For Whom The Bell Tolls
Study Questions & Essay Topics
1. What does the novel’s title mean? For whom does the bell toll? What bell?
2. The earth moves four times during the course of the novel—twice at moments of destruction and twice during Robert Jordan and Maria’s lovemaking. What connects these different moments? What does the connection say about human nature according to Hemingway?
3. Robert Jordan, a foreigner in Spain, fights for a cause that he claims not to believe in. What does he believe in? What is he fighting for?
Suggested Essay Topics
1. One of the most frequent criticisms of for whom the bell tolls is that Hemingway portrays Maria as too submissive and eager to please to be a believable character. Do you agree with this critique? What is the role of women in the novel?
2. The novel ends with Robert Jordan near death but still alive, feeling his “heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.” What is the effect of this ending? How would the novel be different if it ended after his death? Which ending do you prefer?
3. Some have criticized Hemingway for romanticizing the Spanish peasantry, especially in passages such as “They are wonderful when they are good, he thought. There is no people like them when they are good, and when they go bad there is no people that is worse.” Find at least one other passage that takes a similar tone. Do you agree with this criticism of Hemingway? If so, does his romantic portrayal of the peasants detract from the novel? If not, why not?
4. Robert Jordan projects a jaded, seen-it-all attitude throughout much of the novel, yet he also believes that “one thing done well . . . may make all the difference.” Is Robert Jordan a cynic or an idealist? Does his view of the world change during the course of the novel? How does his attitude differ from the narrator’s?
5. Many characters in for whom the bell tolls remember or tell stories about their pasts. Pilar remembers her life with the toreador Finito and tells a long story about the brutal beginning of the war in Pablo’s home town. Robert Jordan remembers his father and grandfather and meeting his friend Karkov in Madrid. Maria talks about the day the Fascists killed her parents and cut off her hair. Andrés remembers baiting bulls in his village. In a novel in which the action happens over a scant three days, what is the role of the past? How does it affect the present?
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