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For Whom The Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

Chapters Twenty-seven–Twenty-nine

Chapters Twenty-one–Twenty-six

Chapters Thirty–Thirty-three

Summary: Chapter Twenty-seven

“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. . . .”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

El Sordo and his small group of fighters defend their hill. El Sordo, who has received three wounds already, also must shoot his wounded horse. The zealous teenage fighter Joaquín invokes a slogan of the Communist party, but other fighters deflate his enthusiasm, claiming that three major leaders of the Communist Party all have sons who are not fighting in the war. El Sordo expects that planes will soon come and bomb the hill.

Just before three o’clock in the afternoon, the Fascists attacking El Sordo’s hill wait for the planes to arrive. Captain Moro, sure that all the guerrillas are dead, wants his Lieutenant Paco Berrendo and other men to advance, but they are afraid. When Captain Moro finally comes out of cover, El Sordo shoots him dead. The planes arrive and bomb the hill, killing all the guerrillas except Joaquín. Lieutenant Berrendo then shoots Joaquín and orders the beheading of all the guerrilla fighters. However, he does not stay to watch his orders carried out.

Summary: Chapter Twenty-eight

After the planes leave, the men at Pablo’s camp halfheartedly eat the stewed hare with mushrooms that Pilar has prepared for them. Later, Primitivo and Robert Jordan see a cavalry column riding along the road with an officer at the head. The officer is Lieutenant Berrendo, who feels remorse for having cut off the heads of the guerrilleros’ corpses. He remembers his dead friend Julián and begins to pray.

Anselmo, returning from La Granja, also sees Lieutenant Berrendo’s column ride past. He passes by El Sordo’s hill and sees that the corpses have been beheaded. Horrified, he prays for the first time since the start of the Republican movement. The prayer makes him feel better. When Anselmo arrives at the camp, Fernando tells him that Pablo has also already seen the corpses and told everyone about what happened to El Sordo.

Summary: Chapter Twenty-nine

Anselmo reports to Robert Jordan what kind of preparations the Fascists have been making. After consulting with Anselmo, Robert Jordan sends Andrés across enemy lines to headquarters in Navacerrada with a letter to General Golz. In the letter, Robert Jordan recommends that both the bridge-blowing operation and the larger offensive be canceled. He explains the confusing bureaucracy of the military machine to Anselmo. As Robert Jordan writes the letter to General Golz, Pablo compliments him for his presence of mind and good judgment.

Analysis: Chapters Twenty-seven–Twenty-nine

Joaquín’s and Anselmo’s returns to religion at crucial moments of terror and solitude reveal the spiritual emptiness of the Republican side. The Republican government made religion illegal when it assumed power six years before the action portrayed in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway criticizes the Republican leaders’ failure to provide the Spanish people with any spiritual solace to fill the void left by the banning of religion. Despite their beliefs in the Republic and official repudiation of organized religion, both Joaquín and Anselmo discover that their unquestioning faith in the Republic is unsatisfying. Although Joaquín initially faces the Fascists’ attack by reciting Communist slogans, he turns to the prayers of his childhood when the bombing begins because he realizes that the Communist rhetoric is empty. Similarly, Anselmo turns to prayer for solace when he discovers El Sordo’s men beheaded. Hemingway uses religion to highlight an important failure in the Republican leadership, a failure that he sees as a form of betrayal of the Spanish people.

Hemingway portrays the Fascist Lieutenant Berrendo as a sympathetic character, which complicates our tendency to identify the Republican side as good and the Fascist side as bad. Lieutenant Berrendo’s grief at losing his friend Julián humanizes him. We identify with and admire him for his disapproval of his pompous, incompetent captain. Berrendo is introspective even in his somewhat half-hearted remorse in ordering the beheading of El Sordo and his men. In this light, the battle on El Sordo’s hilltop is a struggle not between impersonal opposing armies but between sympathetic human beings like Lieutenant Berrendo and El Sordo. Hemingway’s description of the battle calls into question the reasons the war is fought in the first place and poignantly renders the deaths of the men useless.

Our sympathy with Lieutenant Berrendo becomes more complete during his interior monologues, which are startlingly reminiscent of Robert Jordan’s. Like Robert Jordan, Berrendo questions his motivations and interpretations of the difficult decisions that he must make. The main difference is that Robert Jordan is both more competent and more cynical; he has progressed beyond trite phrases like Lieutenant Berrendo’s “What a bad thing war is.” Nevertheless, Hemingway’s complicated presentation of war as a conflict between two imperfect sides consisting of imperfect yet sympathetic individuals is another form of innocence destroyed by the war—the innocence of readers who expect their sympathies to be guided by easy moral choices.

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