Primitivo, maddened by the sound of fighting on El Sordo’s hill, is desperate to ride to help his comrades fight. Robert Jordan insists that doing so would be a useless sacrifice. He tells Primitivo that in war one must learn to handle such situations. Pilar arrives and supports Robert Jordan’s decision. She mocks Primitivo for making a big deal out of the experience with the cavalrymen earlier in the morning. However, Pilar herself becomes quite shaken up when the three of them must hide from yet another low-flying observation plane. She apologizes to Primitivo for taking his fear lightly. Pilar leaves, promising to send Maria with the papers belonging to the Fascist horseman who Robert Jordan shot that morning.
By noon, the last of the snow has melted. Robert Jordan reads letters from the dead cavalryman’s sister and fiancée. He asks Primitivo if he wants to read them as well, but Primitivo replies that he is illiterate.
Robert Jordan argues with himself about how many people he has killed and whether killing them was justified—especially since most of them, like the cavalryman, were not true Fascists but poor peasants. Robert Jordan thinks that he is not a real Marxist because he believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He tells himself to feel lucky for having found Maria and wonders about the situation on El Sordo’s hill. At three o’clock in the afternoon, more planes fly overhead.
Robert Jordan’s small but repeated rejections of Maria, in spite of his deep feelings for her, underscore the novel’s tension between love and work, heart and head. Even though she asks him directly, Robert Jordan refuses to tell Maria that he loves her while he is focused on his work. Similarly, as he lies awake in bed the previous night, he cannot embrace Maria and think at the same time, so he moves away. Robert Jordan’s refusal to admit his love in these situations reveals a split in his psyche. Robert Jordan is not yet whole as a person; he does not function effortlessly, as evidenced by his continual second-guessing of his motives in his interior monologues. We see the tension between Robert Jordan’s emotions and his sense of duty echoed in the tension between his guilt at killing peasants who happen to be soldiers in the Fascist army and his commitment to the Republican cause. Hemingway sets up Robert Jordan’s unwillingness to commit fully to Maria alongside the other tensions so that they reinforce one another, heightening the effect and adding to the drama of the resolution.
Throughout the novel, we see the characters routinely make decisions about the value of human life that they would consider dishonorable during peacetime. If the more practical Robert Jordan and Pilar failed to stop the more idealistic Primitivo, Primitivo would go to support El Sordo upon realizing that El Sordo’s hilltop has been attacked. Yet, admirable as Primitivo’s bravery might seem, it would be the wrong choice for him to go—for he would be killed immediately, which would endanger not only the lives of the guerrilleros but also the bridge operation and the larger Republican offensive it serves. Similarly, Robert Jordan avoids thinking about any of the people he has killed, especially about the fact that the Fascist cavalryman that he kills has a sister and a fiancée. In order to cope, Robert Jordan decides that, during wartime, it is unproductive to dwell on the morality of one’s actions. His statement that one has to “put many things in abeyance to win a war” highlights the wartime necessity of believing in the idea that the ends justify the means.
Hemingway’s frequent use of animal imagery links the human action of the novel to the natural world—a connection the characters themselves sometimes recognize. Hemingway often uses this animal imagery in symbolic fashion. The hares that Rafael catches mating in the snow, for example, recall Robert Jordan and Maria, both in their outdoor coupling and in Robert Jordan’s nickname for Maria, “Rabbit.” The fact that the hares die casts an ominous tone and foreshadows Robert Jordan and Maria’s eventual separation, their entrapment by forces larger than themselves. In addition to the links Hemingway himself draws between the human and natural worlds, the characters of the novel make similar links on their own. For example, Robert Jordan compares the planes flying overhead to “sharks,” and Rafael speaks of an exploding train as a “great wounded animal.” These comparisons imply that the natural world is the world that the guerrilleros understand best. This alignment of the guerrilleros with the natural world and the Fascist side with the modern, industrialized world runs throughout For Whom the Bell Tolls. The comparison of the Fascist planes to sharks casts the Fascists as predators who threaten the natural world with their military and industrial power, which will eventually render the natural lifestyle of the guerrilleros obsolete.