For Whom The Bell Tolls

by: Ernest Hemingway

Epigraph and Chapters One–Two

Summary: Chapter Two

In front of the cave that functions as the headquarters of Pablo’s camp, Robert Jordan meets Rafael, an old gypsy who traps rabbits. They drink wine, smoke Robert Jordan’s Russian cigarettes, and await their food. Robert Jordan tells the others that Kashkin committed suicide when he was captured, but he conceals the details. Robert Jordan thinks to himself that Kashkin did more harm than good because he let the fighters know that he was nervous.

A young, short-haired woman named Maria brings food out of the cave. Self-conscious about her haircut, she explains that she once had long hair, but that Fascists cut it short when they captured her recently. She was on the Fascist train that Pablo and Kashkin blew up, and afterward she rejoined the guerrilla fighters. Robert Jordan feels drawn to Maria and finds out that she is not married.

After Maria leaves, Rafael tells Robert Jordan about their seven-man, two-woman camp and their machine gun. Rafael says that Pilar, Pablo’s “woman,” insisted that they take in Maria. Rafael recounts how exhilarating the train operation was and describes the engine hurtling through the air like a “great wounded animal.” Rafael says that he manned the machine gun.

The half-gypsy Pilar, stocky and brusque, emerges from the cave. She makes Robert Jordan promise to take Maria with him when he leaves. Pilar then reads Robert Jordan’s palm and seems troubled by what she sees. Despite his claims not to be superstitious, he wants to know what Pilar sees. Pilar says that a nearby guerrilla band, led by a man named El Sordo, will be able to help with the bridge. Anselmo and Robert Jordan prepare to leave to inspect the bridge.

Analysis: Epigraph and Chapters One–Two

Together, the title and the epigraph, from which the title comes, announce two of the main themes of For Whom the Bell Tolls: the role of an individual within a community and the value of human life, especially in a time of war. The funeral bell of the title and epigraph introduce the idea of human mortality, a reminder that all human beings are destined to die. Because everyone belongs to humanity, the metaphorical bell that announces one individual’s death also announces the death of something within everyone. Humankind is inextricably united in this way, so that the loss of any one part affects the whole. The fear of death looms large in the novel, for the characters are involved in a wartime guerrilla operation that is up against considerable odds. The reminder of death inherent in the title and the epigraph sets the tone for the characters’ anxieties about death and the novel’s celebration of life.

The conflict between Pablo and Robert Jordan, which arises virtually from the moment they first meet, develops into one of the central thematic conflicts of the novel. Pablo, a man of reckless individuality, proudly announces that his primary responsibility is to himself. He will not participate in bridge-blowing, regardless of how important the operation may be for the Republic. Robert Jordan, in contrast, has voluntarily left a cushy life in America to fight in a foreign war. Even though he also has reservations about the bridge operation, he nevertheless is committed to carrying it out. He feels it is his duty, he knows his general is counting on him, and he retains some hope despite all odds that the larger Republican offensive will be a success. Just as Pablo and Robert Jordan disagree over whether or not to blow up the bridge, the larger ideas that the two men represent—individualism versus community involvement—come into conflict throughout the novel.