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Literature: For Whom the Bell Tolls
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, quoted in the epigraph

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1940, and was inspired by his experience as a journalist during the Spanish Civil War. It is one of his most famous and beloved works, and is generally considered the book written about that war.

The story, which plays out over four days and three nights, is centered around Robert Jordan - no, not that Robert Jordan - an American member of the International Brigades who joined to fight for the Republic. His mission is to blow up a bridge in preparation for an offensive against the Nationalists, and to this purpose he enlists the help of a small band of partisans in the hills nearby. He quickly begins an affair and falls in love with a girl called Maria, who has been freed from the captivity of the Fascists a few months prior.

In the days before he carries out this task, we get to know many of the other characters that he meets. Pablo is the leader of the band, but the relationship between him and his men is strained to say the least, and his reliability is repeatedly called into question. His wife Pilar is The Heart of the group, and acknowledged as the de facto leader. An elderly man named Anselmo is Robert Jordan's guide, and while he is averse to killing out of principle, his loyalty and local knowledge make him a valuable asset. And finally Agustin, a particularly foul mouthed guerrilla who Robert Jordan develops a Vitriolic Best Buds relationship with. A number of Pablo's men and other characters are also introduced and make a lasting impression.

Over the short time in the company of these people, Jordan makes his preparations for the demolition (which can only be carried out at the last minute), has some skirmishes with the Nationalist forces and gets much of his companions' backstory in the form of flashbacks. The general themes of the novel, derived both from the main storyline and the flashbacks, include the horrors of war, but also the nature of love and companionship.

The novel was adapted into a film in 1943, starring Gary Cooper as Robert Jordan and Ingrid Bergman as Maria. It has a character page.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Badass Boast: Pablo has some but even he knows he isn't the man he was.
  • Bad Omen Anecdote: Pilar tells a story of part of her backstory as a demonstration of how she can smell death.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: It's Hemingway, it's in Spain, there will be bulls.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Most of the dialogue is supposed to be in Spanish, but the Translation Convention is not entirely consistent, as some phrases are left untranslated. Especially vulgar ones.
  • Blood Knight: Several throughout the story, although how it's treated varies depending on the character. Rafael and the anarchists, where this is essentially their dominant trait, are generally depicted in a very negative light. They enjoy the war and don't care for what reason it's being fought. This is in contrast to characters like El Sordo, where the enjoyment is still there but tempered by a belief in the ideals of the Republic.
  • Bolivian Army Ending
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Pablo. Possibly also counts as a Dangerous Deserter. He's certainly not trusted by everyone afterwards.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: Several types of this during the dispatch run.
  • The Conspiracy: Robert Jordan muses on how "the Fascists" have a plan to Take Over the World, and just fighting the war in Spain slows them down for years and does not allow them to attack other countries. Historical reality had proven a bit different.
  • Did the Earth Move for You, Too?: Played straight with Robert Jordan and Maria.
  • Drink Order: As you would expect in a Hemingway novel, there is a lot of drink. The band drink wine from a skin but Robert Jordan has a flask of whiskey that he shares on special occasions.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: El Sordo and his men.
  • Eagle Squadron: The many foreigners who come to fight on both sides in the Civil War, Robert Jordan being one of them.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Robert Jordan plans to marry Maria after only knowing him for a few days.
  • Full-Name Basis: Robert Jordan is almost always referred to by his full name by the narrator.
  • Go On Without Me: Robert Jordan, after being immobilized, decides to stay and kill as many enemies as he can.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: While the Republicans are generally portrayed more sympathetically, neither side is generally shown in a very positive light, especially when it comes to the leadership. Atrocities are committed by both sides. Some of the individual soldiers in the Nationalist army are shown to be just regular people rather than villainous lackeys.
  • Hero of Another Story: El Sordo and his band are acknowledged to be very good partisans. This doesn't save them from the soldiers who come after them, although they do get to make a heroic last stand.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: The only way such small bands can operate, producing some hard choices about whether to help other bands.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • Actually averted. Yes, André Marty actually was a real person, and yes, he actually was that paranoid and batshit insane. He was sent by the Comintern to Spain when the war started and was appointed as the political leader of the International Brigades. Supposedly about one tenth of all Republican Brigaders who died during the war were executed by him.
    • La Pasionaria, again a real person is more of a YMMV. However, judging by one of Sordo's guerrillas ridicule of her when they're digging in for a Last Stand on the hill, it's pretty safe to say that Hemingway himself was not terribly fond of her.
    Pasionaria says it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.
    Mierda again. We're on our bellies, not our knees.
  • Holding Hands: An inversion as Maria and Robert Jordan get together before they get to do the more romantic stuff. There isn't much time.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Done in the usual Hemingway fashion, ala The Sun Also Rises. The simple language and run on sentences used to describe Roberto and Maria's lovemaking is quite similar to how Finito and Andres' bullfighting is described.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Tried by one of the officers surrounding El Sordo and his men. They ignore him until he's convinced they're all dead and stands up. Then they shoot him.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The title is derived from a John Donne quote, namely the famous "no man is an island" passage in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.
  • Love at First Sight: Robert Jordan's relationship with Maria can arguably be described this way: They certainly fall in lust at a very early stage, although whether it is true love (yet) is unclear.
  • Lowered Recruiting Standards: At first they want the best men in the area, then a certain amount of men, eventually anyone they can find will do.
  • Meaningful Name: The Heart of the group's name is Pilar. Also, El Sordo's nickname literally means "The Deaf One."
  • Mercy Kill: Augustin offers one to Robert Jordan as he lays dying, he declines.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Robert Jordan is usually called "Inglés" (English) by his comrades, though he's American.
  • Moral Dilemma: More than one, this is war.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: The partisans curse like sailors, but the reader is inevitably given a sanitized version of the relevant words and phrases, like "muck", "unnameable" or "obscenity". Between this and the nature of Spanish swearing, we get Unusual Euphemisms that range from the offbeat to the surrealistic — like "I obscenity in the milk of their airplanes." There are also some untranslated Spanish swear words left in the text.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: Averted mostly as Hemingway knew what battle injuries were really like. Averted at the end in a I Can Still Fight situation.
  • Planning For The Future Before The End
    • Robert and Maria get up to this the night before they blow the bridge, making plans to go to Madrid and talking about what their life will be like together once it's all over. Robert knows how delusional he's being, but decides that he doesn't care. This receives a rather sad Call Back at the end, after he gets immobilized.
      "Guapa, listen. We will not being going to Madrid..."
    • Maria mentions that Pilar was essentially doing this on the last day as well, where she took the time to give lessons to Maria on how to be a proper, traditional wife.
  • Political Officer: Well General Massart didn't get his job through competency.
  • Romani: A few of the band are Romani and have a few stereotypical traits but generally are well-rounded characters.
  • Real Men Dont Cry: Thoroughly averted towards the end. Anselmo cries after killing the sentry on the bridge, although it doesn't stop him from helping Robert rig the explosives. He is rather ashamed of himself for doing so afterwards though. Averted even further at the very end by Agustin and narrowly played straight by Robert.
  • Say Your Prayers: Joaquin, one of El Sordo's men starts praying when he sees the planes that are coming to kill them, even though he's a Communist.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Very nearly. See Struggling Together below.
  • Snow Means Death: Specifically, the unexpected snowfall means that certain characters end up being tracked by the footprints they leave, with deadly consequences.
  • Suicide Mission: Robert Jordan's mission to blow up the bridge is essentially this. Pablo, Pilar, and El Sordo are the only other characters who seem to fully grasp this, and how they deal with it play a big role in the narrative. Robert Jordan, Pilar and El Sordo are all willing to do it in service to the Republic. Pablo, not so much.
  • Take Care of the Kids: A variation. Robert's last request to Agustin is for him to take of Maria for him, turning down Agustin's offer of a Mercy Kill.
  • Tank Goodness: Only a little one but it causes a lot of problems for the partisans.
  • Team Mom: Pilar.
  • The Talk: Pilar tries this with Robert Jordan, with varying effects.
  • Traumatic Haircut: The fascists executed Maria's parents, raped her and shaved her head.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Not outright stated, as usual for Hemingway, but it's heavily implied that Robert is trying hard to play this straight when he's sending his companions away after getting shot by the tank. This is a pretty significant part of his Character Development since it's established prior that he never felt much emotion from his companions before this. He had no problem shooting Kashkin.
  • War Is Hell: Agustin almost cites this trope by name at the end. Coming from a self admitted Blood Knight, it certainly makes an impact.
  • We Are Struggling Together: The general impression one gets of the loose alliance that is the Republican side. A case of Truth in Television.

Flowers for AlgernonSchool Study MediaThe Forgotten Door
The Five People You Meet in HeavenLit FicFoucault's Pendulum
The BatmanFilms of the 1940sHeaven Can Wait 1943
Five Little PigsLiterature of the 1940sThe Fountainhead

alternative title(s): For Whom The Bell Tolls
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