For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Supernatural Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Because thou art a miracle of deafness," Pilar said, her big face harsh and broad in the candlelight. "It is not that thou art stupid. Thou art simply deaf. One who is deaf cannot hear music. Neither can he hear the radio. So he might say, never having heard them, that such things do not exist. Que va, Ingles. I saw the death of that one with the rare name in his face as though it were burned there with a branding iron." (19.32)
This is the big confrontation between Robert Jordan and Pilar on the subject of the supernatural, and the central point in the book's supernatural thread. Pilar's point is that Robert Jordan simply doesn't have the sense he needs to perceive what is in fact there to be perceived. This is what leads Pilar to tell of how one can acquire a "smell" of death. Pilar seems to mix all of her senses together: she accuses Robert Jordan of being deaf, but then claims to have seen death in Kashkin, and after this will speak of smelling it. Is there any significance to that?
After that of the ship you must go down the hill in Madrid to the Puente de Toledo early in the morning to the matadero and stand there on the wet paving when there is a fog from the Manzanares and wait for the old women who go before daylight to drink the blood of the beasts that are slaughtered. When such an old woman comes out of the matadero, holding her shawl around her, with her face gray and her eyes hollow, and the whiskers of age on her chin, and on her cheeks, set in the waxen white of her face as the sprouts grow from the seed of the bean, not bristles, but ale sprouts in the death of her face; put your arms tight around her, Ingles, and hold her to you and kiss her on the mouth and you will know the second part that odor is made of." (19.69)
How could we resist putting this passage in here? It's just about the grossest passage in the book. Seriously, though, why is it that the supernatural always seems to be associated with disgusting stuff? Maybe the idea is that to get access to a heightened level of perception, like Pilar has, one has to pass through challenging trials that might make you lose your lunch, or die. Kind of like becoming a Jedi.
"Then," Pilar went on, "it is important that the day be in autumn with rain, or at least some fog, or early winter even and now thou shouldst continue to walk through the city and down the Calle de Salud smelling what thou wilt smell where they are sweeping out casas de putas and emptying the slop jars into the drains and, with this odor of love's labor lost mixed sweetly with soapy water and cigarette butts only faintly reaching thy nostrils, thou shouldst go on to the Jardin Botanico where at night those girls who can no longer work in the houses do their work against the iron gates of the park and the iron picketed fences and upon the sidewalks. It is there in the shadow of the trees against the iron railings that they will perform all that a man wishes; from the simplest requests at remuneration of ten centimos up to a peseta for that great act that we are born to and there, on a dead flower bed that has not yet been plucked out and replanted, and so serves to soften the earth that is so much softer than the sidewalk, thou wilt find an abandoned gunny sack with the odor of the wet earth, the dead flowers, and the doings of that night. In this sack will be contained the essence of it all, both the dead earth and the dead stalks of the flowers and their rotted blooms and the smell that is both the death and birth of man. Thou wilt wrap this sack around thy head and try to breathe through it."
More grossness. Is Pilar just conjuring up as lurid a set of things to do as she can possibly come up with? Hard to tell. Some cosmic connections are made here, though: between death and life, and between death and sex. This isn't the only time, either. Think, for example, to Robert Jordan and Maria's feeling that sex is like dying.