Kashkin, Robert Jordan’s predecessor in the forest, functions as a foil (a character whose actions or attitudes contrast with those of another, highlighting the differences between them) to Robert Jordan. Whereas Robert Jordan is steady and in control, Kashkin was nervous, especially about his own death—in the guerrilleros’ terminology, Kashkin had “gone bad.” The differences between the two men make Robert Jordan’s cool-headedness more pronounced. Kashkin functions as a cautionary figure for Robert Jordan, making him aware that, as a leader, his attitude affects those he leads. Kashkin’s nervousness rubbed off on his guerrillas, so he did more harm than good. Also, Kashkin’s capture and death remind us of the danger of Robert Jordan’s work and suggest that a similar fate might befall him.

The opening of the novel strips Hemingway’s famously uncluttered, simple writing style even more bare than usual. Initially, we know neither the names of the two characters nor what they are doing in the forest. The narrator makes no comment on the action and restricts observations to the physical world—what an observer might see, hear, or smell. The names Anselmo and Roberto (as Robert Jordan initially calls himself) are revealed to us on a need-to-know basis, at the same time as they are revealed to the characters. The impression that we are eavesdropping, watching a scene unfolding here and now, creates dramatic tension because we want to figure out what is going on. Typical of Hemingway’s style, the characters seem to leave very much unsaid. It is not until Anselmo leaves and Robert Jordan is alone that we are allowed to enter Robert Jordan’s head to know his thoughts.

Throughout the novel, Hemingway uses older English vocabulary and a number of grammatical structures that are more typical of Spanish than English. These word choices and structures recreate the spirit of the Spanish language, emphasizing its deep connection with the past and giving the novel a distant and heroic flavor. Odd-sounding phrases like “the woman of Pablo” and “I informed myself from the gypsy” give the impression that the novel was written in Spanish and has been translated word for word, retaining Spanish grammar. Hemingway’s Spanish was not particularly strong—the Spanish in For Whom the Bell Tolls is notoriously riddled with errors—so he uses the language in order to evoke the spirit of his setting rather than to add authenticity to the novel. The older English forms that Hemingway uses—words like “thou,” “art,” “dost”—lend a pre-modern, natural aura to the characters in Robert Jordan’s band of guerrilleros and to the novel as a whole.