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For Whom The Bell Tolls
For Whom The Bell Tolls opens in
May 1937, at the height
of the Spanish Civil War. An American man named Robert Jordan, who
has left the United States to enlist on the Republican side in the
war, travels behind enemy lines to work with Spanish guerrilla fighters,
or guerrilleros, hiding in the mountains. The Republican command
has assigned Robert Jordan the dangerous and difficult task of blowing
up a Fascist-controlled bridge as part of a larger Republican offensive.
A peasant named Anselmo guides Robert Jordan to the guerrilla camp,
which is hidden in a cave. Along the way, they encounter Pablo,
the leader of the camp, who greets Robert Jordan with hostility
and opposes the bridge operation because he believes it endangers
the guerrilleros’ safety. Robert Jordan suspects that Pablo may betray
or sabotage the mission.
At the camp, Robert Jordan meets Pilar, Pablo’s “woman.”
A large, sturdy part-gypsy, Pilar appears to be the real leader
of the band of guerrilleros. A rapport quickly develops between
Robert Jordan and Pilar. During the course of the evening, Robert
Jordan meets the six other inhabitants of the camp: the unreliable
Rafael, feisty and foul-mouthed Agustín, dignified Fernando, old
Primitivo, and brothers Andrés and Eladio. The camp also shelters
a young woman named Maria, whom a band of Fascists raped not long
before. Robert Jordan and Maria are immediately drawn to each other.
Robert Jordan and Anselmo leave the camp to scout out
the bridge. When they return, Pablo publicly announces that neither
he nor his guerrilleros will help blow up the bridge. Pilar and
the others disagree, however, so Pablo sullenly gives in. Privately,
Rafael urges Robert Jordan to kill Pablo, but Pilar insists that
Pablo is not dangerous. That night, Maria comes out to join Robert
Jordan as he sleeps outside. They profess love for each other and
The next morning, Pilar leads Robert Jordan through the
forest to consult with El Sordo, the leader of another band of guerrilleros, about
the bridge operation. They take Maria along. El Sordo agrees to
help with the mission, but both he and Robert Jordan are troubled
by the fact that the bridge must be blown in daylight, which will make
their retreat more difficult. On the way back to Pablo’s camp, Robert
Jordan and Maria make love in the forest. When they catch up with
Pilar, Maria confesses to Pilar that the earth moved as they made
love. Pilar, impressed, says that such a thing happens no more than
three times in a person’s lifetime.
Back at the camp, a drunken Pablo insults Robert Jordan,
who tries to provoke Pablo, hoping to find an excuse to kill him.
Pablo refuses to be provoked, even when Agustín hits him in the
face. When Pablo steps away for a few minutes, the others agree
that he is dangerous and must be killed. Robert Jordan volunteers
to do it. Suddenly, Pablo returns and announces that he has changed
his mind and will help with the bridge. Later that night, Maria
comes outside to sleep with Robert Jordan again. They talk about
their feeling that they are one person, that they share the same
In the morning, Robert Jordan wakes up, sees a Fascist
cavalryman, and shoots him, awakening the camp. After breakfast,
the group hears sounds of a fight in the distance, and Robert Jordan believes
that the Fascists are attacking El Sordo’s camp. Agustín and Primitivo
want to aid El Sordo, but Robert Jordan and Pilar know that it likely
would be useless.
The scene shifts to El Sordo’s hill, which a group of
Fascists is assaulting. El Sordo’s men play dead and manage to shoot
the Fascist captain, but several minutes later, Fascist planes bomb
the hilltop and kill everyone in El Sordo’s band. The ranking Fascist
officer orders the beheading of all the corpses of El Sordo’s men.
The guerrilleros at Pablo’s camp, having heard the planes
bomb El Sordo’s hill, feel glum as they eat lunch. Robert
Jordan writes a dispatch to the Republican command recommending
that both the bridge operation and the larger offensive be canceled,
for the Fascists are aware of the plan and the operation will not
succeed. He sends Andrés to deliver the dispatch to the headquarters
of General Golz, a Republican leader. Maria again joins Robert Jordan
in his sleeping bag that night, and they fantasize about their future
life in Madrid.
Meanwhile, in Madrid, Robert Jordan’s friend, a Russian
journalist named Karkov, learns that the Fascists know about the
offensive the Republicans have planned for the next day. Karkov
worries about Robert Jordan.
At two in the morning, Pilar wakes Robert Jordan and reports that
Pablo has fled the camp with some of the explosives that were meant
to blow the bridge. Though furious at first, Robert Jordan controls
his anger and plans to carry out the operation anyway, with fewer
explosives. He wakes up Maria, and as they make love, they feel
the earth move again. Pablo suddenly returns just before dawn, claiming
that he left in a moment of weakness. He says that he threw the
explosives into the river but felt great loneliness after doing
so. He has brought back five men with their horses from neighboring guerrilla
bands to help. The fighters take their positions.
The scene shifts to Andrés, who has been traveling through
the night to deliver Robert Jordan’s dispatch to General Golz. Crossing into
Republican territory, Andrés is slowed when several suspicious but
apathetic officers question him. When Andrés and his escort finally
near Golz’s headquarters, a politician named André Marty suspects
that they are Fascist spies and orders them arrested. Robert Jordan’s
friend Karkov hears about the arrests and uses his influence to
free the men. Robert Jordan’s dispatch finally reaches Golz but arrives
too late. The Republican offensive already has begun and can no
longer be stopped.
As dawn breaks, Robert Jordan and Anselmo descend on the bridge,
shoot the Fascist sentries, and plant the explosives. Pilar arrives
and says that Eladio has been killed, while Fernando, fatally wounded,
must be left behind. When Robert Jordan detonates the explosives,
the bridge falls, but shrapnel from the blast strikes Anselmo and
kills him. Pablo emerges from below, saying that all five of his
men are dead. Agustín accuses Pablo of shooting the men for their
horses, and Pablo does not deny it.
As the group crosses the road in retreat, a Fascist bullet
hits Robert Jordan’s horse, which tramples on Robert Jordan’s left
leg, breaking it. Knowing that he must be left behind, Robert Jordan says
goodbye to Maria, saying that he will be with her even if she goes.
Pilar and Pablo lead Maria away.
Alone, Robert Jordan contemplates suicide but resolves
to stay alive to hold off the Fascists. He is grateful for having
lived, in his final few days, a full lifetime. For the first time,
he feels “integrated,” in harmony with the world. As the Fascist
lieutenant approaches, Robert Jordan takes aim, feeling his heart
beating against the floor of the forest.
Ace your assignments with our guide to For Whom The Bell Tolls!