Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 18

By Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 18

  • Circles. Spinning around in circles. Like a merry-go-round. You get back on and then you're back where you started. That's what's going on with Pablo, Robert Jordan thinks. He's had his fill of circles.
  • With Maria looking over his shoulder, Robert Jordan starts sketching out the technical plans for blowing the bridge.
  • Robert Jordan finishes the sketches. Grr – he is not going to get on that merry-go-round again, he thinks.
  • Pablo says he's planning the retreat, and it's going very well.
  • Agustín taunts Pablo, but it looks like Pablo doesn't want to get on the merry-go-round either.
  • How much simpler the world was before he met any of these people, Robert Jordan thinks. Only two days ago…(cue dream music). It's time for an extended (if somewhat disjointed) flashback:
  • Just two days ago, Robert Jordan wanted to go to Madrid after the operation, buy some books, help himself to a decent hotel room and take a hot bath, get a new bottle of Absinthe, and visit a place called Gaylord's.
  • Gaylord's is the hotel in Madrid that the Russians had taken over. Robert Jordan hadn't liked it when he first went, because it was too luxurious. But he corrupted easily.
  • Gaylord's was the site of Robert Jordan's first great disillusion. There he had met many great Spanish commanders from the ranks of the "native workers and peasants." Only they weren't really workers or peasants, and they spoke Russian. They'd been trained in Russia since 1934.
  • In fact, Robert Jordan had realized that lying was kind of the norm for the Republicans. He thinks of more Republican leaders with fabricated (made-up) identities.
  • Gaylord's had been an important part of Robert Jordan's "education." There he learned that deception was necessary, and accepted it. Somehow, according to him, that also strengthened his belief in what he did hold to be true.
  • Oh, Gaylord's All of that planning of his to go back to Madrid and visit it was before Maria. Robert Jordan thinks. So much has changed in two days.
  • Robert Jordan still has a lot more flashback to get through, so back to it. Where were we? Right, Gaylord's. It was at Gaylord's that Kashkin first introduced Robert Jordan to Karkov.
  • Karkov was the most intelligent man Robert Jordan had ever met. They became friends. Karkov had a good taste in women. Yes, Robert Jordan thinks, it sure would be nice to show off Maria to Karkov.
  • Robert Jordan's mind wanders as he helps himself to more wine. Thinking about Pablo now. How would Pablo fare in the U.S. Civil War? Robert Jordan muses (where did that come from?). U.S. Grant, the great general, was, after all, supposed to be a drunkard.
  • There aren't many Grants in the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan thinks. No real military geniuses at all. The best of the Spanish are good at following orders, but not planning. That falls to the Russians. What happens when the Russians leave?
  • Now Robert Jordan thinks back to Gaylord's a third time. Gaylord's had been at the other end of the spectrum from the rigid, "puritanical, religious Communism" he had encountered at other places.
  • Robert Jordan remembers his own feelings when he had been a true believer. That kind of Communism could make you feel an "absolute brotherhood" with the people fighting with you. You were completely committed to the cause, and all you wanted to do was fight for it.
  • Oh, how naïve he had been. Robert Jordan thinks. Though everyone else also seemed to feel similarly at the beginning of the war, that was a different time. Not even Karkov had been cynical about that time.
  • Karkov had been plenty cynical on other occasions, though. Such as when he made a joke about the official propaganda describing a horrific defeat as a "glorious advance." Robert Jordan had gotten all sniffly about that one. That's just how it was all the time at Gaylord's, a good place to lose one's naiveté.
  • Robert Jordan remembers another episode that seemed absurd to him. A British economist had asked him some questions for a news article in the middle of a battle, just after he'd pulled a dead body out of an armored car. Robert Jordan had told him to go off and do something nasty to himself.
  • He'd talked with Karkov about that guy later. Turns out he was a hugely important source of military advice to the Republicans, little by little. At this point our flashback finally becomes somewhat less disjointed, so we shift to present tense.
  • Karkov tells Robert Jordan he's teaching him, little by little (he doesn't specify what).
  • Karkov also thinks it will be necessary for someone to write a great book about the Spanish Civil War, and explain it. (Hmmm…can we think of anyone who might have tried to do that?)
  • Right now, Karkov's too busy to write that book. He's currently at work on a study of a prominent Spanish fascist, who was assassinated. Karkov thought that assassination was a good idea.
  • Robert Jordan wants to know if Karkov believes in political assassination.
  • Karkov says they're "used extensively." But they're not really assassinations, since they destroy the "dregs of humanity" and the "treacherous dogs."
  • He doesn't like the shootings. Robert Jordan doesn't either, though he doesn't "mind them" the way he used to. That, according to Karkov, makes him trustworthy.
  • Karkov starts talking about the present situation of the Republic. It's not good. In their haste to raise an army, the Republicans are conscripting huge numbers of troops without disciplining them or giving them an understanding of the cause. This he finds dangerous and unreliable.
  • Karkov is also unhappy because he's just come back from Valencia, where the government has relocated. It sucks. So does Barcelona, where the anarchists are.
  • They talk a bit more about current affairs involving acronyms that needn't concern us.
  • Flashback ends. He'd learned a lot at Gaylord's Robert Jordan thinks for the twentieth time.
  • Karkov had read Robert Jordan's only book (yes, he wrote a book) about his ten years of travels through Spain.
  • Karkov had really liked it, and told Robert Jordan he had "a rare talent for writing truly." That's why Karkov "has bothered with him."
  • Robert Jordan wants to write a book when he's out of the war. He's learned so much. Everything is just so complicated!