A war time, fictional novel written during his own tryst with the Spanish Civil War as a Journalist by the ludicrously ingenious author, Ernest Hemmingway, this book is a window into the past through a derivative fictional account of the real eventuality of the 1937 war. Hemmingway, popular for his prune language and conveying the precise believable truths through multiplied intensity, manages to engage the reader in an intense and enjoyable mental bustle with the text. It is written in ‘third person limited omniscient narrative’ mode with the action and dialogue punctuated by extensive thought sequences of the protagonist, Robert Jordan.
Based on the Spanish Civil War of 1937, the story goes around the events of a Republican guerilla unit opposing the fascist forces of Francisco Franco. The protagonist, Robert Jordan, an American in the International Brigades, is given the task of blowing up a bridge behind the enemy lines with the help of local antifascist guerillas. The main characters in the camp, which centre the most happenings of the storyline, are Pablo, the leader of the camp, Pilar (his wife) and Maria along with other guerrillas. Robert Jordan meets Maria in the camp, a Spanish girl who is a victim of the barbarous ordeal. He finds a new lust for life given his incubating love for her. Amidst the erratic yet reorienting behavior of the pinheaded and snobbish, but supposedly brave and severed Pablo and his dissent with Pilar and the rest of the unit members, Robert finds himself in a clash between his strong sense of duty with both, Pablo’s reluctance, and his love for Maria. The idiosyncratic angles of Jordan’s predicament with the unit forms the majority writing portion of the story. The book goes with much death and destruction in the content. With finally the bridge being blown off, it leads to a very interesting yet not the usual happy ending, which permeates Hemmingway’s work. The end doesn’t form the much anticipated “bridge-blown, girl in hand, happily ever after” scenario. The book ends on an ambiguous note which forms another part of the thrill of reading this amazing piece of literature.
The general imagery produces the dense atmosphere of violence and death and employs the fear of modern armament to destroy romantic conceptions. In general, it doesn’t stick to the convention of writing heroic sagas holding a particular protagonist and concluding the book in his favor. It reflects more of reality where there are most often no happy endings with separation, violence and death reigning.
Death is the primary preoccupation of the novel, with the protagonist and other characters knowing they won’t survive the ordeal and contemplating their own deaths. Camaraderie and sacrifice forms the more sellable melodramatic element of the content. The novel explores political ideology in its backdrop and uses the tool of divination in certain places which triggers the thinking part for the reader making it a delightful read. With the impressive narration style and intensely descriptive writing style, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ manages to keep the reader engaged for the however long it lasts. But given that, it still gets very gloomy and dull at certain junctures, the excessive magnification of the intensity of situation wouldn’t appeal to a novice reader, or to readers with a mitigated approach. Also, It doesn’t make a very successful attempt at combining the Spanish element in the English text wherever the dialogues of the Spanish characters are involved.
But overall, It has been a bestseller and considered one of the best books by Ernest Hemmingway. It makes a good read with nosy happenings in the text advancing on continuous thinking and mental deciphering of the succeeding events in the text while creating total amazement and surprise at the unexpected turns with their occurrence.
With 3.91/5 by ‘Good Reads’ and several other positive appraisals by critics and magazines, It makes a successful book overall. It’s one of the best works of literature of the 20th century and advances the 20th century literature to an all new level making it a ‘must-read’.