By dawn, Maria is gone. Robert Jordan goes back to sleep until the sound of enemy airplanes wakes him. A total of forty-five planes fly overhead, in groups of threes and nines. Robert Jordan wonders whether the Fascists know about the planned guerrilla offensive, so he sends Anselmo to watch the road.
At breakfast, Fernando, the ninth member of the band, reports that the night before, he heard rumors about a possible Republican offensive in La Granja, the nearest town. Pilar talks about a time when she visited the city of Valencia when her lover, Finito, had a bullfighting gig there. After breakfast, the sound of enemy planes returns.
Three enemy planes fly very low overhead. Robert Jordan promises Pilar that he will be careful with Maria. Pilar tells him that during the night, after she and Pablo made love, she heard Pablo crying because his men had renounced his leadership. In private, Agustín tells Pilar that he does not trust Pablo, but even so, he wants Pablo to plan their retreat after they blow up the bridge.
Pilar, Maria, and Robert Jordan leave to visit El Sordo and talk to him about the bridge operation. They stop to rest along the way. Pilar complains that she is ugly, even though she admits that she has had many lovers in her life.
Pilar then tells a long story about the start of the war in Pablo’s hometown. After shooting four Fascist guards point blank, Pablo orchestrated a brutal scenario to kill the town Fascists. Pilar compares the situation to bull-baiting. Pablo and his cohorts forced each Fascist to walk past a line of Republican peasants, who beat him with flails before throwing him off a cliff. The last remaining Fascists and the priest overseeing them prayed inside a holding cell until Pablo unlocked the door and a mob rushed in and tore them apart. Afterward, Pablo expressed disappointment with the priest’s lack of dignity. That night, Pablo and Pilar abstained from having sex. Pilar says that that day, along with the day three days later, when the Fascists retook the town, were the worst of her life. Pilar’s story reminds Robert Jordan of a time when he saw the lynching of a black man in Ohio when he was seven years old.
A young man named Joaquín, who guards El Sordo’s camp, greets Robert Jordan, Pilar, and Maria. Joaquín and Maria joke about the time when Joaquín carried her after the guerrilleros blew up the Fascist train she was riding as a captive. Joaquín tells the others that Fascists killed his family. Robert Jordan thinks about the effect that his military missions have had on Republican peasants in small towns. Maria tells Joaquín that they all are his family now, and Pilar makes a point to include Robert Jordan.
Robert Jordan and Pilar speak to El Sordo, a nearly deaf man of few words, and enlist his aid in blowing up the bridge. Robert Jordan reveals that he killed the wounded Kashkin at Kashkin’s request. He and El Sordo discuss supplies and tactics, especially the unfortunate fact that they must carry out the bridge operation in daylight because the attack is part of a larger offensive. The daylight timing will make it much more difficult to retreat. They speak about retreating to the Gredos mountain range, though Pilar wants to flee to Republican-controlled territory.
On the way back to Pablo’s camp, Pilar is irritable and looks pale. She tells Maria that she is jealous of Maria’s youth and beauty and that she begrudges having to leave Maria to Robert Jordan. As promised, Pilar leaves them. Robert Jordan wants to follow Pilar, but Maria convinces him to let her go.
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 . . .
Robert Jordan and Maria make love in the forest. Afterward, as they walk to catch up with Pilar, Maria says that she dies each time they make love. Both acknowledge having felt the earth move. Maria continues talking, but Robert Jordan thinks about his work. He feels completely indifferent to political matters now. He believes that he fights with the Communists not because he believes in their doctrine but because it is the best side to be on in this particular war. The Republicans will have to do a lot to organize their government. He wonders about the possibility that the Republican leaders are in some ways the “enemies” of their own people.
Robert Jordan wonders if he could possibly take Maria back with him to Montana to be his wife—or even whether he himself, as a Communist, might be unwelcome there. He wants to write a book about what he has seen in the war. He thinks that perhaps these days in the mountains might be his whole, full life. When he pays attention to Maria again, she shows him the razor blade she carries around in case she should be captured. She tells him that she will take care of him.
Robert Jordan and Maria catch up with Pilar, who bullies Maria into telling her that earth moved during their lovemaking. Pilar says that such a thing can happen only three times in a lifetime. Robert Jordan tells Pilar to focus less on mysteries and more on work. As they travel, Pilar observes that it is going to snow, despite the fact that it is late in May.
The planes flying overhead represent a menace to the guerrilleros, to the Republican cause, and to the natural world and the simple way of life in general. Impressive in size and aggressive in behavior, the planes search the mountains and carry bombs that present a very real threat to the lives of the guerrilla fighters. The planes’ German and Italian make reminds us that the Fascist side has powerful European allies. The Republicans, on the other hand, have only volunteer foreign units under the umbrella of the International Brigades. The sheer number of planes attests to the Fascist military might and foreshadows the eventual Republican defeat. Hemingway makes the threat more vivid by comparing the planes to “sharks” and calling them “mechanized doom.” As symbols of not only military prowess but also modern industrial power, the planes also pose a threat to the serenity of the natural world and the simple way of life that Hemingway celebrates in the novel.
Pilar’s brutal story about the massacre at Pablo’s village shows that neither side is innocent in the war. Both sides have committed unspeakable atrocities. As Pilar describes, Pablo’s village was ravaged twice—the first time by Pablo and his Republican cohorts, the second time, three days later, by the Fascists who return to retake the village and exact revenge. The two sides act in the same reprehensible way, which makes it difficult for us to see either side as morally superior. This moral confusion is one of the key ways in which the twentieth-century war novel differs from its predecessors. War novels of the nineteenth century and earlier tended to portray war in a romanticized light, as an institution that rewarded honor and offered the opportunity for great glory. But after the senseless and widespread destruction of World War I, novels such as Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front deflated the glorious myth of war and exposed the realistic horrors of the battlefield. For Whom the Bell Tolls falls solidly in this second category, as a realistic portrayal shows that neither side was particularly honorable.
Pilar’s story also demonstrates the strong connection between sex and death that runs throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls. After the massacre of the Fascists in his hometown, Pablo decides to refrain from sex with Pilar. Hemingway uses this connection to show that killing is similar to a sexual experience, both physically and psychologically. Because Pablo has just taken part in a massacre, he no longer needs to have sex with Pilar; his lack of sexual desire implies he satisfied his sexual desire by killing. Indeed, later in the novel, when Andrés recalls baiting a bull, Hemingway uses sexual language to describe the event, writing, “he . . . drove his knife again and again and again into the swelling . . . bulge of the neck that was now spouting hot on his fist.” Furthermore, just as Hemingway portrays killing as another form of sexual experience, he likewise portrays sex as a form of death. Maria’s comment that she “dies” each time she and Robert Jordan make love equates her sexual experience with the experience of Pablo’s and Andrés’s victims. The similarity of the descriptions of the two experiences argues that they are interchangeable in their degree of emotional intensity.
Robert Jordan’s comments to Maria show that, unlike her, he is unable to give his heart fully. Whereas Maria says that she “dies” each time they make love, Robert Jordan remarks that he only “almost” dies. “Death” within the context of a sexual experience entails a complete loss of senses and complete trust in one’s partner. Robert Jordan’s inability to “die” points to his inability to let go completely with Maria. Especially in a time of war, he must always be on guard. Before the first time that they make love, Robert Jordan remarks that the stress of his mission makes it difficult for him to fully immerse himself in Maria: “I cannot have a woman doing what I do.” He believes that he cannot be true to his mission and be concerned about her at the same time. His inability to achieve complete communion with Maria is one of the tensions in his life. It is Maria’s patience at hearing these partial rejections that ultimately allows Robert Jordan to resolve this tension.
Robert Jordan and Maria’s sensation that earth moves during their lovemaking frames their love affair as part of a larger natural cycle. The fact that the lovers feel the earth move—one popular interpretation is that Robert Jordan and Maria experience a simultaneous orgasm—creates the impression that nature itself blesses their love. Pilar’s insistence that such an earth-moving experience occurs no more than three times in a lifetime connects the lovers’ experience to an ancient, close-to-the-earth culture. However, decay is an inevitable part of the natural cycle in which Robert Jordan and Maria participate, which means that death will strike eventually. Just as Pilar has lost youth and beauty, which makes her jealous of the young Maria, so must Robert Jordan lose his vitality as time passes.
One critic suggests that Robert Jordan and Maria feel the earth move because in their coupling they manage, for a brief instant, literally to stop the course of time in the narrative. Because the lovers begin their relationship during wartime and know that Robert Jordan will have to face grave danger within days, time is the most valuable commodity for them—and stopping time is the ultimate bliss. Because they lack time, their courtship is accelerated, and they declare their love for each other within hours of meeting. Momentarily frozen in time and space, immersed in the moment when they make love, they are able to feel the very movement of the Earth rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun. This interpretation casts the Earth itself, rather than folk wisdom, as Robert Jordan and Maria’s guardian.