Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Foreignness and 'The Other'

By Ernest Hemingway

Foreignness and 'The Other'

"That I am a foreigner is not my fault. I would rather have been born here." (1.202)

You can't find a much clearer testimony than that to how much Robert Jordan loves and identifies with Spain. He wishes he were Spanish, as he tells Pablo early on to boost his cred.

"Thank you," Anselmo said to her and Robert Jordan realized suddenly that he and the girl were not alone and he realized too that it was hard for him to look at her because it made his voice change so. He was violating the second rule of the two rules for getting on well with people that speak Spanish; give the men tobacco and leave the women alone; and he realized, very suddenly, that he did not care. (2.98)

A short but revealing comment about Spanish machismo culture, and the way in which Spanish men tend to keep a hold on their women. Maria's approach of Robert Jordan is all the more striking in light of that. Robert Jordan apparently feels like enough of an insider to break that rule.

If it is true, as the gypsy says, that they expected me to kill Pablo then I should have done that. But it was never clear to me that they did expect that. For a stranger to kill where he must work with the people afterwards is very bad. (5.67)

Although not a comment on Robert Jordan's literal foreignness, this does reveal the way in which he feels like an outsider to the new group he's just met. They already have well established relationships, and he's just shown up. He doesn't yet know how to read them, or what it is he's actually expected to do.

"It is for that that you like it?" the woman asked Fernando.

"Yes," she said. "I see. The stew; as usual. Como siempre. Things are bad in the north; as usual. An offensive here; as usual. That troops come to hunt us out; as usual. You could serve as a monument to the usual."

"But the last two are only rumors, Pilar."

"Spain," the woman of Pablo said bitterly. Then turned to Robert Jordan. "Do they have people such as this in other countries?" (8.163-166).

The Spanish are apparently a people of habit, as Pilar bemoans. They like the usual. That might apply to something as trite as a stew, but you could also see it as an expression of the strong streak of traditionalism present in Spanish culture, as Hemingway represents it. Here, as in other places, Robert Jordan's status as a foreigner makes him a suitable audience for the thoughts his friends have about their own country, especially the less than positive ones. This is one of many remarks that shows Pilar's own conflicted opinion of her country.

He was lucky that he had lived parts of ten years in Spain before the war. They trusted you on the language, principally. They trusted you on understanding the language completely and speaking it idiomatically and having a knowledge of the different places. A Spaniard was only really loyal to his village in the end. First Spain of course, then his own tribe, then his province, then his village, his family and finally his trade. If you knew Spanish he was prejudiced in your favor, if you knew his province it was that much better, but if you knew his village and his trade your were in as far as any foreigner ever could be. He never felt like a foreigner in Spanish and they did not really treat him like a foreigner most of the time; only when they turned on you.

Of course they turned on you. They turned on you often but they always turned on everyone. They turned on themselves, too. (11.77-78)

This passage includes some of Robert Jordan's thoughts on fitting in with the Spanish. Apparently they're pretty tribal. Also frequently treacherous. Pablo's a quintessential Spaniard on both counts. That "tribalism" – the tendency to be loyal to relatively small groups (like towns or families) – plays a part in the book (as when Pablo kills another group to save his own), but was also one major historical problem for trying to unite Spaniards in large political or military movements. Besides all that, it's also worth observing that Robert Jordan thinks the most important part of fitting in is knowing the language.

And I have made a mistake, Robert Jordan thought to himself. I have told Spaniards we can do something better than they can when the rule is never to speak of your own exploits and abilities. When I should have flattered them I have told them what I think they should do and now they are furious. (11.330)

Here again we see Robert Jordan breaking one of those pesky rules on maintaining cordial relations with the Spaniards. The Spanish are a very proud people, as Pilar herself brings up on more than one occasion; that's another one of the traits that Robert Jordan (or maybe Hemingway) thinks defines them. Spanish pride can be difficult to deal with when it comes to honestly working out plans.

Who would imagine they would have whiskey up here, he thought. But La Granja was the most likely place in Spain to find it when you thought it over. Imagine Sordo getting a bottle for the visiting dynamiter and then remembering to bring it down and leave it. It wasn't just manners that they had. Manners would have been producing the bottle and having a formal drink. That was what the French would have done and then they would have saved what was left for another occasion. No, the true thoughtfulness of thinking the visitor would like it and then bringing it down for him to enjoy when you yourself were engaged in something where there was every reason to think of no one else but yourself and of nothing but the matter in hand – that was Spanish. One kind of Spanish, he thought. Remembering to bring the whiskey was one of the reasons you loved these people. Don't go romanticizing them, he thought. There are many sorts of Spanish as there are Americans. But still, bringing the whiskey was very handsome. (16.51)

One of the reasons Robert Jordan loves and admires the Spanish: their unique courtesy and hospitality, of which El Sordo is a prime example. Also in this passage, he recognizes a romanticizing tendency in himself – to think of "the Spanish" as all sharing one sort of character – and calls it into doubt. That doesn't prevent him from doing a lot more of it, though.

"Let me finish, you mule," Pilar said to him. "He teaches Spanish to Americans. North Americans."

"Can they not speak Spanish?" Fernando asked. "South Americans can." (16.171-2)

Kind of a dumb question? Many of the members of Pablo's band seem to know very little about where Robert Jordan comes from, which is pretty clear at various moments of this conversation. Note the difference between the main character, an American, who is almost entirely concerned with Spain, and the Spanish, who don't know anything about what's outside their own country.

Yes, Robert Jordan thought. We do it coldly but they do not, nor ever have. It is their extra sacrament. Their old one that they had before the new religion came from the far end of the Mediterranean, the one they have never abandoned but only suppressed and hidden to bring it out again in wars and inquisitions. They are the people of the Auto de Fe; the act of faith. Killing is something one must do, but ours are different from theirs. And you, he thought, you have never been corrupted by it? You never had it in the Sierra? Nor at Usera? Nor through all the time in Estremadura? Nor at any time? Que va, he told himself. At every train.

Stop making dubious literature about the Berbers and the old Iberians and admit that you have liked to kill as all who are soldiers by choice have enjoyed it at some time whether they lie about it or not. Anselmo does not like to because he is a hunter, not a soldier. Don't idealize him, either. Hunters kill animals and soldiers kill men. Don't lie to yourself, he thought. Nor make up literature about it. You have been tainted with it for a long time now. And do not think against Anselmo either. He is a Christian. Something very rare in Catholic countries. (23.88-89)

Robert Jordan is tempted to see a unique love of violence in Spaniards, one which has developed throughout the long history of Spain. It's become sacred and ritualized, and has often been connected with the Church. He also makes the observation that Spain, as a Catholic country, is not Christian – he thinks that Catholicism all too easily becomes a matter of superstition and ritual, and misses the moral core of Christian belief. Here again, though, Robert Jordan wonders whether he's being fair, or simply making the Spanish into some exotic "Other" – perhaps to conceal his own similarities to them.

Those are the flowers of Spanish chivalry. What a people they have been. What sons of b****es from Cortez, Pizarro, Menendez de Avila all down through Enrique Lister to Pablo. And what wonderful people. There is no finer and no worse people in the world. No kinder people and no crueler. And who understands them? Not me, because if I did I would forgive it all. To understand is to forgive. That's not true. Forgiveness has been exaggerated. Forgiveness is a Christian idea and Spain has never been a Christian country. It has always had its own special idol worship within the Church. Otra Virgen mas. I suppose that was why they had to destroy the virgins of their enemies. Surely it was deeper with them, with the Spanish religion fanatics, than it was with the people. The people had grown away from the Church because the Church was in the government and the government had always been rotten. This was the only country that the reformation never reached. They were paying for the Inquisition all right. (31.163)

Another reflection on the brutality of the Spanish and the way it was connected to the Spanish church. Robert Jordan seems to want to see the Civil War as a product of the romanticized or reverential (treating it as something sacred or "high") attitude towards violence natural to Spain's native population. That "no finer and no worse people in the world" bit is also the short story on of his love-hate relationship with Spain.