Skip over navigation

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

Important Quotations Explained

Chapter Forty-three

Key Facts

1.
For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere . . .

This quotation from Chapter Thirteen describes Maria and Robert Jordan’s lovemaking on their way back from visiting El Sordo. Hemingway’s language in this passage strives to imitate the sexual act and re-create the structure of the experience for the reader. We can identify the repetitive rhythm of sexual intercourse: “[I]t was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere . . .” The passage goes on to describe the climax: “up, up, up . . .” and the ejaculation: “and into nowhere, suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly . . . .” Finally, with “all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them,” the jumble of words reorganizes itself back into grammatical clauses, mimicking the post-climactic regaining of the senses. This last phrase returns to the physical description that is typical of Robert Jordan’s point of view throughout the novel. Here as often elsewhere throughout the novel, Hemingway’s writing style mirrors Robert Jordan’s psychological state. Just as, most of the time, the controlled, direct prose embodies Robert Jordan’s clear, logical thinking, the confusion and loss of control over language in this passage reflects Robert Jordan’s loss of physical and psychological control during sex.

2.
. . . [Y]ou felt that you were taking part in a crusade. . . . [It] would be as difficult and embarrassing to speak about as a religious experience and yet it was authentic. . . . It gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it.

This passage, from Chapter Eighteen, is an interior monologue in which Robert Jordan describes his earlier idealism about the war, which the realities of warfare have long since crushed. The passage gives us a glimpse of what may have caused Robert Jordan to leave his life and job in the states to volunteer to fight in a foreign war: he sought something to believe in “wholly and completely” and also sought communion, an “absolute brotherhood” with other people. But his disillusionment with the “bureaucracy and inefficiency and party strife” he sees in the Republican cause and its leaders foreshadows his current opinion that the leaders have “betrayed” their people. The religious vocabulary Hemingway uses, such as “crusade,” “communion,” “consecration,” emphasizes the depth of Robert Jordan’s feelings and suggests that, for many people, the Republican cause became a substitute religion. But Robert Jordan’s use of religious language is accompanied by a touch of irony, since he immediately distances himself from using religious metaphors, which he characterizes as “embarrassing.” This constant qualification of exactly what he means is typical of Robert Jordan’s monologues.

Although Robert Jordan is jaded and cynical at the start of the novel, he comes to realize both his goals—his desire for something to believe in wholly and his desire for communion—by the end of the novel. Through his relationship with Maria, Robert Jordan finds love in which he can believe fully, love that he can integrate into his life. He also feels as if he has found family—an absolute brotherhood—with the guerrilleros: “I have been all my life in these hills. . . . Anselmo is my oldest friend. . . . Agustín . . . is my brother. . . . Maria is my true love and my wife. . . . She is also my sister . . . and my daughter.”

3.
We do it coldly but they do not, nor ever have. It is their extra sacrament. . . . They are the people of the Auto de Fé; the act of faith. Killing is something one must do, but ours are different from theirs.

After the guerrilleros hide from four passing Fascist cavalrymen in Chapter Twenty-three, Agustín reveals that the anxiety he experienced was caused not only by fear, but also by a thirst for the kill. In this passage, which comes directly afterward, Robert Jordan reflects on the particular nature of Spaniards. He believes that, as a race, they have an innate, pre-Christian, visceral desire to kill that has surfaced periodically throughout history. He references the Spanish Inquisition, the state-sponsored brutal persecution of Jews and other non-Catholics that was practiced in Spain from the Renaissance through the beginning of the nineteenth century. Robert Jordan ends by forcing himself to face up to the fact that he, too, has felt the urge and excitement of killing. In several instances throughout the novel, most notably in the language that he uses to describe Andrés’s memories of bull-baiting in his hometown in Chapter Thirty-four, Hemingway draws parallels between the drive to kill and the desire for sex. Through this parallel, Hemingway establishes yet another connection between death and sex, a major motif in the novel.

4.
“Pasionaria says ‘Better to die on thy—’” Joaquín was saying to himself as the drone came nearer them. Then he shifted suddenly into “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. . . .”

This excerpt comes from Chapter Twenty-seven, El Sordo’s last stand on his hill. The quotation, spoken by El Sordo’s young companion Joaquín, starkly illustrates the inadequacies of the Republican government and its leadership in the war. The Republican government outlawed religion when it came to power six years earlier, and the teenage Joaquín came of age under its propaganda. He clings to Republican rhetoric throughout the attack on the hill, despite the laughter of his older and more cynical comrades. The Republicans’ empty words prove to be cold comfort as Joaquín faces death. Hemingway views this empty rhetoric as a betrayal of the true needs of the Spanish peasants, who had grown up with religion and see it as a comfort. Indeed, as Joaquín faces death, he remembers his Catholic childhood—his beliefs before the Republicans outlawed religion—and prays to the Virgin Mary. Likewise, Anselmo turns to prayer as he beholds the beheaded Joaquín and his comrades not long after. Ultimately, although most of the protagonists of Hemingway’s novels, including Robert Jordan, do not believe in God, Hemingway does not criticize the need to rely on religion for support.

5.
He was completely integrated now and he took a good long look at everything. Then he looked up at the sky. There were big white clouds in it. He touched the palm of his hand against the pine needles where he lay and he touched the bark of the pine trunk that he lay behind.

This passage from the last chapter of the novel describes Robert Jordan at the moment when, wounded and alone, he realizes that he will be able to stay alive long enough to ambush the approaching Fascist cavalry, thereby buying the guerrilleros some time to escape. The passage, especially its first phrase, provides a climactic resolution of one of the novel’s themes—Robert Jordan’s continual struggle with himself to figure out his motives and his purpose. For the first time, he feels “completely integrated” with his world.

Having rejected Communism sometime before the start of the novel, Robert Jordan now embraces not some abstract idea of a brotherhood of men but the concrete human relationships he has forged with a specific group of guerrilleros. After long proclaiming that he does not believe in Pilar’s signs and omens, he now accepts the possibility that “[the gypsies] see something. Or they feel something.” Having spent much of the novel arguing with himself about abstractions, Robert Jordan is now at peace simply to appreciate and say goodbye to his physical surroundings with his concrete, physical senses.

The style of this passage is classic Hemingway. The phrase structures are the simplest possible—there are no commas. The sentence structure’s only complexity, the tendency toward run-ons, gives the sentences a concrete, physical shape, like a flowing river. Also typical of Hemingway, the simplicity of the grammar hides the depth of feeling just below the surface: Robert Jordan touches the elements of his physical world, one by one, including the ever-present pines, in a gesture of final farewell. He knows he is about to die. Hemingway’s language, with its deep feeling simmering below unadorned stoicism, is an echo of his hero.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us