For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
For Whom the Bell Tolls Theme of Men and Masculinity
This is the theme one would expect to find in every Hemingway book, and For Whom the Bell Tolls doesn't disappoint. "Being a man" is an ideal of many of the characters, one men hold up for themselves and one women criticize them for if they fail to meet. The war places particularly high demands on "manliness." Courage, and willingness to risk one's life, is one standard used to separate the men from the boys (or women). But perhaps still more important – and central to the protagonist – is the ability to control one's emotions and urges, and to "take it straight" (just accept reality and deal with it – no whining). The protagonist might be seen as an ideal male by those standards.
Questions About Men and Masculinity
- We've suggested that, for Robert Jordan (and maybe Hemingway), being a man amounts to exercising self-control and being able to "take straight" whatever comes your way. Would you challenge that characterization? Do you see any other elements at work in it?
- On the basis of the men you see in this book, and especially the character of Robert Jordan, would you agree or disagree with the common stereotype that Hemingway's writing centers around a cult of the macho man?
- Do you think Robert Jordan lives up to his own ideal? Why might he not? If he doesn't, do you think this is a failing on his part, or is the ideal the problem?
- Are there other ideals of masculinity presented in the book besides that of Robert Jordan? Which characters might represent them?
- Does Hemingway's vision of masculinity entail a corresponding picture of femininity? For instance, a weaker, servile woman?
Chew on This
Robert Jordan subscribes to a vision of "tough-guy" masculinity to which he himself fails to live up.