Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Chapter 27

By Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 27

  • El Sordo is making his stand on a hilltop. It's not an ideal spot, but this isn't an ideal situation either.
  • As he had walked up with Joaquin and Ignacio, his horse had been hit. So he shot it at the hilltop, and is now using it to fill in a spot in his makeshift fortifications.
  • Five men have reached the hilltop, and three of them are wounded. He himself is wounded in the calf, and in great pain. He'll have to take death as an aspirin, he tells himself.
  • The five men are spread out on a hilltop like a five-pointed star, dug in behind mounds to protect their heads. They are now linking the mounds together with stones and dirt.
  • Joaquin, who is digging vigorously, throws out a slogan he thinks is appropriate to the moment: "Hold out and fortify, and you will win."
  • It's not well received: somebody tells him that is mierda (a slightly more intense word for "crap"). So Joaquin comes up with another. He's a devout follower of La Pasionaria, from whom he gets the slogans.
  • An argument about La Pasionaria (a Republican propagandist) ensues. Nobody besides Joaquin has much respect for her, and one man points out that she's sent her son off to Russia to be safe. Joaquin defends her against the foul (and probably true) accusations.
  • Meanwhile, El Sordo is contemplating the situation. The fascists won't be able to dislodge them from the hill right now – they'd tried earlier, which amounted to an exercise in suicide. But once they get either planes or a mortar, he and his band and done for.
  • One of his men fires at something, attracting Sordo's attention. He says a fascist has tried to reach a boulder on the hilltop.
  • One of the other men curses Pilar for not having brought help, but El Sordo says she wouldn't be able to do anything.
  • El Sordo is starting to wonder if the planes are coming. He fires four times into the body of his dead horse, somewhat irregularly. Then, after waiting a while he fires once more.
  • Someone from behind a rock on the slope calls "Bandidos!" A man's head pops up from the boulder, and, when there is no shot, he ducks again.
  • From below, the fascists call up obscenities. Sordo is pleased. It looks like these people just might be stupid enough to attack.
  • A sniper behind the boulder rises to fire, and hits a rock. Another fascist runs from a group of rocks down the slope to join the sniper behind the boulder. El Sordo is still more pleased.
  • Perspective shifts, and we're now with the fascists on the slope. The man who has just run to the sniper, the commanding officer, asks the sniper whether he "believes it" – just what "it" is remains unclear. The sniper doesn't know. He reports he hasn't seen any movement since the shots.
  • (Presumably, El Sordo's five shots into his horse have made the fascists believe that he and his band have killed themselves.)
  • Another officer comes up to meet them. The first addresses him (his name is Paco), and asks what he thinks. Paco thinks it is a trick.
  • The officer who's not Paco thinks they will look ridiculous if it is not. The other officer thinks that if it is not, they will look ridiculous, laying siege to dead men. To prove his point, he yells out "Bandidos" again, and a few other things. He dares anyone still alive up there to fire, if he's not a coward.
  • Lieutenant Paco Berrendo (we get his rank and last name now) only shakes his head. Turns out this shouting officer, the captain, was the same guy who had ordered the extravagantly successful first assault. Paco had lost his best friend, another lieutenant, in that attack.
  • The captain shouts some more and fires into the horse up there. He's now firmly convinced that they're all dead. So naturally, rather than go up and prove it himself, he orders the sniper to do it.
  • The sniper does not want to go. Lt. Berrendo tells Captain Mora (the dimmer officer's name) that he thinks the sniper is right.
  • In response, Mora stands on the boulder and dares anyone still alive up there to shoot him.
  • El Sordo tries to contain his laughter, which is hard to do.
  • Captain Mora descends from the boulder, eager to see if he has impressed the sniper or the lieutenant. Apparently not. So he calls them idiots and cowards and begins to shout obscenities at the hilltops again. This prompts a brief but illuminating reflection by the narrator on the unique richness of Spanish cursing.
  • Mora wants Berrendo to go up with him, but Berrendo does not want to. So Mora goes up on his own.
  • Lamenting that he only gets one fascist (though at least it's the big cheese), Sordo fires three times.
  • Captain Mora is no more.
  • The soldiers on the slope begin firing at the hilltop and El Sordo calls out to them laughing loudly, mimicking the captain's taunts.
  • El Sordo starts to think of how he might snag the other officer down below (that is, Paco), and doesn't hear that the planes have finally arrived. Joaquin taps him on the shoulder, and points at them.
  • Joaquin helps El Sordo to retrieve the automatic rifle, which they'll fire in a last ditch effort at the planes. The gun is put on Joaquin's shoulders, and Ignacio sets up the tripod for it and steadies it.
  • As the planes approach, Joaquin begins to repeat another slogan from La Pasionaria, but then ditches it and starts saying a Hail Mary.
  • The gun starts to fire, deafening Joaquin. There's an explosion beneath him.
  • Perspective shifts away from Joaquin. The planes bomb the hilltop three times further, and then strafe it with machine guns before leaving.
  • Lieutenant Berrendo leads a patrol up to the hilltop, rolling some grenades ahead of him just in case. No one is alive except Joaquin, who is unconscious. Berrendo, after making the sign of the cross on him, shoots him in the head.
  • Berrendo orders the dead horses to be brought with them and packed off to La Granja, and that the heads of all of the dead men to be taken. He leaves, whispering prayers for his dead friend, before he can see his orders carried out.