects of his art: trout fishing, bullfighting, big-game hunting, and deep-sea fishing, and the cultures of the regions in which he set his work — France, Italy, Spain, Cuba, and Africa.

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) earned him the Pulitzer Prize and was instrumental in his being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954. Hemingway died in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961.


Robert Jordan, a Spanish professor from Montana serving with Loyalist guerrilla forces during the Spanish Civil War, is guided by the old man Anselmo to Pablo's guerrilla band in the mountains above a bridge which Jordan must blow up when the Loyalist offensive begins. Pablo, aware that Jordan's mission will invite fascist forces, refuses at first to participate, but relents, returning with additional men and horses shortly before the mission begins. Knowing that the fascists are aware of the offensive, Jordan sends a message to General Golz, hoping the offensive will be canceled, but the message arrives too late. Jordan blows the bridge, and Anselmo is killed by flying steel. As the group attempts escape, Jordan is seriously injured, and Maria, having been told by Jordan that he will always be with her, leaves with the survivors while Jordan remains behind, waiting for death.

Discussion Questions

1. Is Pablo opposed to blowing the bridge because he is a coward, as Pilar says, or is Pablo, himself, correct when he says he "has a tactical sense"? Why does Jordan agree with Pablo's reference to "the seriousness of this" (p. 54)? Is Agustín correct when he calls Pablo "very smart" (p. 94)?

2. Was the communist effort to eliminate God successful? What does Anselmo's view of killing suggest about the limitations of dogma? What does he mean when he says of the bridge sentries, "It is only orders that come between us" (pp. 192-193)? What is implied when Anselmo says soldiers should atone and cleanse themselves after the war?

3. "Time" is a major theme in For Whom the Bell Tolls. How does Pilar's awareness of time affect her attitude toward Robert Jordan's and Maria's relationship? What conclusions does Robert Jordan draw about his own life during the very short time he spends with Maria?

4. Pablo calls his compatriots "illusioned people" (p. 215). Does this remark prove to be true? Does Jordan expose illusions? Does For Whom the Bell Tolls suggest that because of their illusions and vulnerability to exploitation the victims of the war were the entire Spanish people?

5. Does the epigraph, an excerpt from John Donne's Devotions XVII, convey the theme of For Whom the Bell Tolls? What is that theme? What scenes in the novel develop the sentiment of the epigraph? What is the narrator telling us when he says that Robert Jordan, lying on the forest floor waiting for death, is "completely integrated" (p. 471)?

After Reading the Novel

To read For Whom The Bell Tolls is to experience Hemingway's most compelling assertion of his role as an artist. Writing in a time of war and of passionate partisans, he chose truth once more, and he chose as well aesthetic principles over propaganda. Your group might enjoy Hemingway's Spanish Civil War dispatches written prior to For Whom the Bell Tolls. They are available in By-Line: Ernest Hemingway (Touchstone Books) and provide clues to Hemingway's process of composition. You might also want to compare The Fifth Column, Hemingway's play about the Spanish Civil War, to the novel and draw conclusions as to why the play did not succeed as did the novel. The Spanish Earth, a Loyalist film which Hemingway helped make, is not readily available: however, it can be obtained, usually from your public, college, or university library. Although it is propagandistic, it does provide battlefield scenes along with Hemingway's sound-track comments. A Hollywood movie of For Whom the Bell Tolls stars Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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James Crisan, January 20, 2012 (view all comments by James Crisan)
I am chagrined that it took me so long to get around to reading the best book I read in 2011. On the bright side, having only previously read Hemingway short stories, plus The Old Man and the Sea, I am now obsessed enough with Hemingway that I am rapidly devouring the rest of the novels in chronological order.
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partlycloudy, January 19, 2012 (view all comments by partlycloudy)
It had been many decades since I originally read this book and reading it again was like reading it anew. I was enthralled by Hemingway's characters, the dialogue, the setting (Spanish Civil War). Hemingway's language can be magical. This is a terrific book to take on a trip to Spain, which is where in fact I read it.
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Eelco, July 29, 2010 (view all comments by Eelco)
I've just finished reading this book and i don't know what to think of it. I feel a bit uneasy about the contempt most of the characters seen to have for their own lives. It's typical that the - in my eyes -only normal human being in the book, the gypsy Rafael, is described as "useless". The love story is a bit silly. I don't think the book is as bad as Julia PDX thinks it is, though. I don't think Hemmingway just repeats the Stalinst propaganda about the anarchists. He supports the communists because he thinks only they can win the war and the anarchists are too undisciplined for it, but it's true he defends Stalinist murders of other socialists as necessary disciplinary measures or as the fault of some individual commander(ie. Marty.) Still I loved the part in which the gypsy woman Pilar explains what a person who is about to die smells like (chapter 19).
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Product Details

Hemingway, Ernest
Scribner Book Company
New York :
Novels and novellas
War stories
Spain History Civil War, 1936-1939 Fiction.
General Fiction
General Fiction
War & Military
Spain History Civil War, 1936-1939.
Literature-A to Z
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Literary fiction; Classics; American classic; American literature; The Lost Generation; great American novel; award winner; Pulitzer Prize; bestseller; modernism; American modernism; F. Scott Fitzgerald; Gertrude Stein; William Faulkner; John Dos Passos;
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
January 1968
Grade Level:
8 x 5.25 in 13.125 oz

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For Whom the Bell Tolls Used Trade Paper
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Product details 480 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780684803357 Reviews:
"Review" by , "This new novel of Hemingway will come as a relief to those who didn't like Green Hills of Africa, To Have and Have Not, and The Fifth Column. The big game hunter, the waterside superman, the Hotel Florida Stalinist, with their constrained and fevered attitudes, have evaporated like the fantasies of alcohol. Hemingway the artist is with us again; and it is like having an old friend back.

This book is also a new departure. It is Hemingway's first attempt to compose a full-length novel, with real characters and a built-up story. On the eve of a Loyalist attack in the Spanish civil war, a young American who has enlisted on the Loyalist side goes out into country held by the Fascists, under orders to blow up a bridge. He directs with considerable difficulty a band of peasant guerrillas, spends three nights in a cave in their company, blows up the bridge on schedule, and is finally shot by the Fascists. The method is the reverse..." Edmund Wilson, The New Republic 1940 (read The New Republic's entire review)

"Synopsis" by , This masterpiece of time and place tells a profound and timeless story of courage and commitment, love and loss, that takes place over a fleeting 72 hours. Drawing on Hemingway's own involvement in the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls reflects his passionate feelings about the nature of war and the meaning of loyalty.
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