Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Analysis

  • Tone

    Understated, Resigned, Slightly Cynical, Slightly Overconfident, and (every so often) Ecstatic

    For the most part, the narrative tone reflects Robert Jordan's own temperament, which makes sense, given how much of the narration is bound up with his own thoughts. He's a pretty chill guy, really chill, in fact. His goal is to get the job done, and he's left much more nonplussed by things than the average human being would be. For example, when Anselmo, Jordan's best friend, dies, we get the following: "Anselmo lay face down behind the marking stone […] He did not turn him over to see what the piece of steel had done. He was dead and that was all" (43.127).

    Talk about not overreacting. Robert Jordan (or maybe Ernest Hemingway?) also thinks of himself as pretty worldly wise and street smart. In many of his "worldly" descriptions, especially of the "essence" of Spain, politics, and whatnot, he speaks as if he were the unchallenged authority who knows from real, down and dirty experience.

    Knowing the ways of the world usually means knowing how corrupt and disappointing reality can be in contrast to any idealized pictures of it, so, yes, there's a fair amount of cynicism, often cuttingly humorous. This sometimes leads the great authority to second-guess himself, especially if he's getting too emotional or excited: "There's no one thing that's true. It's all true. The way the planes are beautiful whether they are ours or theirs. The hell they are, he thought."

    Oh, and that's the last bit. Every so often Robert Jordan does get really excited (it's part of his on-going awakening to start getting affected by things), and then no one knows what's going to happen. Well, actually, we have a pretty good idea. But check out "Writing Style" for that.

  • Genre

    War Drama, Romance

    War and romance are the two central elements of the book. It's meant to be "about" war, and it's the situation of war which generates all of the central tensions and conflicts in the book. Then there's the love story between Robert Jordan and Maria, which is the central component in Robert Jordan's own personal transformation narrative.

    The contrast and interplay between the two is essential. It's by being set against this promise of happiness in love that Robert Jordan's choice to risk his life instead and serve the military cause becomes agonizing, and heroic. Life's full of tough choices, isn't it? On the other hand, you might see the contrast between love and war another way: might it be the case that there really is no choice, since ultimately, so long as the war continues, the happiness of love would be impossible – hence the evil of war?

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The title comes from a poem written by John Donne . This novel's epigraph also comes from this Donne poem, so you should check out our discussion on "What's Up With the Epigraph?" But before you do that, can you get anything out of the title?

    Well, think about a "bell tolling." Church bells would ring all the time in 17th century England (when Donne was writing) to herald many different occasions: weddings, festivals, or just to announce your everyday church service. But when one speaks of bells "tolling," it usually means one thing: someone has died.

    This is a book with death on the mind. It's about a war, and people die in wars. But it's also a meditation on death. Because of the war situation, all of the characters face their own death, and the possibility of having to inflict death on those they are fighting against, or fighting with.

    The protagonist Robert Jordan is constantly thinking about his own death: will he die for his cause? Should he die for his cause, or might his happiness and his love be too important? What's death all about anyway?

    Beyond that, the characters often ponder and discuss what it means to be responsible for the death of others: is it ever right to kill? How about to kill indirectly by ordering others to kill, or ordering them to their own deaths? If it's not right, what does it mean to be in a war? On the other hand, might it be right, even pleasurable, to kill? Pretty heavy stuff. You might say the bell never stops tolling in this book.

    But the title is also asking a question of sorts: it makes you wonder for whom the bell is actually tolling. If you want to answer that literally – i.e., who dies? – you'll have to read the book. Or you could turn to John Donne (and our discussion of the epigraph) for a deeper answer…

    Oh, and P.S. – the original title Hemingway had planned was The Undiscovered Country. How might that apply to the book?

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    In the end, Robert Jordan and his band succeed in blowing up the bridge that they were on a mission to destroy. But it's still far from a happy ending, or a satisfying resolution. During the operation, they lost Anselmo (very dear to Robert Jordan, and most readers) and Eladio, in addition to the five anonymous men Pablo murders. Then, as they flee, Robert Jordan himself is wounded while on horseback, losing the use of his left leg. Recognizing that if he went with the others he would be too much of a burden for them to have any hope of escaping, he stays behind. He forces the love of his life to leave him to die alone in one last confrontation with the fascists. The book leaves him lying in wait for an enemy officer on the forest floor.

    Yes, the ending seems to bring us back to Hemingway's stereotypical studly male character: the guy faces the cruel truth of the situation, leaves his love, and sacrifices himself to buy his friends some time. To add to that image, in his last thoughts, Robert Jordan turns to his own male ideal – his grandfather – and tries to gather himself to face death and the paralyzing pain of his wound. Nonetheless, in a tellingly human way, he admits that he doesn't prove so good at either as he'd hoped.

    From the perspective of plot structure, the ending is nicely orchestrated. The book's first sentence is mirrored in the last, once more describing Robert Jordan lying on the "pine needle floor" and waiting. In many respects the ending ties together other themes from the book. Take the repeated image of Robert Jordan on the forest floor itself – what's its significance? One possibility to consider is that it calls attention to Robert Jordan as an individual at once alone and in relation to the larger world – of nature, yes, but of everything more generally. He feels a certain bond to that world (and not just because, as we learn at one point, pine needles are among his favorite smells). Yet it also remains indifferent to him and the (for Robert) agonizing fact of his death; we see some of that in his last thoughts. Throughout, the book contrasts the connection to nature felt by Robert Jordan and other characters with nature's (and "humankind"'s) lack of concern about their own suffering and death.

    This takes us back to Donne's idea of human community in the epigraph, and offers us one last opportunity to evaluate it. Robert Jordan is dying for others, and tells himself at one point "I don't mind this at all now that they are away […] Look how different it would be if they were all scattered out across that hill where the gray horse is [the gray horse is dead]" (43.384).

    Yet, when it all comes down to it, he is left alone to face his pain and his own death, and feels at times the full force of that loneliness. We get the impression that at times he is just consciously telling himself things (as in the passage we just saw) to make easier on himself what is in reality very difficult. You might also wonder whether he really believes what he tells Maria to get her to leave him – that they are one, and that he will live on so long as she does – or whether he just tells her that so she doesn't die with him. So when all is said and, um, Donne (hehe), does Hemingway agree with his epigraph? What do you think?

    One other big question often raised by critics concerns whether the ending broadcasts a message of futility (that is, pointlessness or uselessness). Robert Jordan's mission succeeded – as the return of Pablo in the book's climax predicted it would. But on the whole the attack by the Republicans has almost certainly failed, because the fascists are prepared to meet them. If the bridge operation was only significant to the extent it was part of the larger attack, does this mean that Anselmo, Eladio, and Robert Jordan have risked their lives and lost them for nothing?

    Robert Jordan has throughout the book reconciled himself to his own death and to killing others (directly, or indirectly) by the importance it might have for "the cause." However, in this case, due to factors quite beyond his control, his own action contributes nothing to the cause. The attack as a whole is only a loss for the Republicans. Moreover, Robert Jordan had suspected that the attack itself would probably fail, which is why he'd written a report to the officer leading it.

    So was it worth it, after all? And did he make the right decision? On the other hand, would we have approved of him if he'd decided not to blow up the bridge, even though it had been assigned as his duty?

  • Setting

    Civil War Spain in May, 1937: The Mountains near Segovia

    For Whom the Bell Tolls takes place sometime in May 1937, in the hills and mountains of north-central Spain near the city of Segovia (not too far north of Madrid). 1937 was the second year of the Spanish Civil War. By this time of the year, Franco's Nationalists (they're the enemies of the people) had showed signs of gaining the upper hand, thanks to numerous military victories and growing air support from Nazi Germany (German planes make several appearances in the novel). Much of the fighting was concentrated in this northern part of Spain. Segovia itself had been taken by the Fascists in 1936, and the action in the book takes place behind Fascist lines. It was not too far from the border with Republican Spain, however, since the Republicans maintained control of Madrid less than 60 miles away.

    One thing to know though is that the Republicans did mount a failed attack on Fascist forces near Segovia in May 1937, on May 30/31st; historical analysts of the book suggest that this is the event on which Hemingway based his story. However, an important thing to keep in mind about the book: Hemingway's acknowledged approach in writing the book was to begin grounded in geographic and historical reality, but then invent.

    Taking it to a "micro level," the book's action revolves around a steel bridge spanning a gorge on a mountainside within fascist territory. Over the bridge runs a road which is an important fascist supply line; alongside it some ways runs a stream, which intersects with the brook over which the bridge extends. There's a sentry box at either end of the bridge, and a post on either end of the bridge where a small number of troops are stationed: on the eastern side of the bridge which leads higher up the mountain, is a water mill, and on the western side of the bridge which leads down the mountainside, a roadmender's hut.

    The Republicans are planning an attack east of the bridge (and up the mountain); the fascist forces would come over the bridge from the west (that bit of information is important for orienting yourself; keeping track of the action, particularly at the end, can be confusing if you don't have a good sense for the geography). The whole area is forested with pine trees, which are a kind of leitmotif in the book (fancy word: it's a recurring symbol, idea, theme, or image with a particular meaning; check out the "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section).

    Some distance up the mountain from the mill is a well-concealed cave, where Pablo's band of guerillas hangs, and further up still is the hideout of El Sordo. Numerous bands of guerillas apparently live in the surrounding mountains and hills.

    One more general point about the setting: the book's setting in Spain is a big deal. Hemingway had very strong feelings about the Spanish people: ultimately, he loved them passionately, but he also found many aspects of them uniquely appalling. The same is true of Robert Jordan, and Hemingway uses the book, especially the thoughts of his protagonist, to give a vivid depiction of Spanish-ness. It's reflected in each of the characters in some way, and the various stories and flashbacks of the book offer Hemingway an opportunity to explore other parts of Spain (Madrid, Valencia, bullbaiting Villaconejos) and weave a richer tapestry.

    Hemingway's Spain is a land of hot blood, strong emotions, vitality, exaggerated theatricality, earthiness, and, yes, manliness. It's the Spain of the bullfight, which so fascinated him, though it's also a little more. The only thing which really holds the Spanish spirit together is a certain unbridled intensity which Jordan (and Hemingway) clearly finds intoxicating. That very intensity can lead in quite different directions: intense friendliness and good humor, tremendous profanity, insufferable machismo display, unequalled brutality, and vengefulness. Hemingway depicts a certain unpredictability about the Spanish character, which is a character of extremes. At moments, Hemingway tries to embody that in the landscape itself. Spain is the country where it snows in late May.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
    –John Donne

    Hemingway didn't pick John Donne for the epigraph just to get a weighty sounding title out of it, nor because he thought the spelling was amusing (though both may have been factors). More important is that the epigraph makes a philosophical point that is central to the book. Simply put, the idea is that no individual person is really all "on their own," but always bound up with other people. In some way, every other person is a part of your own self, of who you really are – so when another person is lost, we lose something too. Hence the idea that whenever the bell tolls, it tolls for you – whenever somebody dies, it's as if a part of you dies (there's death again).

    Pretty deep – Donne isn't called a "metaphysical poet" for nothing (Check out Shmoop Poetry to see what we mean). And if you thought that Hemingway was just a tough guy with tough little pill-like sentences, think again. There's a lot more to the book than that, such as the question of whether human beings really do live in communion with each other.

    What do you think of that idea? Perhaps it makes sense when applied to one's lover, or friends, or family – all of those relationships play a very significant part in Robert Jordan's sense of self. But does it really extend to everyone else, to all of "Mankinde," including the very enemies who are fighting against you in a war and killing your own loved ones?

    Donne's vision of human communion sounds nice and pretty in the abstract (that is, as an idea removed from reality), but in the face of reality, and especially in the face of war, it runs up against some major issues. You might not want to simply assume that Hemingway agrees with his epigraph. Perhaps the book's title is asking whether Donne's idea is actually true. But don't assume he just rejects it either. It might be a bit of both.

  • Writing Style

    Clipped, Cutting, Concise

    Hemingway's writing leaves quite a bit up to the mind of the reader. And what Hemingway actually says isn't always what you'd think he'd say if he just wanted to be straightforward. Exhibit A, a typical scene sketch:

    They were in the cave and the men were standing before the fire Maria was fanning. Pilar had coffee ready in a pot. She had not gone back to bed at all since she had roused Robert Jordan and now she was sitting on a stool in the smoky cave sewing the rip in one of Jordan's packs. The other pack was already sewed. The firelight lit up her face. (38.1)

    Hemingway's set the scene with just enough of the bare essentials to form a mental picture, but he doesn't fill in who "they are" (you just assume it's the whole band), he doesn't describe in detail what anybody besides Pilar is doing, but his description of Pilar quickly focuses the scene, and the firelight being on her face is enough to evoke the illumination of the whole cave.

    Also, the sentences feel abrupt – Hemingway could have said "Pilar, whose face was lit up by the fire, had coffee ready," or "Pilar, who had not gone to bed since rousing Robert Jordan, was now sitting…" and so forth. Instead, each detail gets its own sentence. In action scenes, the combination of Hemingway's choices of omission and his almost artificially short sentences can be a bit jarring:

    Aiming at the center of his chest, a little lower than the device, Robert Jordan fired.The pistol roared in the snowy woods.

    The horse plunged as though he had been spurred and the young man, still tugging at the scabbard, slid over toward the ground
    […] (21.5-7)

    Here the chopped-up sentences break up a rapid and violent action, and we never actually get the information that the bullet hit the guy (though it did – he's done dead). We get the before and after, and the center of the action is given to the sound of the pistol (which would seem a less-important detail). The chilly matter-of-factness here is also a bit unnerving in relation to the nature of the action: a man died, and it's described with all the emotion of having broken a non-descript tea cup. Hemingway's style is often ascribed to both his journalistic background and his affinities for Modernism (capital M), of which it's one variety.

    One last thing. When Hemingway chooses to break from this style at a few choice "orgasmic" moments (and yes, they're during sex), the contrast is all the more striking. Hemingway does this different ways, but the most usual manner is to repeat himself a massive number of times in epically long run-on sentences. Feast your eyes on this messy morsel of repetition and obscurity: "For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere."

    You get the picture. Besides that nice little riff on "nowhere," there are also riffs on "now" and "muck."

  • Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

    The Pine-Needled Floor of the Forest

    So what the heck is up with all those pine-needles? The pine-needles are probably the most noticeable recurrent image in the book. You get them in the very first sentence:

    He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. (1.1)

    And the very last sentence:

    He could feel his heart beating against the pine-needle floor of the forest. (43.402)

    You also get frequent mention of them whenever Robert Jordan is in his sleeping robe at night (usually before Maria comes to join him), and occasionally at other times too, as when he feels them under his feet as he walks to the bridge on the morning of the mission (41.79).

    It's really up to you how much you want to read into the pine needles. Regardless of whether they have any larger meaning, Hemingway's use of the same image at the beginning and end of the book – not just pine needles, but Robert Jordan lying on them – gives the novel nice bookends, and a nifty little sense of circularity.

    Reading a little more into it, it's likely that the pine needles on the ground are meant to be the singular image for the land of Spain itself, for Spanish earth, which Robert Jordan loves. (We also learn at one point that Robert Jordan particularly loves their smell – further evidence.) So it's fitting that the story should begin and end with his heart pressed to the land he loves, and that he should die upon it. In their other occurrences, then, the pine needles would serve as momentary zoom-outs, to let us know that, whatever in particular might be happening (fighting, sex…). We're in Spain, drinking and fighting for that glorious Spanish-ness!

    If you want to do something more specific with those pine-needles, be our guest. We're not really going there (because that seems a little too Symbolist for Hemingway's taste), but if you want to, the possibilities are endless.

    People as Animals, People as Hunters

    There are lots of occasions in which a person is compared to a particular animal. Some of them include:

    Fox: Pablo
    Wolf: Pablo

    Pablo calls himself a fox, referring to its caution and its cunning. Anselmo responds: "Yes, it is the principle of the fox when we need the wolf" (1.146). Pablo then responds with "I am more wolf than thee" (1.147). Presumably the relevant qualities of a wolf are its ferocity and fearlessness.

    Pig/Swine: Pablo

    Robert Jordan's preferred image for Pablo, he uses this one a lot. Usually with a profanity. It captures something about Pablo's unattractive, squinty face, his greed, and also his intelligence (in case you didn't know, pigs are smart…read Animal Farm).

    Bull: Pablo

    Pilar compares Pablo – the Pablo of days past, that is – to a bull for his "bull force" and "bull courage" (14. 24). Neither of them lasted.

    Rabbit: Maria

    Maria is Robert Jordan's "rabbit," usually "little rabbit." Any number of explanations is possible. Here are two: 1) A rabbit is cute, gentle, and cuddly, and somewhat defenseless, like Maria. 2) Rabbits mate a lot, like Maria.

    Bulldog: Andrés

    Andrés earned a reputation for biting bulls on the ear during bullbaiting in his hometown. No further explanation required.

    Humans and Animals in General

    It probably seems a bit random to list all of these animal comparisons. But a more general theme of the book (it didn't quite fit into the list of themes) is actually the relationship between human beings and animals. At various points somebody gets called "an animal," usually to the detriment of his/her humanity. At base, the idea is, many human beings are pretty solidly governed by their lower instincts – for food, for sex, and, most notably, for killing and blood – rather than more human capacities such as empathy, imagination, thoughtfulness. Most of the particular animal-person comparisons we mentioned also fit the bill.

    Such a comparison is not uncommon. But in the extreme situation of war, that animal part of human beings, is given a unique opportunity for unrestrained release, especially the more bloodthirsty side. A couple representative tidbits:

    "The gypsy wanted me to kill him last night. The gypsy is an animal." (9.178)

    What an animal is a man in rage. (35. 6)

    People as Hunters

    It's also interesting to note another comparison made between war and hunting. We know that Anselmo and El Sordo, at least, are both enthusiastic hunters, and each compares the killing of war to the hunt at some point. The question is, if human beings are so like animals, how is killing them different than killing animals? To El Sordo, in the height of his bloodlust, it's not; the urge to kill and the pleasure in doing so are the same. As he waits for an enemy to approach, he thinks:

    This is ten times better than the aspirin, he thought, and he waited, as happy as only a hunter can be happy. (27.91)

    Alternately, in being a hunter, is El Sordo himself really no better than an animal? Anselmo offers a different perspective. While he loves to hunt, he finds that hunting is utterly incomparable to killing in a war, because human beings are not animals, and cannot be killed like them:

    To me there is a great difference between the bear and the man and I do not believe the wizardry of the gypsies about the brotherhood with animals. No. I am against killing all men. (3.66)

    The man-animal thing in For Whom the Bell Tolls is kind of a big deal. (Hint: Think about John Donne's shtick on human community in the epigraph again.) We could say a lot more about this, but that should be enough food for thought for now. If you're interested, though, explore the Quotes sections – there's some related material in both "Morality and Ethics" and "Warfare."

    The Snow

    It's kind of weird for it to snow in late May, don't you think? The snow in For Whom the Bell Tolls has a bit of an aura about it. It almost seems supernatural, and if you think that, you might find it interesting that the coming of the snow is first predicted by Pilar, the character that seems to have some kind of supernatural aspects to her, and that, without seeing it, she seems to sense the snow has stopped. When the snow stops, of course, it's bad news for El Sordo, who leaves tracks in it. It then looks for a while as if the mission itself is doomed, and it would have been, if Pablo hadn't shown up at the mission. So there's almost something fated about the snow, too.

    Perhaps the snow is meant to show the lack of control human beings actually have, especially in a war situation. Even the best-laid plans are totally at the mercy of circumstance, as both Robert Jordan's mission and Golz's larger attack are. And here "circumstance" = snow. Depending on whether you're Pilar or Robert Jordan, you can either see that circumstance as Fate or as Chance.

    One last thing about the snow. Ever go out on a snow day (if you're lucky enough to have snow days where you live) when it's still snowing and notice how snow has a tendency to stop everybody in their tracks and quiet the bustle of everyday busy work? The same thing applies to war: while it's snowing, at least, people stop fighting. Even though it proves disastrous for El Sordo, the snow is a moment of repose in the midst of the action. It's proof that nature goes on regardless of what those nasty little human beings with their guns are doing. Even in the midst of war, there's something deeper which is left unaffected:

    In a snowstorm it always seemed, for a time, as if there were no enemies. In a snowstorm the wind would blow a gale; but it blew a white cleanness and the air was full of a driving whiteness and all things were changed and when the wind stopped there would be the stillness. This was a big storm and he might as well enjoy it. It was ruining everything, but you might as well enjoy it. (14.71)

    Assorted Nature Imagery (of the animal and vegetable variety)

    That deal about nature going on in the midst of war is something you find throughout the book, though rarely quite so prominently as it is in the snow case. Usually, it's a bit subtle – when the characters are engaged in some activity, an animal shows up, going its merry way as if everything's totally fine. For example, when Robert Jordan is rigging the bridge with explosives in a life-or-death operation and sees a trout in the brook below that has no idea what's going' on above:

    As he looked a trout rose for some insect and made a circle on the surface close to where the chip was turning. As he twisted the wire tight with the pliers that held these two grenades in place, he saw, through the metal of the bridge, the sunlight on the green slope of the mountain (43:37).

    Ah…quite a contrast between the grenades/wire/pliers and the trout/sunlight/green mountain slope. Depending on how you look at it, you could either find this comforting or disturbing. Comforting, because not everything is screwed up or in chaos, even if war makes it seem that way. Disturbing, because nature herself doesn't really care what human beings are doing to each other.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    Our narrator in For Whom the Bell Tolls is like a little beastie which can dwell in anybody's head, but only one person at a time. The vast majority (and we mean vast majority) of the time, our perspective is that of the central character, Robert Jordan. We get to know him much better than we do any of the others, most of whom we learn about when they tell their stories to him. This frame of reference means that most of what happens in the book is seen through the eyes of an outsider who's trying to be on the inside: an American enchanted with Spain who's fighting for the Spanish Republicans, and an operative trying to integrate himself into a group of people he's just met, but must build trust with quickly.

    As we've said before, the book is in part offered by Hemingway as a "Hemingway on Spain" kind of thing, and, more broadly, as "an American on the Spanish Civil War," and for this the frame is highly successful. Jordan's position in the novel mirrors Hemingway's own in reality.

    Why not strictly first person, then? Perhaps Hemingway didn't want to be completely identified with his protagonist. Perhaps the third-person also makes more sense as a compliment to Robert Jordan's own personal narrative of "awakening." Since his own understanding of himself changes so much, having a bit of a distance from him allows us better to perceive the changes. A cynic might say that, if we were in the first person, the degree to which Robert Jordan dramatically changes in a few days would just come off as more bogus; plus, in the opening, when he's still kind of cardboard, he'd just be unbelievable, and rather boring.

    Finally, the narration is "limited omniscient" – at some intervals, we get to go inside other character's heads too: Anselmo, Pilar, Maria, Andrés, El Sordo, Karkov, even Comrade Marty's (an interesting place). That gives us a little more perspective, and variety, than we would have if we were stuck in Roberto's cranium all the time.

    • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

      Anticipation Stage and "Fall" into the Other World

      Robert Jordan, charged with a mission to blow up a bridge, finds himself working with a colorful group of guerillas. He befriends Anselmo and Pilar, and meets Maria. Pilar replaces Pablo as leader of the band.

      The "other world" here can be taken somewhat literally as the new geographic surroundings around the bridge which Robert Jordan surveys at the beginning of the book – they already have a certain fatefulness about them, since they will be the site of his risky mission. It can also be taken as the new group of hardened, diverse guerillas he meets, with which he has to build relations and trust quickly. Or, on the most abstract (and "deepest") level, the new world is the world of attachment to others, which he's never really felt before. This is in both the friendships he begins to develop with Anselmo and Pilar (and to a lesser extent the rest), and the instant and powerful attraction he feels for Maria. The world of the guerillas is upset, too: Pilar supports Robert Jordan, and replaces Pablo as the leader of the group. Finally, there's a tint of the supernatural, which Jordan doesn't take seriously, when Pilar reads his palm and sees something ominous (threatening).

      Initial Fascination or Dream Stage

      Robert Jordan and Maria sleep together for the first time and have a revelatory experience. He visits El Sordo with Pilar and Maria, and hears Pilar's story of her hometown. The "earth moves" in the afternoon.

      Starting that first night, and continuing through the second day, Robert Jordan experiences things he never has before, and is caught up in them. When Maria comes to sleep with Robert Jordan on the first night, it dramatically opens up a new dimension of life for him: love. He's surprised by it, and doesn't know yet how deep it is; he also has trouble believing it really happened throughout much of the next day. The next day, on the way to El Sordo's, Robert Jordan also begins to form a tighter bond with Pilar, whose story about the killing of the fascists in her hometown horrifies and captivates him and builds his admiration for her as a story teller and a comrade. In the afternoon, he has revelatory sex with Maria, in which both of them feel the "earth move." This too barely seems real, and Pilar interprets it in mysterious, somewhat supernatural terms.

      Frustration Stage

      It starts to snow. Things get bad with Pablo.

      When Robert Jordan returns from El Sordo's, he finds a somewhat jealous and irritable Pilar, an apparently drunken and obnoxious Pablo, and a snowstorm. The snowstorm spells frustration: if it doesn't stop, it's hard to see how they can manage their mission, and if it does, El Sordo's sunk. Later on, a confrontation with Pablo ensues, and it looks as if there might be gunplay. It does stop snowing, so El Sordo is sunk. Bad news. Although Robert Jordan still has the positive experience of his love with Maria to cling to, his overall attitude grows progressively more worried at this point.

      Nightmare Stage

      El Sordo and his band are destroyed by the fascists. Pablo steals the explosives.

      As Robert Jordan predicted, the next day El Sordo's band is bombed, and none of them survive. With the numbers of his people cut in half, it begins to seem to Robert Jordan as if they will all die in the mission, though they might still accomplish it. It also becomes clear that the fascists have anticipated the larger offensive, and will be prepared; Robert Jordan tries to warn Golz, but without much hope. Then, when things couldn't possibly get much worse, they do: while they're sleeping on the third night, Pablo steals the detonating equipment and escapes. Robert Jordan feels desperate, and starts to resign himself to a mission that's all but certain to fail and cost them all their lives. Plus, on their last night, Maria won't sleep with him, because she's not feeling well.

      Thrilling Escape and Return

      Pablo returns with reinforcements. The group blows up the bridge successfully, and the survivors escape. But Robert Jordan is injured, and left to die alone.

      At the moment of total despair, Pablo saves the day by coming back with reinforcements and restoring the group's confidence. They are able to complete the mission, and most of them are able to escape. Though the end is certainly thrilling, we can't call it a successful escape and return, at least not obviously: Anselmo is killed, the Republican attack is a failure (because Andrés couldn't stop it in time), and Robert Jordan loses the new love of his life…and his life. But in another sense, Robert Jordan does escape successfully. As he faces death, he realizes how much he has learned, and recognizes the way in which the bonds he formed gave him a new reason for living. And for dying. Though he dies, his transformation has been a successful one, and Maria and his friends, who are in some way supposed to be him, go on.

    • Plot Analysis

      Initial Situation

      Bridges to Blow and People to Meet

      The first two chapters of the book basically set up everything that will unfold, as an initial situation should. We learn of Robert Jordan's military mission, and become acquainted with the spot where it will take place. We meet the people he'll have to work with, and whom he has to win over, particularly Pablo, who we learn from the first may be a problem. And we meet Maria, who right from the get-go makes him "thick-in the throat."


      Pablo is a Problem

      Although we haven't been getting good signals from Pablo since Robert Jordan met him, it's at this point that it becomes clear he'll be a serious problem to the mission. Agustín's warning confirms Anselmo in his own suspicion that Pablo is not trustworthy, which confirms Robert Jordan's. And no sooner do they return than Pablo opposes Robert Jordan. Although Pilar wins everyone else over to his side and gives Pablo the proverbial boot from his post as ruler of the roost, Robert Jordan's made an enemy. Furthermore, Pablo himself isn't the only problem; Pablo's resistance is motivated by his perception of how bad the mission might be. From this point on, things look less promising.


      Snowstorms and Bombers and Pablo

      Things get steadily worse. An unusual May snowstorm strikes up. While it's brewin' outside, a potentially lethal confrontation with Pablo ensues. It doesn't lead to anything except irritation (and a deeper doubt about Pablo), but when the snowstorm stops, El Sordo's doom is guaranteed. The next day, El Sordo and his band are lost to fascist bombers. Progressively more characters also realize during this time that their chances of surviving the attack are less likely than they thought. And it appears the fascists know about the Republican offensive. The one compensation in all of this for Robert Jordan: Maria. That raises new problems too, though: the stakes of risking his life are now much higher. Direst moment: Pablo steals the detonators.


      There, holding the blanket aside with one hand, the short automatic rifle muzzle with its flash-cone jutting above his shoulder, was Pablo standing short, wide, bristly-faced, his small red-rimmed eyes looking toward no one in particular. (38.96)

      Just when all seems lost…he's ba-ack! The return of Pablo with five men and a newfound courage and camaraderie is the turning point of the book. From this point, chances are the mission will be successful.


      Everything Explodes

      After the climax, it's still unclear whether or not the larger Republican attack will be successful, but things look grim. Our hopes are with Andrés as he struggles to reach Golz, but it quickly becomes clear the attack can't be called off when bombs start falling. Meanwhile, the bridge operation does go through, but with losses. It's also clear soon enough that the larger attack has failed. The last burst of suspense comes as the surviving guerillas try to make their escape. One by one they do, until it's just Robert Jordan…and he gets shot in the leg.


      Broken Legs Mean Broken Hearts

      At this point, it's largely decided how things will end, and we're just waiting for the book to wind down. Maria and Robert Jordan have a hard good-bye, but the others are able to take her away. He's left to die, which gives him one last opportunity to reflect on all of the experiences the book has recounted. It looks for a moment as if he might kill himself.


      He was waiting until the officer reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest. (43.402)

      Robert Jordan, as at peace with death as he'll ever be, overcomes the temptation to kill himself and stays alive and conscious long enough for an opportunity to die in a blaze of glory to present itself. We leave him lying in wait on the forest floor, where the book began. We don't see what happens, but it's all over folks.

    • Three Act Plot Analysis

      Act I

      We meet Robert Jordan and learn of his mission to blow up the bridge. He meets Pablo's guerilla band, wins over Pilar and commits them all to his mission. He and Maria fall in love. The next day, he and Pilar recruit El Sordo to the operation. All the forces needed are gathered.

      Act II

      Things take a bad turn. A snow storm screws El Sordo, whose band is destroyed the next day. The peeps grow more pessimistic about the mission. It starts to look as if the Republican offensive has been anticipated by the fascists, and Andrés is dispatched to try and stop it. Escalating tensions with Pablo culminate in his stealing the detonators.

      Act III

      Pablo returns with more men. Andrés reaches Golz, but is too late to stop the attack. The offensive begins, and the guerillas take the sentry posts around the bridge and blow it up, some dying in the process. Robert Jordan is wounded in the escape attempt and left behind to buy his fleeing friends some time.