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For Whom The Bell Tolls

  • Study Guide
Summary

Chapters Thirty-four–Thirty-nine

Summary Chapters Thirty-four–Thirty-nine

Summary: Chapter Thirty-nine

Having packed up the camp, the guerrilla fighters begin to take their positions for the bridge operation. Though Robert Jordan doesn’t believe in luck, he takes Pablo’s return as a positive sign. He engages in brief conversations with Pablo and Maria. Pilar recognizes and greets two of the five men that have come with Pablo.

Analysis: Chapters Thirty-four–Thirty-nine

Robert Jordan’s competent behavior under difficult circumstances in this section fits him in to a line of Hemingway protagonists who exhibit what Hemingway calls “grace under pressure.” Nowhere more than here does Robert Jordan display this virtue of the code hero. With Pablo gone and the explosives stolen, Robert Jordan manages to control his anger and apply himself to solving the new, more difficult problem of destroying the bridge with less manpower and fewer explosives. Always supremely pragmatic, Robert Jordan neither dwells on the past nor fears the future but instead concentrates on the present situation. This focus on the present allows him to savor fully the physical pleasures that fate grants him—the smell of pine trees, the taste of absinthe, sex with Maria. It also enables him not to fear death, which is the code hero’s true antagonist. Ultimately, Robert Jordan’s level-headedness is the only force that holds the guerrilleros together in the face of daunting odds.

The words “now” and “one,” which dominate Robert Jordan’s consciousness during his lovemaking with Maria on the morning of the attack, point to his appreciation of life in the present and the wholeness of their communion with each other. The present “now” is the only time that he has with Maria, for they barely have a past, and the future is uncertain. Robert Jordan frequently thinks that he is living his whole, full life in the seventy hours portrayed in For Whom the Bell Tolls. When focusing on the present, Robert Jordan sees the “now” as representing “now and before and always.” He stops thinking about the future and the probability of his death—in a sense, he transcends death and becomes temporarily immortal. This immortality becomes possible through Maria’s idea that Robert Jordan and she are “one” person. And indeed, the word “one” pervades their conversation after sex. Robert Jordan and Maria’s communion is complete, blessed and sealed by the natural forces that move the earth. Robert Jordan’s new feelings—his growing thoughts about the concept of “now” and his feeling of being “one” with Maria—are rather non-scientific and non-rational. As the novel draws to its close, we see that Robert Jordan gradually moves toward accepting and embracing Pilar’s brand of mysticism and supernatural wisdom.

Hemingway’s description of Andrés baiting the bull emphasizes the connection between death and sex in the novel. Andrés remembers how “he lay on the hot, dusty, bristly, tossing slope of the muscle, the ear clenched tight in his teeth, and drove his knife again and again and again into the swelling, tossing bulge of the neck that was now spouting hot on his fist.” The strong sexual overtones are unmistakable, especially in “spouting hot” and “again and again and again,” which echoes the rhythm of the passages about Robert Jordan and Maria’s lovemaking. The high that Andrés experiences after bull-baiting is a sexual one, which explains both its addictiveness and the sense of shame that accompanies it. Importantly, the realm in which Andrés gained his experience in killing—bull-baiting—was a relatively controlled environment. The experience of killing under his belt, Andrés knows how to recognize the urge to kill and consequently how to control it. But Pablo’s first experience with killing was the massacre of the Fascists in his town. He never had the opportunity to face his cruelty in a controlled environment and never learned to control his passions, which makes him dangerous. In connecting bloodlust and sexual lust in this manner throughout the novel, Hemingway implies that the desire for violence is as common a sensation as sexual desire—a bold statement about human nature.