Summary: Chapter Seventeen

While Pablo is outside, the group in the cave discusses what to do with him. Rafael suggests selling Pablo to the Fascists, but the rest agree that he should be killed. Robert Jordan volunteers to do it that night. At that moment, Pablo returns, grinning, and asks if they were speaking about him. He resumes drinking wine. He announces offhandedly that he will help with the bridge operation. Pilar indicates to Robert Jordan that she is sure that Pablo overheard them discussing the plan to kill him.

Analysis: Chapters Fourteen–Seventeen

Hemingway uses the character of Finito both as a foil for Pablo and to illustrate his deep appreciation for Spanish culture and the art of bullfighting. Finito’s bravery in the ring despite his fear of the bulls reinforces Hemingway’s theory that, because bullfighters face death in their daily lives, they get used to their fear of death and conquer it. Finito is thus a prime example of the Hemingway bullfighter—one who, by nature, has fears like anyone else but still knows how to act bravely. Indeed, Finito’s natural fear only makes him more courageous in having become a bullfighter. Hemingway’s theory extends to all Spaniards: because Spaniards often see a man facing death in a bullfight, they learn to face their fear of death. No longer crippled by this fear, they are able to live fuller lives. In this regard, Finito is a foil for Pablo, who fears death. By comparing Pablo to the bulls that Finito used to kill, Pilar explicitly contrasts Finito’s bravery, learned with difficulty in the bullring, with Pablo’s temporary fierceness, which is fueled more by wine than any real bravery.

The similarity between the Fascist guards at the sawmill and the Republican guerrilla fighters shows the arbitrariness of the line that divides the two sides. The soldiers at the sawmill discuss the same topics the guerrilla fighters discuss—the weather, evil omens, the enemy’s planes. Like the guerrilla fighters, the Fascist soldiers rely on nature to keep track of time. The ordinary quality of these conversation topics underscores the Fascist soldiers’ humanity. As Anselmo notices, the Fascists are peasants just like him. He realizes that the soldiers probably landed on the Fascist side only by chance, because they lived in territories the Fascists controlled. Chance has played a role in the selection of guerrilla fighters too: Andrés later reflects that he probably would have become a Fascist soldier if his father hadn’t been a Republican—and that it would have been just as well either way. Because the composition of the armies arises from an accident of fate, neither side can claim to have the moral upper hand. This lack of moral clarity makes the question of killing people—even within the context of war—particularly problematic. The sawmill scene specifically illustrates the unfairness, arbitrariness, and moral confusion of the Spanish Civil War and of modern war in general.

Anselmo’s longing for prayer highlights the fact that the Republican leadership has outlawed religion—a policy Robert Jordan sees as a betrayal of the Spanish people. In Robert Jordan’s view, the Republic has taken religion away from its people but given them nothing to replace the void. Older Spaniards like Anselmo, who have been religious their whole lives, now have no comfort in their old age. Later in the novel, Anselmo and several younger characters, like Joaquín, find themselves turning to prayer during traumatic moments. This turn to prayer is evidence that the Republic has failed them, since, in praying, they break a useless Republican law. In the end, religious faith and prayer prevail over loyalty to the state—in moments of crisis, people perform actions that reflect their true colors rather than skin-deep political allegiances.