For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway


(Read 26/08/16 – 16/10/16)

I’ve always wanted to read this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve always regarded Hemingway as one of my favourite authors. The novel the Old Man and the Sea is one of my favourite books by any author along with Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, therefore I approached this book about the Spanish Civil War with great excitement. I had also regularly heard how this novel was Hemingway’s finest one so I was excited to tuck in! The novel tells the story of an American, Robert Jordan and how he joins a group of guerrilla fighters in the mountains of Spain in the fight against the Fascist forces. Robert Jordan’s main aim is to blow up a bridge during a planned attack. The story revolves around the few days before the attack and Robert Jordan living with the group of guerrilla fighters.

The first thing I must mention is how strong the characters are in the novel. Each one of them is well layered and has their own story. The main character, Robert Jordan is one of the strongest characters in any book. Throughout the novel we see his quiet and calculated mind begin to waver in the face of his surroundings. His internal struggle between executing the job with a surgeon’s precision and objectivity and his growing friendship between him and many members of the group. He also begins to wonder throughout the course of the novel whether he really supports the Republic or whether he is just merely against the Fascists. This internal struggles reach a climax with the growing fondness for Maria. Hemingway also constructs characters that we hate such as Pablo, the leader of the band, whom we come to dislike despite being sympathetic to why he acts the way he does.

The novel, like most war novels shows the brutal side of war. One chapter in particular, Chapter 10 recounts the story of her town and what happened to the people who were discovered as fascists in the town. It reveals the brutality of the Spanish Civil War and how in many Civil War, a neighbour and friend can turn into a bitter foe. The novel also shows how disillusionment can strike people in war times as they see the realities of what is occurring around them. Despite all this, there is also almost an innocence about this group of guerrilla fighters and how they speak and act throughout the novel which means that it is never too heavy going or difficult to read.

Despite all this, it wasn’t as good as the other two novels I mentioned in the beginning. I don’t think the narrative was as strong as it was in his other novels. I thought it was too long and didn’t keep me gripped throughout. I think perhaps I had built the novel up in my mind before starting, due to my fondness of his other works and rarely for Hemingway, this piece didn’t live up to my expectations. I would still recommend this book as there is a lot to take away from it and in classic Hemingway fashion the language is simple yet elegant and evocative.


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