Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Men and Masculinity

By Ernest Hemingway

Men and Masculinity

"I will learn from Pilar what I should do to take care of a man well and those things I will do," Maria said. "Then, as I learn, I will discover things for myself and other things you can tell me." (13.95)

Ugh! Maria is playing the totally servile female to her "man" Robert Jordan here. And no one seems to have a problem with this (including Hemingway?)

"Surely," Robert Jordan said. But oh boy, he thought, oh Pablo, oh Pilar, oh Maria, oh you two brothers in the corner whose names I've forgotten and must remember, but I get tired of it sometimes. Of it and of you and of me and of the war and why in all why did it have to snow now? That's too bloody much. No, it's not. Nothing is too bloody much. You just have to take it and fight out of it and now stop prima-donnaing and accept the fact that it is snowing as you did a moment ago and the next thing is to check with your gypsy and pick up your old man. But to snow! Now in this month. Cut it out, he said to himself. Cut it out and take it. (14.59)

Cut it out and take it…that's basically what defines a real man a la Hemingway, isn't it? You've got to take it like it is ("take it straight"), and nothing's supposed to be too much to take. This is one of the first places we see Robert Jordan seriously lose his cool and have to try to live by that rule.

"Of course he was tubercular," Pilar said, standing there with the big wooden stirring spoon in her hand. He was short of stature and he had a thin voice and much fear of bulls. Never have I seen a man with more fear before the bullfight and never have I seen a man with less fear in the ring. "You," she said to Pablo. "You are afraid to die now. You think that is something of importance. But Finito was afraid all the time and in the ring he was like a lion." (14.82)

Here Pilar's expressing her own ideal of a man: not somebody who doesn't feel fear, but somebody who feels fear intensely, yet is able to overcome it and perform as if it weren't there. More generally, too, she admires the way Finito overcame his other limitations, his height and his sickliness.

"I liked you better when you were barbarous," the woman said. "Of all men the drunkard is the foulest. The thief when he is not stealing is like another. The extortioner does not practice in the home. The murderer when he is at home can wash his hands. But the drunkard stinks and vomits in his own bed and dissolves his organs in alcohol." (16.135)

According to Pilar, a barbarian is a fine kind of guy, but a drunkard is not. Sorry, Pablo. In Pilar's mind, any nasty sort of man you might think of can still be normal when he returns to his woman, but the drunkard simply isn't himself. Presumably also she views alcoholism as a way of escaping reality, which is cowardly and distinctly unmanly. Notice that the drunkard is also the textbook case of somebody not in control of himself.

Gaylord's was good and sound and what he needed. At the start he knew enough to accept the necessity for all the deception and what he learned at Gaylord's only strengthened him in his belief in the things that he did hold to be true. He liked to know how it really was; not how it was supposed to be. (18.38)

For Robert Jordan (and Hemingway himself, we presume), it's important to "take it straight" – to see things as they are and deal with them, rather than view them through rose-colored glasses. The destruction of Robert Jordan's early idealism was an important part of his maturing into a man. He may also be saying that knowing the world in all its ugly, messy, chaotic reality can strengthen your appreciation for the ideals you do hold, since you are all the more motivated to make them a reality. Or something like that.

"Thou must act like a man," she said to Primitivo. "A grown man. You with your gray hairs and all."

"Don't joke with me," Primitivo said sullenly. "If a man has a little heart and a little imagination – "

"He should learn to control them," Pilar said. (22.72-74)

Pilar's criticizing Primitivo's masculinity here, since he can't seem to control himself. What he wants to do is rush off and be a hero by helping his friends at El Sordo's. But it would be hopeless. So, heroism, if unrealistic = not manly. Rather than being noble, it reflects a lack of self-control. But then, Pilar seems to be in the business of criticizing men for their lack of masculinity…

Then, as he thought, he realized that if there was any such thing as ever meeting, both he and his grandfather would be acutely embarrassed by the presence of his father. Any one has a right to do it, he thought. But it isn't a good thing to do. I understand it, but I do not approve of it. Lache was the word. But you do understand it? Sure I understand it but. Yes, but. You have to be awfully occupied with yourself to do a thing like that.

Aw hell, I wish Grandfather was here, he thought. For about an hour anyway. Maybe he sent me what little I have through that other one that misused the gun. Maybe that is the only communication that we have. But, damn it. Truly damn it, but I wish the time-lag wasn't so long so that I could have learned from him what the other one never had to teach me. (30.25-26)

Ah, a little glance into the psychology of Robert Jordan. His grandfather is the iconic man in his family, whereas his father, because of his suicide, is a disgrace to him. His grandfather was a hardened soldier, so it's understandable he would feel drawn to him in his situation. Apparently he's inclined to the idea that he inherited his grandfather's qualities, because they skipped a generation with his father. He killed himself, which was cowardly and selfish. But is it really that his father was a coward that bothers Robert Jordan, or that his father left him behind? (That must be why he's "selfish," right?)

You're shaking, like a Goddamn woman. What the hell is the matter with you? You're trying to do it too fast. I'll be that Goddamn woman up above isn't shaking. That Pilar. Maybe she is too. She sounds as though she were in plenty trouble. She'll shake if she gets in enough. Like everybody bloody else. (43.31)

Whoa, whoa, whoa, Robert Jordan. What language! Can he really be calling himself a woman because he's shaking? Well, yes and no. The irony here is that he acknowledges Pilar to be more man (by that standard, anyway) than he is. Although his last gesture seems to be admitting that everyone shakes. Is there any point to distinguishing men and women on that count at all then?

You're not so good at this, Jordan, he said. Not so good at this. And who is so good at this? I don't know and I don't really care right now. But you are not. (43.391)

Robert Jordan thinks he should be good at dying, which in this case means both not being upset at having to die and handling his growing pain. But he's not optimal at either, and as the pain grows, he's more and more tempted to kill himself. His question's legitimate, though: could anyone really be expected to do a better job? Should he really be judged lacking by his own standards of manliness, or are those standards the problem?