Arguably the most colorful and likable character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pilar embodies the earthiness, strength, and wisdom of the Spanish peasantry. A large, robust, part-gypsy woman, Pilar exercises great influence over the band of guerrilleros—in fact, we quickly become aware that Pablo leads the band in name only. The strong and stable Pilar provides the motivating force behind many of the novel’s events. She pushes Robert Jordan and Maria’s romance, commands the allegiance of the guerrilla fighters, and organizes the guerrilleros’ brief alliance with El Sordo. She acts as the support structure for the camp as she unites the band of guerrilla fighters into a family, cooks for all, and sews Robert Jordan’s packs. In short, Pilar manipulates the most important characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls and sets in place many of the encounters that drive the plot.
Pilar, though practical, often relies on intuitive, mystical, gypsy folk wisdom. Shrewd and worldly-wise, she claims a deep connection to the primitive forces of fate. She claims to be able to smell death, and she describes the smell in repulsively naturalistic detail. She reads palms and interprets sexual experiences. Despite Robert Jordan’s cynicism, Pilar’s predictions do come true. Pilar exhibits the inevitable sadness that comes with knowledge: “Neither bull force nor bull courage lasted, she knew now, and what did last? I last. . . . But for what?” In the end, the only aspect of Pilar’s personality that seems not to show wisdom is her unswerving commitment to and belief in the Republican side, which ultimately loses the war.