Study Guide

For Whom the Bell Tolls Duty

By Ernest Hemingway


Fighting in a war, as do the characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls, inevitably means having duties. There are the obvious duties to one's cause, or to one's commander. But there are also duties to one's friends, whose lives are constantly at risk. Characters have different understandings of what their duties are, and what they require. Some, such as the main character (when we first meet him), seem almost entirely motivated by duty to the side they're fighting for, and are tempted to regard themselves and other people as instruments. That's much harder to do if one begins to form friendships with the people one fights with.

Questions About Duty

  1. Why does Robert Jordan initially have such a strong sense of duty? Is there something in particular to which he is strongly committed?
  2. Does Robert Jordan's sense of duty actually weaken over the course of the book, or do you think it remains essentially the same?
  3. Is Robert Jordan ever seriously tempted to abandon his mission? In particular, do you think he is tempted after Pablo has stolen the detonators – would he have gone ahead with the mission anyway? If he had abandoned his mission, would it have been right, in your opinion?
  4. What other characters are moved by a sense of duty? Do any of them have a different understanding of what their duties are than Robert Jordan does?

Chew on This

Pablo is moved by a sense of duty, but his sense of duty is to his band, rather than to the Republic.

Robert Jordan was extraordinarily concerned that his mission would fail after Pablo had stolen the detonators, but never seriously considered abandoning it.

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