Pablo, the exasperating leader of the guerrilla band, is a complex character and an unpredictable force in the novel—a man who is difficult to like but ultimately difficult to condemn unwaveringly. Pablo and Robert Jordan view each other with mutual suspicion and dislike from the start: Pablo adamantly opposes the bridge operation and views Robert Jordan as a threat to the guerrilleros’ safety, while Robert Jordan senses that Pablo will betray the guerrilleros and sabotage the mission. Hemingway uses a variety of unflattering imagery to highlight Pablo’s uncooperative and confrontational nature, often comparing Pablo to a bull, a boar, and other stubborn and unpleasant animals.
In virtually all of his actions, Pablo displays a selfish lack of restraint, an irresponsible individualism that contrasts with Robert Jordan’s pragmatic and morally motivated outlook. Pablo rashly follows his impulses, whether in the cruel slaughter of the Fascists in his hometown or in the theft of Robert Jordan’s explosives. Although this self-indulgence made Pablo a strong and courageous fighter when he was younger, it now proves a liability, for it sows dissent within the guerrilla band and jeopardizes the mission. As Pilar says, Pablo once would have sacrificed anything for the Republican cause but has “gone bad” as the war has dragged on and now wavers in his loyalties.
Despite Pablo’s disagreeable characteristics, however, he is not an evil man, and we cannot label him a villain. Although he is stubborn, rash, and sometimes brutal, Pablo displays a clear sense of conscience and realizes when he has done something wrong. He wishes he could bring back to life the Fascists he massacred in his town, and he characterizes his theft of Robert Jordan’s explosives as a “moment of weakness.” At the same time, however, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Pablo feels remorse over a deed only after it’s too late to do anything about it. Above all, Pablo fears death and is exhausted with the war. He simply wants the war to end so that he may live a peaceful life in the country along with Pilar and his horses—a sentiment that is difficult to judge harshly. Ironically, it is Pablo, not Robert Jordan, who survives at the end of the novel. However, although Pablo stays alive, he does so without the moral strength that Robert Jordan maintains and develops throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls.