Saturday, October 9, 2010

Irony in For Whom the Bell Tolls

Free From Politics
When For Whom the Bell Tolls was published reviewers and critics from both the Right and Left accused Hemingway of having gone over to the other side. Critics from the Right thought that Hemingway had become a victim of the “red rash”, or “the Marxist measles” ; while those of the Left accused him of distorting facts and being unfair to the Republicans in general and Comrade Andre Massart, in particular.
The Marxist critics were disappointed in this novel for they believed that Hemingway, despite his own contribution to the war effort of the Loyalists, lacked a true understanding of the cause of the Spanish people. What these critics failed to comprehend was that Hemingway was not writing a political novel ; the Spanish Civil War was only the back-drop-of this human tragedy. He wanted to show something true about human life ; and he had come to take a more complex view of humanity at war than he projected in A Farewell to Arms. Similarly, they failed to fully appreciate the significance of the epigraph from John Donne : “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls : it tolls for thee.” Jordan is not a patriot : he suffers from no illusions about the Spanish people. Hemingway was also aware of the limitations that partizan loyalty imposes on an artist and therefore he chose to remain above party politics and presented life as he knew it. It becomes obligatory for an artist to present “a series of situations pregnant with irony”, if he is to present life as he sees it.
Jordan Has Fascist Tendencies
Robert Jordan is trying to be an ideal soldier who is to carry out the orders as he has received them. He has scrupulously avoided asking why he should carry out those orders given by General Golz, even after he has realized that they are inoperative because of the changed situation. The Fascists have already carried their tanks to the pass that Golz is going to attack and Jordan knows this too well. He still sticks to his original plan of destroying the bridge and consoles himself with the thought that his job is merely to blow up the bridge and not question Golz’s strategy it is not for him to cancel the attack. His attempt to communicate to Golz what he has known about the Fascists preparation to meet the attack is almost half-hearted for after sending Andres Marty with the despatch he is sure that he will have to blow up the bridge. He goes to bed with this certainty within hint ; he had to he sure. His inability to change the plan on his own in the light of his superior knowledge betrays Fascist tendencies, even though he is fighting against Fascism. The irony of this predicament is too obvious to be missed. Irony reveals inner turmoil and the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls leaves no doubt in the mind of the reader about Jordan’s ambivalence and inner conflict.
Non-Spanish Activists in the Spanish War
The war is being fought in Spain but the chief protagonist is an American, who happened to be in Spain when the civil war broke out. His love for Spain is due to the fact that he is a student of Spanish and he teaches the language in a small college in America. “……the fact that the principal characters in the novel have to be wheedled and cajoled into a sense of duty by an American reinforces the gathering cynicism of the leader for the Loyalist cause.” Nor is the reader allowed to forget that the guerrillas, upon whose help Jordan is so dependent are mostly gypsies of non-Spanish descent.
Anarchy in the Loyalist Rank
For Whom the Bell Tolls reveals the absence of co-ordination in the Loyalist ranks and there is a state of anarchy in the Loyalist lines, for the despatch that Andres Marty carries from Jordan to Golz is delayed inordinately by the inefficiency of the bureaucracy. Hemingway also exposes the inability of the commanders to enforce discipline. Anarchism in organised combat leads inevitably to defeat. It is to this outfit that Jordan is attached and he hopes for victory. The irony of the situation is enhanced by the fact that the discipline and co-ordination necessary for victory are present among the Fascist officers. The Loyalist cause is doomed for these reasons from the very start.
Atrocities Committed by the Loyalists
That the protagonist’s position is paradoxical is supported by a number of contributory situations. The most outstanding example is Pilar’s account of the start of the movement in Pablo’s home town. She seems to be confessing to Jordan and is bent upon leaving out nothing. She reveals in Pablo a strain of sadism that mounts with every murder that he instigates the farmers to commit. The most shameful atrocities have been committed by decent peasants who initially had revolted at the thought of killing the very people whom .they had known all their lives. The grisly and nauseating acts that Pilar is at pains to describe, ironically, have been committed by the Loyalist who are fighting for human dignity and a decent life for all men. The Fascists who had been arrested during the night are flailed and led between a double row of men to the edge of a steep cliff below which flowed a river. Pablo’s plan is to give them a watery burial. The cowardly behaviour of the Fascists leads the mob to become violent and finally sadistic. Pablo’s hatred of the priests makes him torture the priest until the mob gets him and leis regret is that the priest had not died well. To the main frame of this highly ironic episode minor ironies contribute in no small measure.
Minor Ironies
The irony that these very people are Jordan’s supporters is not lost on the reader. It is for these people than he is prepated to lay down his life. Robert Penn Warren thinks that the irony runs “counter to the ostensible surface direction of the story”, but as Halliday points out “this is the nature of irony”. The prevailing darkness is occasionally relieved by a glimmer of hope as each one of us must do what we can.
Jordan is Betrayed by a Friend
The theme of betrayal which is one of the most recurrent themes in Hemingway’s fiction is also present in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and it heightens the irony in the novel. Jordan had come to Pablo for help thinking that he was one of the most staunch supporters of the Republic and that he could not blow up that bridge without his help––it lay in his country, Pablo provides him with sufficient provocation as to make it convenient for him to liquidate him. He has also been warned by Agustin that Pablo constitutes a substantial danger to the project. He has also been given the green signal by the group to kill Pablo. In spite of these clear indications Jordan abstains from carrying out what was a necessity. And he has to pay a heavy price for this lapse. In the ordinary course of events it would have been excusable but since this treachery comes from a friend or a supporter the irony is heightened.
The Irony of El Sardo’s Death
Similar is the case with El Sardo’s annihilation by the Fascists. He had gone to steal horses for the retreat but the unseasonal snow makes the venture a big hazard and as a consequence Jordan loses a big ally. Jordan does not let any of the guerrillas in Pablo’s band go to his rescue and it is highly ironical again that they, despite their keen desire to help a comrade in trouble cannot do so.
An Ironic Comment on the Human Situation
There are a number of situations in the novel that contribute to the impression that Hemingway intended the book to be an ironic comment on the human situation in Spain. The central event of blowing up the bridge is rendered an exercise in futility for the loose tongues of the Loyalist comrades have betrayed their own cause. The Fascists know in advance the Loyalist plan to attack the pass, and they have taken proper precautions to meet it. Jordan’s promise that nothing will go across that bridge is a mockery of the intention with which it was given. It is due to the treachery of a friend that Jordan loses such a venerable old man as Anselmo. Pilar’s party which attacked the saw-mill post loses Eladio and Fernando. Even when Jordan has successfully destroyed the bridge he cannot escape to the Gredos on account of a fall from a wounded horse-Jordan of all the people ! Jordan had put his thinking in abeyance during the course of the war in order to win the war first, but now in his hour of death he has to do the final reckoning and he is not sure that he was right in doing what he did. The doubts about the rightness of his actions had assailed him previously as well :
                How many is that you have killed ? I don’t know. Do you think you have a right to kill any one ? No. But I have to But……you like the people of Navarra better than those of any other of Spain. Yes. And you kill them. Yes……Don’t you know it is wrong to kill ? Yes. But you do it ? Yes. And you still believe that your cause is right? Yes.
Both Parties Pray to the Same God
Similarly, Anselmo who wants to kill no one is committed to shedding human blood and his sadness is highly touching. The irony is that a man who upholds the Christian ideal of loving thy neighbour is compelled to sacrifice his principles for a cause that is doomed to fail from the very start. Since the start of the movement Anselmo confesses that he had not prayed because he had come to believe that there was no God otherwise He would not have allowed such things to happen which he had seen. But when he sees the dead bodies of the Fascists and the heads of the members of El Sardo’s bands he prays to the same God to which Lieutenant Berrendo addresses his prayer for his dead friend Julian, who has died at El Sardo’s hands. Captain Mara, completely oblivious of his imminent death, goes on shouting obscenities at the hill-top. What could be more ironic than the fact that the two become fellow voyagers.
Good People on Both Sides
Hemingway has portrayed Berrendo in very sympathetic colours. He is as committed to his cause as Jordan, or even Anselmo, and believes in the rightness of his cause as firmly as any member of the International Brigades. He is religious as well as kind. He gives orders for beheading the dead guerrillas but cannot see those orders being carried out. “It is he”, writes Halliday, “who looms in the sights of Robert Jordan’s machine-gun in the last paragraph of the story, lending the finale an ironic depth that protects it from false heroics. For these two young soldiers, preponderant as our sympathy may be for one rather than the other, the same bell tolls.” It is tragic irony because both of these youngmen are human beings of whom mankind could be proud but they are fated to die.

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