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Themes

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the story of an American volunteer, Robert Jordan, fighting with Spanish Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, kind of like Hemingway himself did. Robert Jordan is there because of his special love for the Spanish people. But this is a love-hate relationship if ever there was one, since through his observations he offers us almost as many reasons to be revolted by the Spanish as to admire them. His position as a foreign newcomer leading a close-knit group of Spanish guerillas also brings him to reflect explicitly on his role as an outsider, and the larger role of outsiders in the Spanish War itself.

Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'

  1. What is "Spanish," according to Robert Jordan? Do Spanish characters who reflect on their country, such as Pilar, seem to support his image, or to disagree with it?
  2. Do you think Robert Jordan is ultimately guilty of romanticizing the Spanish – of making them something that they're not in his head because doing so makes them more interesting, exotic, or easily definable? Or do his reflections seem fair or true to you?
  3. To what extent does Robert Jordan seem to be an "outsider" in relation to the people he works with? How much of it is due to his being an American?
  4. Over the course of the book, does Robert Jordan feel like less of an outsider? Can you point to particular passages which reveal such a change?
  5. What do you think of the particular idea that the Spanish have some kind of special love of violence? Do you see that at work in the book in places? Or is it just something Robert Jordan makes up?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Robert Jordan's knowledge of Spanish and his familiarity with Spanish culture make him able to fit in with the guerilla group as well as any Spaniard would.

Robert Jordan does romanticize the Spanish. Many characters simply do not fit into his "stereotypes."

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