Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Planes, Tanks, and Mortars

The rumble of Fascist war machinery often jars the serenity of the Spanish mountains in For Whom the Bell Tolls, usually in the form of Italian and German observation and bomber planes that fly overhead. The military threat from the Fascists is both physical and moral: the planes menace not only with their bombs but also with their intimidating rumble. The planes move like “mechanized doom,” conveying a sense of automation and industry that contrasts sharply with the earthy, close-to-nature lifestyle of Robert Jordan’s relatively helpless band of guerrillas. The fact that the planes move like “mechanized doom” highlights the Fascists’ superior technology. At the time of the Spanish Civil War, industrialization threatened the natural lifestyle of the peasants who lived off the land not only in Spain but also in many other countries. Hemingway saw Spain as one of the last places where small community life was still possible, and he saw the Spanish Civil War as destroying this possibility.


Robert Jordan’s flask of absinthe (a green liqueur flavored with anise, a substance similar to licorice) embodies his deep appreciation for sensory pleasures—food, drink, smells, touch, sex, and so on. For Robert Jordan, absinthe “[takes] the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafés, of all the chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month . . . of all the things he had enjoyed and forgotten.” Although Robert Jordan uses absinthe to buy trust and build relationships with the guerrilla fighters, he cannot help begrudging every drop. In the novel’s wartime setting, absinthe represents the attitude that one should take advantage of carnal or sensory pleasures while one has the chance.