Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Duty

By Ernest Hemingway


Tomorrow night they would be outside the Escorial in the dark along the road; the long lines of trucks loading the infantry in the darkness; the men, heavy loaded, climbing up into the trucks; the machine-gun sections lifting their guns into the trucks; the tanks being run up on the skids onto the long-bodied tank trucks; pulling the Division out to move them in the night for the attack on the pass. He would not think about that. That was not his business. That was Golz's business. He had only one thing to do and that was what he should think about and he must think it out clearly and take everything as it came along, and not to worry. To worry was as bad as to be afraid. It simply made things more difficult. (1.105)

When we first meet him, Robert Jordan is only concerned with performing his duty as a soldier in the Republican military effort. He judges everything by whether it helps him perform his duty or not. Thinking about things other than his particular mission, and worrying, do not help him perform his duty. It's as if he wants to be little more than a cog in the military operation.

"It should be of the highest interest," Anselmo said and hearing him say it honestly and clearly and with no pose, neither the English pose of understatement nor any Latin bravado, Robert Jordan thought he was very lucky to have this old man and having seen the bridge and worked out and simplified the problem it would have been to surprise the posts and blow it in a normal way, he resented Golz's orders, and the necessity for them. He resented them for what they could do to him and for what they could do to this old man. They were bad orders all right for those who would have to carry them out.

And that is not the way to think, he told himself, and there is not you, and there are no people that things must not happen to. Neither you nor this old man is anything. You are instruments to do your duty. (3.103-104)

Robert Jordan begins to feel the first twinges of a conflict with his sense of duty. He's started to care for Anselmo and doesn't want to put him in harm's way, as the bridge operation requires him to do. So he resents his orders. But notice how quickly he suppresses that feeling, and affirms that he and Anselmo are nothing but things to be used to accomplish duty.

"And you have no fear?"

"Not to die," he said truly.

"But other fears?"

"Only of not doing my duty as I should." (9.75-78)

Another window into the dull and duty-bound mind of Robert Jordan. If you're still not convinced that Robert Jordan really doesn't care about himself, or have a sense of self to speak of, this one should do the trick.

You went into it knowing what you were fighting for. You were fighting against exactly what you were doing and being forced into doing to have any chance of winning. So now he was compelled to use these people whom he liked as you should use troops toward whom you have no feeling at all if you were to be successful. (13.53)

Another moment of conflict in Robert Jordan. He comes to recognize that the way to be most successful in war is to treat the combatants at your disposal as if they were just tools, and to sacrifice them willingly whenever it would be most effective. That's how he feels he has to think as he plans his operation. Yet it's become impossible for him to look at the people around him as instruments, even though that's how he viewed himself only a day ago.

The Ingles told me to stay, he thought. Even now he may be on the way here, and, if I leave this place, he may lose himself in the snow searching for me. All through this war we have suffered from a lack of discipline and from the disobeying of orders and I will wait a while still for the Ingles. (15.5)

Of all the members of Pablo's party, Anselmo is the one with the strongest resolution and sense of discipline. That's what prompts him to stay in his position even as a snowstorm rages around him. Here he's also saying something more general about the war which is repeated throughout the book: that it's the lack of discipline in the war which has been the greatest downfall of the Republicans.

At either of those places you felt that you were taking part in a crusade. That was the only word for it although it was a word that had been so worn and abused that it no longer gave its true meaning. You felt, in spite of all bureaucracy and inefficiency and party strife, something that was like the feeling you expected to have and did not have when you made your first communion. It was a feeling of consecration to a duty toward all the oppressed of the world which would be as difficult and embarrassing to speak about as religious experience and yet it was authentic as the feeling you had when you heard Bach, or stood in Chartres Cathedral or the Cathedral at Leon and saw the light coming through the great windows; or when you saw Mantegna and Greco and Brueghel in the Prado. It gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it. It was something that you had never known before but that you had experienced now and you gave such importance to it and the reasons for it that your own death seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it would interfere with the performance of your duty. But the best thing was that there was something you could do about this feeling and this necessity too. You could fight. (18.53)

Robert Jordan was quite the passionate communist (if not in party affiliation, at least in spirit) earlier in the war, and this turns out to be the root of that overwhelming sense of duty he has. He straight up admits that he served his cause as if it were a religion, and was uplifted by it. It gave him a sense of belonging to something "higher." We wonder: even though he describes this in the past tense, as if he's gotten over it, has he really?

"In your work you are supposed to be very reliable. I must talk to you sometime to see how you are in your mind. It is regrettable that we never speak seriously."

"My mind is in suspension until we win the war," Robert Jordan said.

"Then perhaps you will not need it for a long time. But you should be careful to exercise it a little." (18.135-137)

It's as if Robert Jordan just cuts himself up – "mutilates" himself – to make sure he can perform optimally. If his mind would be a hindrance, out it goes. Karkov doesn't dig that so much: he urges Robert Jordan to keep using his mind to some degree. No great surprise – Karkov is the one who wants to educate Robert Jordan.

Yet we had stopped them both times with the very same troops. We never could have stopped them if they had pulled both drives at once. Don't worry, he told himself. Look at the miracles that have happened before this. Either you will have to blow that bridge in the morning or you will not have to. But do not start deceiving yourself into thinking you won't have to blow it. You will blow it one day or you will blow it another. Or if it is not this bridge it will be some other bridge. It is not you who decides what shall be done. You follow orders. Follow them and do not try to think beyond them. (30.5)

Even this late in the game, Robert Jordan is still pulled to make following orders unthinkingly his highest priority. He's raised some legitimate questions about whether the attack will actually happen, or whether it will even succeed. But it doesn't seriously occur to him to give up on his orders.

Trying to take them both will never work. Pablo knew that all the time. I suppose he always intended to muck off but he knew we were cooked when Sordo was attacked. You can't base an operation on the presumption that miracles are going to happen. You will kill them all off and not even get your bridge blown if you have nothing better than what you have now. You will kill off Pilar, Anselmo, Agustín, Primitivo, this jumpy Eladio, the worthless gypsy and old Fernando, and you won't get your bridge blown. Do you suppose there will be a miracle and Golz will get the message from Andrés and stop it? If there isn't, you are going to kill them all off with those orders. Maria too. You'll kill her too with those orders. Can't you even get her out of it? God damn Pablo to hell, he thought. (38.42)

After Pablo's stolen the detonators and El Sordo's men have been killed, things look really hopeless for the mission. Robert Jordan still feels compelled to go ahead with it. But what point will it serve if it will fail and they'll almost certainly all die? This is the point at which Robert Jordan has the most reason to turn his back on his "duty." Does it seem like he's going to? It's lucky Pablo shows up before Robert Jordan has to make a decision.

Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other days that ever come can depend on what you do today. It's been that way all this year. It's been that way so many times. All of this war is that way. (43.5)

Even if it's cliché enough to come from any Hollywood war movie, it's still a great quote – we had to put it in. It also gives a clearer expression of Robert Jordan's sense of duty than almost any other passage in the book. Robert Jordan feels as if every action one takes in the war is world-changing, because even if small it could be the difference between success and failure in some part of the war (a battle or an offensive). And that part of the war could make the difference in a larger part (a campaign). And so on…Man, talk about having the weight of the world on your shoulders.

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