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For Whom The Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

Chapters Thirty–Thirty-three

Chapters Twenty-seven–Twenty-nine

Chapters Thirty-four–Thirty-nine

Summary: Chapter Thirty

Robert Jordan thinks to himself as he walks back from Primitivo’s post. He struggles with the conflict between wanting to follow orders and believing that the orders are useless. He remembers his family. His mother bullied his weak father, who finally committed suicide with the same rifle that his own father had used in the American Civil War.

As Robert Jordan imagines a tremendous success in the next day’s offensive, he realizes that the bridge-blowing operation won’t be called off because those making the decision won’t be able to help themselves from imagining the same success he imagines. The certainty calms him down.

Summary: Chapter Thirty-one

Robert Jordan and Maria lie in his sleeping bag together. Maria says that she is sore, so they decide not to have intercourse, although Robert Jordan privately thinks that this bad luck the night before blowing up the bridge is a bad sign. Maria offers to bring him to orgasm some other way, but he declines.

Robert Jordan says that he’d rather not talk about the present, so they imagine their future life in Madrid. Their reverie is briefly interrupted when Maria reveals that Pilar predicted that they would all die tomorrow. Pilar’s indiscretion angers Robert Jordan.

Maria then talks about the day she was captured. The Fascists shot both of her parents against a wall. Her father was the mayor of their town, and his last words were for the Republic. Maria’s mother’s last words were about Maria’s father. The Fascists cut off Maria’s hair, gagged her with her own braids, drew the letters UHP (Unión de Hermanos Proletarios, a Communist association) on her forehead, and then took her into her father’s office and took turns raping her. Maria wants Robert Jordan to know that she struggled the whole time, and that Pilar suggested that the violent incident may have left Maria infertile. Robert Jordan promises that they will get married. After she falls asleep, he calms his anger by telling himself that both sides have committed atrocities in the war. He wishes that they could have made love and admires Maria’s mother’s last words.

Summary: Chapter Thirty-two

In Madrid, Robert Jordan’s friend Karkov arrives at his apartments at the Hotel Gaylord and greets his wife and German-speaking mistress. Karkov finds out that the German commander has been telling everyone about the next day’s offensive. A puffy-eyed journalist for the Russian newspaper Izvestia informs Karkov that La Pasionaria (a Communist orator whose real name is Dolores) has brought news that the Fascists have been bombing their own troops near Segovia.

In conversation with a Hungarian general, Karkov expresses annoyance with both the German commander’s and the journalist’s indiscretions. Karkov is also concerned about Robert Jordan, whom he knows to be working for General Golz near Segovia. The Hungarian general expects that Robert Jordan will send a report on the bombing but does not want to go to headquarters to check for a report because he does not feel welcome there. Karkov goes to sleep, planning to wake up at two in the morning to join Golz for the offensive.

Summary: Chapter Thirty-three

At two in the morning, Pilar wakes Robert Jordan up and tells him that Pablo has fled the camp with some of the dynamite they were to use to blow up the bridge. Although Robert Jordan is angry at Pilar, who was supposed to be guarding the dynamite, he curbs his anger because she feels terrible. Pilar feels that she has betrayed not only her promise to Robert Jordan but also the Republic. Robert Jordan goes back to sleep, planning to wake up at four.

Analysis: Chapters Thirty–Thirty-three

Robert Jordan’s extended memories of his father and grandfather show how the characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls must work actively to overcome their pasts. Robert Jordan is saddened that he never knew his grandfather, who was an admired hero in the American Civil War, and is embarrassed by the weakness of his father, who committed suicide. Ultimately, though, Robert Jordan does not dwell on either. He forces himself to call his father a “coward” despite the fact that doing so is unpleasant. He constantly works through his memories in order to rob them of their power. Similarly, by engaging in sexual activity with someone she loves, Maria confronts her rape until it “is all gone.” Although it may seem odd to contemporary readers to read about characters who suppress memories as a way of coping with them, this ability to leave the past in the past and live fully in the present is one of the features of Hemingway’s code of values. As we have seen earlier, Robert Jordan avoids thinking about the people he has killed, for guilt is not productive during wartime. Only by actively suppressing unpleasant memories from the past are Hemingway’s code heroes able to cope with the unpleasant realities of the present.

Hemingway frequently describes Maria with natural, earthy imagery, showing that she represents the pull of nature in Robert Jordan’s life. Throughout the novel, Hemingway paints Maria in earth tones, with hair “the golden brown of a grain field,” “breasts like small hills,” and a belly button like a well on a plain. These images demonstrate Maria’s strong, organic connection to the earth. Indeed, it is during his sexual experience with Maria that the earth moves for Robert Jordan. One critic suggests that the earthy imagery indicates that Maria is the Spanish land, raped and pillaged by warring forces beyond her comprehension, yet always loving and soothing. Robert Jordan’s communion with Maria, then, is also a communion with his chosen country. His progression from isolation at the beginning of the novel toward a full union with Maria by the end is a journey toward a fertile, earthy affirmation of life, guided by instinct rather than reason.

In the chapter set at the Hotel Gaylord, Hemingway criticizes the Republican leadership, whose apathy, incompetence, and factionalism bears a large part of the blame for the Republicans’ eventual defeat. Accordingly, Hemingway portrays his Republican high society characters as uncaring, gossipy, self-indulgent, and stupid. The setting in a fancy hotel contrasts starkly with the cave where Robert Jordan and the guerrilleros sleep, implying that Republican leaders don’t care about the conditions of their own people. We also see this lack of involvement in the Hungarian general: he says he could go to headquarters and find out whether Robert Jordan has sent word, but he doesn’t like headquarters and consequently won’t go. The general’s apathy seals the fate of Robert Jordan as well as countless others. Even those characters who are not apathetic care about the wrong things. The dramatic irony in La Pasionaria’s story is that the Fascists actually bombed El Sordo, not their own troops. But the puffy-eyed journalist focuses on La Pasionaria’s theatricality rather than on the misinterpreted content of the story. In the end, the chapter leaves us with the impression that the guerrilleros are the only ones on the Republican side who truly know what is taking place in the war, while the Republican leadership is frustratingly out of touch. We find ourselves asking the same question Hemingway and Robert Jordan ask: “Have there ever been people more betrayed by their own leaders?”

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