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In the late 1930's, Spain was in the midst of a civil war. The country had been in a state of disarray since 1931, when King Alfonso XIII went into voluntary exile. This was followed by a five-year power struggle between the fascists, led by General Francesco Franco, and the Republicans. This struggle became violent in the summer of 1936, and the war lasted until 1939, when Franco's forces triumphed. (Thomas 600)
Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan and his Republican comrades as they resist the fascists in the fall of 1937. Although a work of fiction, Hemingway's novel accurately portrays the events of the period, and the characters display many of the attitudes prevalent among Spanish revolutionaries. The two central characters, Robert Jordan and Pablo, begin the war as idealistic fighters, but both become disillusioned as the war progresses.
The Spanish civil war had a violent beginning. Across the country, local peasants revolted against the fascist bourgeoisie, killing 512 people during the first months of the war (Thomas 176). In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway poignantly and accurately describes the execution of the upper classmen of the Spanish town of Ronda. The peasants of the town, led by a man named Pablo, corralled the town's fascists into the city hall. Pablo had the peasants, armed with flays, form two lines that extended from the door of the hall to a cliff overlooking a nearby river. One by one, Pablo forces the fascists to leave the city hall and walk between the two lines towards the cliff, which the fascists are thrown off; meanwhile, the peasants beat them to death with flails.
Pablo is ruthless in executing the local fascist police in Ronda. As he prepares to shoot one man in the head, Pablo says, "And you are an ugly thing, you murderer of peasants. You who would shoot your own mother" (Hemingway 112). Later that morning, Pablo remains stoically brutal as he prepares to send the fascists out of the city hall to face the angry crowd outside. The fascists are with a priest, and they pray with him before they are sent to their death. Pablo's wife describes how Pablo acts towards these men, and she says,
"I watched Pablo speak to the priest again, leaning forward from the table and I could not hear what he said from the shouting.
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Pablo may be a brutal man, but at this point in the civil war, he is still dedicated to the Republican cause. He is willing to risk much by leading the local rebellion, and he is successful in doing so.
It is interesting to note the way in which Hemingway describes the crowd as they kill the fascists. He compares it to the way people act when they are inebriated. Pablo's wife says,
"But cruelty had entered into the lines and also drunkenness or the beginning of drunkenness and the lines were not as they were when Don Benito had come out Drunkenness, when produced by other elements than wine, is a thing of great ugliness and the people do things that they would not have done" (Hemingway 127).
In this description, drunkenness is used as a metaphor to describe mob mentality. No person would normally beat a man to death with farming tools unless he were drunk. The people of the town are sober, but because they have formed a mob, they act as if they are drunk. Pablo utilizes the crowd's inhuman thirst for blood and directs it against the fascists.
Despite his initial courage, within a year, Pablo had lost his revolutionary fervor. One year after the seizure of the town, Pablo and his comrades have retreated to the hills, and he is not willing to take risks. Robert Jordan, one of Pablo's companions and the main character, is sent to destroy a bridge in the hills near Pablo's hideout. However, Pablo does not support Jordan because he is afraid that he will be forced to leave his homeland due to fascist retaliation. He says to his comrades, "And it means nothing to thee to be hunted then like a beast after this thing from which we derive no profit? Nor to die to it?" (Hemingway 58). Pablo is no longer a bold commander of men who is fighting for a cause; he has become a coward who is only looking after himself.
The main character also begins the novel as an enthusiastic brave man who is dedicated to the Republican cause. Unlike most of the characters in the book, Robert Jordan is an expatriate from the United States. He believes in the cause of the Republicans so much that he is willing to leave his country and travel half way around the world to risk his life for it. At the beginning of the novel, Jordan's commander asks him if he will accept a mission to destroy a bride. Jordan replies, "I will do it. I will do it all right" (Hemingway 9).
At the end of the novel, Jordan and his comrades are on horseback trying to escape a fascist attack. During the escape, Jordan falls off of his horse and is fatally wounded. As he dies, he is no longer concerned with the cause of the Republicans. Instead, he thinks of his comrades. Dying, Jordan thinks,
"Think about them being away. Think about them going through the timber. Think about them crossing a creek. Think about them riding through the heather Think about them O.K. tonight Think about them. God damn it, think about them" (Hemingway 506).
In his struggle to fight the fascists, Jordan ends up giving up his life. But when the time comes to die, he does not care about the Republican cause. He cares about his friends.
Both Pablo and Jordan begin the war as dedicated Republicans. Pablo leads a successful revolt in his local town, and he goes from being a normal peasant to being the commander of a group of revolutionaries. Yet after a year of fighting, Pablo is no longer concerned with the outcome of the war. He is only concerned with saving himself. Jordan also changes his priorities as the novel unfolds. In the beginning, he is a dedicated anti-fascist. Yet as he dies, he realizes that he cares more about the welfare of his friends than for the Republican cause.
Through the plights of these two characters, Hemingway shows that war is a great cause of disillusionment. Initially, both Pablo and Jordan want to fight for freedom and justice. But as the war progresses, they become more concerned with self-preservation and the safety of their comrades. For them, war is transformed from an abstract fight against fascism into a personal struggle for themselves and their loved ones.
Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968: New York.
Thomas, Hugh. The Spanish Civil War. Harper & Brothers, 1961: New York.