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Hemingway’s novel is so true to his own that many consider For Whom the Bell Tolls an autobiographical piece of writing with different characters added in. These themes can be directly drawn from Hemingway's own "first hand of experience of violence" (Reynolds 23) in every major war in his lifetime as an ambulance driver and journalist. Being that Hemingway had been to every significant war in between World War I and World War II, Hemingway was no stranger to the cruelty of war and for this reason there is a strong influence of his own personal experiences with war. As Anselmo had lost many of his friends because of war, so did Ernest which had a dramatizing effect on him. Following his experiences, he had become shell-shocked. One of his most disturbing occurrences of war was when he "rode into the Fox Green sector of Omaha
Beach in a landing craft" (Reynolds 23). From the minute he stepped a foot on the "already bloody battle ground" (Reynolds 23), Ernest was exposed to the "high physical and emotional costs of bodily wounds"(Reynolds 21) and paid the eternal price of this corrupting episode of hatred. Many women viewed him as "a womanizer who had no respect for women" (Reynolds 24) which can show the numbness of affection he acquired from war. Before he died, Hemingway had been married to five different women, all of which lasted less than ten years long. Many would suppose that he had a good heart but that all of his emotions had just been drained out of him by the sheer emotional strife of war. This numbness then turned into guilt. Looking to fix this depression, Hemingway was in and out of clinics the latter part of his life for "electroshock therapy" (Reynolds 21) but this last attempt by his last wife was two late.
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Although Robert Jordan was not sheltered from the loss of human lives, Hemingway focuses mostly on the characters that were born and raised in Spain because they had been exposed to the reality of war much longer than foreign soldiers had. This thought can be proven by Pablo and Anselmo. Anselmo had many firsthand experiences with killing innocent civilians such as when he watched a civilian insult the enemy soldiers. As a response to this action, the soldiers “clubbed him to death” (Hemingway 122). He also had seen wooden pitch forks turn “red and with their tines broken” (Hemingway 137) during the Segovia massacres. These massacres had no stopping themselves. No matter what the gender or age, the enemy soldiers had “a natural bent for
killing and cruelty” (Baker 83) much like Pablo did. Pablo was known for having no emotions towards the people he had killed but for the same reason he becomes nearly mad. For Pablo, the loss of human lives makes him become silent of what he has experienced which does not help the situation. This eventually haunts his daily life by the vivid memories of the innocent people he killed playing over and over again in his head. He remembers feeling” weak in the stomach and “holding the pistol” (Hemingway) in his hand while gazing at all the dead bodies on the ground. For many of the men, losing their comrades or friends meant also loosing their mind. In the novel, Agustin is so hungry to kill the enemy and receive revenge that he becomes such as “a mare in the corral waiting for the stallions” (Hemingway 309).
The emotional costs of war are evident in all the three themes but the most evident cost is shown by the relationships through the course of the novel. For some reason, relationships in For Whom the Bell Tolls can be described as reaching “their full development almost at the moment of their first meeting” (Baker 81). These short lasting relationships can most likely occur due to the viciousness of war but there is also a trust issue at hand. Many soldiers are “assigned the task of great difficulty and danger “of completing missions no matter what the odds and predicament. One way to prevent disaster, as a soldier in war, is to complete the task needed to be fulfilled without any help from anyone. Nonetheless this thought causes a disaster in itself and causes an excess number of people that have “turned on themselves” (Hemingway 148) during a period when comrades should be bonding to get through the harsh times. This train of thought appears to show up with the relationship between Maria and Robert Jordan. Even
when Robert’s “head is clear, properly clear” he begins to “start to worry” (Hemingway 328) whether or not she is suitable enough to marry. No matter how well he feels toward
Maria there is some form of block that will not allow him to become anymore emotionally attached to her than just being lovers. He is so nervous that he continuously debates himself about loving Maria. Robert achieves this by determining whether or not he is “lucky enough to ever” (Hemingway 328) experience true love.
With everything surrounding the soldiers of the Spanish Civil War many loose their confidence along with their materials and people. This loss of confidence makes nearly the entire band of soldiers question their duties but the questions are all in their own severity. While Robert confesses that he would never” kill a proprietor of any kind” (Hemingway 46) Anselmo questions whether all “killing is a sin” (Baker 83) no matter the justification. He also thinks that in Spain killing is “done too lightly and often without true necessity” (Hemingway 216) which is very demoralizing. With all of these inquisitions about killing and injustice in the soldier’s thoughts, many start to feel guilt sink in. Guilt can come in many forms for soldiers but for Pablo guilt comes in the form of intense recollections. He goes through stages where he can still “hear the pistol still, sharp, and yet muffled” and “the head of the man drop forward” (Hemingway 112).
Although Ernest never truly served as a soldier, he still came in contact with the three themes of this novel. Without his knowledge of war, Hemingway would have never lived up to the realness of For Whom the Bell Tolls. His experiences are present and one can see it through the whole novel. Drawing from his own observation and experiences as
an ambulance driver, Hemingway shows the psychological damage of war through the destruction of human lives, uncommitted relationships, and lack of confidence.