For Whom the Bell Tolls
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
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For Whom the Bell Tolls Theme of Warfare

For Whom the Bell Tolls is the novel about the Spanish Civil War, and it describes the uniquely cruel reality of war violence in all its grisly details. In this novel, war seems to escalate beyond human control, thwarting the best-laid plans of any commander. It deprives individuals of their loved ones, forces them to kill their countryman, and spreads barbarism. Perhaps most troubling of all, war releases the darkest side of human beings: the lust for blood, the pleasure in slaughter, and the madness for revenge which make killing possible, even desirable, for many of those who fight.

Questions About Warfare

  1. Various characters, such as Golz and Robert Jordan, feel powerless before the war. Who can you think of who feels this way, and what are some of the ways in which they feel powerless? Is there anyone you can point to who actually has power?
  2. It is suggested by several characters, including Pilar and Robert Jordan, that most of the people who fight in a war are not naturally evil or cruel. How is it, then, that they can be brought to do cruelty? Do you find the opinions of the characters on this question convincing?
  3. Are there characters who seem to enjoy war? Would you characterize Pablo this way?
  4. Given the obvious toll it takes on almost all of the characters, why are they fighting in the war? Think of individuals: why is Robert Jordan fighting? Anselmo? Pilar? Rafael? Do you think they have a real choice whether to fight or not?

Chew on This

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

Pablo initially relishes the war because it gives him free reign to satisfy his bloodlust.

There is no single person or authority with real control over the course of the war on either side. War, as we see it in For Whom the Bell Tolls, is the product of large number of individual actions and accidents, which can only be loosely managed by the people supposedly "in command."

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