Synopses & Reviews
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war there for the North American Newspaper Alliance. Three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," andlt;Iandgt;For Whom the Bell Tollsandlt;/Iandgt;.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit in the mountains of Spain, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. In his portrayal of Jordan's love for the beautiful Maria and his superb account of El Sordo's last stand, in his brilliant travesty of La Pasionaria and his unwillingness to believe in blind faith, Hemingway surpasses his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms to create a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving, and wise. "If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it." Greater in power, broader in scope, and more intensely emotional than any of the author's previous works, it stands as one of the best war novels of all time.
"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)
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.
About the Author
Ernest Hemingway ranks as the most famous of twentieth-century American writers; like Mark Twain, Hemingway is one of those rare authors most people know about, whether they have read him or not. The difference is that Twain, with his white suit, ubiquitous cigar, and easy wit, survives in the public imagination as a basically, lovable figure, while the deeply imprinted image of Hemingway as rugged and macho has been much less universally admired, for all his fame. Hemingway has been regarded less as a writer dedicated to his craft than as a man of action who happened to be afflicted with genius. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Time magazine reported the news under Heroes rather than Books and went on to describe the author as "a globe-trotting expert on bullfights, booze, women, wars, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and courage." Hemingway did in fact address all those subjects in his books, and he acquired his expertise through well-reported acts of participation as well as of observation; by going to all the wars of his time, hunting and fishing for great beasts, marrying four times, occasionally getting into fistfights, drinking too much, and becoming, in the end, a worldwide celebrity recognizable for his signature beard and challenging physical pursuits.
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.
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.