Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Structure of For Whom the Bell Tolls

Complex Structure
For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the most complex novels written by Hemingway for it is more than the story of love of Robert Jordan and Maria ; or even the story of the Spanish Civil War in which the protagonist loses his life for a cause. It extends beyond the country in which the central event takes place, as it transcends the allotted seventy hours which according to Robert Jordan can be as significant as a life of seventy years.

The Bridge Central to the Plot
In the centre of the action is the bridge that Jordan has come to destroy. The bridge is situated on the road from Segovia to the pass that General Golz is going to attack. That it is a vital bridge is made clear to the reader as soon as the novel begins. “That is the only road on which they (the Fascists) can bring up reinforcements. That is the only road on which they can get tanks, artillery, or even move a truck toward the pass which I attack. I must know that bridge is gone. Not before, so it can be repaired if the attack is postponed. No. It must go when the attack starts and I must know it is gone.” General Golz has chosen the most reliable person who can perform this difficult operation. Even before Jordan has left the General in Madrid he has assured him that he “will do it all right”.
The Spanish Society Represented
The bridge is situated in the Guadarrama mountains and in. these hills are scattered the hide-outs of guerrillas who are supporting the Republic. El Sardo and Pablo are the two leaders of guerrillas on whose help Jordan has to depend. These hills are a microcosm of all Spain for in Pablo’s and El Sardo’s caves we have representatives of all sections of the Spanish society.
Pilar, the gypsy woman, is a mother who looks after the band like the mother-earth itself ; Pablo is the evil father, for Jordan at least ; Anselmo, the old man, is a true Christian whose principles do not permit him to kill men but he is compelled to shed human Jordan’s out of necessity ; Joaquin, the nineteen-year brother who has suffered at the hands of the Fascists as Maria has done ; El Sardo is the brave guerrilla, who defies death and exemplifies for Jordan the code that laughs at death for it cannot conquer man if he is strong enough in his belief ; and then there is Maria who is Jordan’s wife ; and then she becomes for him the sister as well as his daughter. Similarly, Agustin, Fernando and the two brothers, Andres Marty and Eladio, are part of the community to which Jordan goes for help to complete his mission.
Pablo’s Role
The skirmish between the Fascists cavalry and El Sardo’s band highlights the dangers that the partisans face every day of their life in these mountains. Pablo had realized immediately what Jordan’s mission meant to his band––it spelt danger, destruction and death. He was not at all willing to help him and he tried his best to dissuade Jordan from carrying out this suicidal plan. He tried to create a split in the band but it failed. Then he was relieved because he knew that if the snow-storm continued Jordan would not be able to carry out his mission. However, the snow melted away continued to harp on the old theme. The next day when El Sardo and his band were wiped out by the Fascists he felt confident that Jordan would give up his plan. Even this disaster did not prevent Jordan from thinking that he still had a chance to demolish the bridge. In despair Pablo stole his detonators, fuse and the exploder because now it would be well nigh impossible to destroy the bridge and thus Pablo would be safe in his “fox-hole”. However when he returned at three in the morning and found that Jordan was sticking to his plan he changed his mind and decided to help him. He was the only one who could lead his band to the Gredos and he could not escape his self-imposed responsibility. The civil war is made very real to us this way. All the loyalty and treachery in the Republican ranks is present here in this small group.
The Whole World is Involved
While keeping the bridge at the centre of our interest Hemingway extends our awareness beyond the Guadarrama mountains. First, there are the Russian commanders who are guiding the operations from Madrid. They have trained some Spanish farmers in their military academies who have now taken over the management of the war from the spontaneous leaders of the Spanish people. The Russians are not the only foreigners in Spain. The observation planes that scan the Guadarrama mountains are of German and Italian makes. The Heinkel bombers and Fiat pursuit planes make it clear beyond doubt that there are other interests involved in Spain. The International Brigades are testimony enough to prove that the Spanish Civil War was not a local issue because for one reason or another many countries were involved in this human crisis. Hemingway has rightly called this war a dress rehearsal for the Second World War. Jordan’s presence in Spain proves that the ripples of this war have travelled beyond the Atlantic as well.
Flashbacks Enrich the Plot
Through the device of flash-backs, Hemingway has enveloped the whole of Spain in this narrative. We get from Pilar an account of what happened in the town where she lived with Pablo before the start of the movement. The ruthless manner in which Pablo had massacred the local Fascists throws light on the Spanish character. So does Maria’s story of her misfortune. Her father had been murdered because he was a Republican and her mother was put to death for she supported her husband. The issue does not remain political because Maria’s rape is a human issue. She becomes blood­thirsty for revenge because she has suffered for no fault of her own ; it is enough that she is the daughter of a Republican. She becomes the bride of the “Red Christ”. Joaquin’s story of his suffering adds up to the same conclusion. No wonder Jordan thinks that the entire future of mankind may eventually depend upon this bridge and he is conscious of his responsibility in this enterprise.
Flashbacks Extend the Scope in Time
These flashbacks also in a way extend the time of the action of the story from seventy hours to not only the proverbial seventy years but also the entire history of mankind. There are frequent references to Jordan’s grandfather who fought in the American Civil War. He believes that his “juice” came from the old man rather than his father who, he believes, was a coward. Again, we are told that Jordan did not want to be another Horatius on the Bridge because he wad in love with Maria and he would love to live with her a long time. Hemingway’s glorification of “now” is meant to make us aware of what he called the fourth and the fifth dimensions in prose. The mystical dimension of his love for Maria links him with all the lovers who might have experienced or will experience love in such intensity in any part of the world. This type of love is beyond time and is in fact timeless. This he believes in despite his cynicism which tells him “                there isn’t supposed to be any such thing as love in a purely materialistic conception of society.” The idea is that the Spanish Civil War, for the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls and the protagonist in the book, is a landmark in human history––it is a pivotal point for history. The attack to be launched by General Golz is the first by the Republicans and- since they have been at the receiving end for a long time Jordan does not want to make a mess of it for if this attack is a flop the Republican morale will go down and whatever is valuable in Spain will be lost for ever. The consequences of the success or the failure of Jordan’s mission are going to travel far and thus the history of the human race may turn on the fate of this bridge. It is to this end that Hemingway has quoted approvingly from John Donne on the cover page of the novel :
                No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe : every man is a peace of the Continent, a part of the maine ; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the Jesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were ; any mans death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind ; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls ; It tolls for thee.
Epic in Character
Carlos Baker maintains that the structure of the book is epic-an epic of modern times. In the opinion of this critic the novel reaches epic proportions for the seriousness of its conception and execution. The language of the various speakers has a quaint touch about it ; almost Elizabethan in its ring. It is an intentionally heightened language which is quite appropriate to the function to which it has been put. The implications of what is written are much more than what meets the eye. In the visible part the past and the present meet and look forward to the future. The past is present in the present and the future can be seen in the present. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a tragic epic, not unlike the Iliad and “Madrid, like Troy, was fated to fall.” Elaborating his point Baker adds :
                Despite the obvious gap between Spain and Ilium, the student of epic may find part of his answer in considering the Homeric parallel. A primitive setting, simple food and wine, the care and use of weapons, the sense of imminent danger, the emphasis on masculine prowess, the presence of varying degrees of courage and cowardice, the rude barbarism on both sides, the operation of certain religious and magical superstitions, the warrior codes––these, surely, are common ties between the two sets of protagonists. Jordan is not to be scorned as the type of, Achilles, and one can recognize in Pablo the rude outlines of debased and sulking Ajax. Pilar the gypsy, though she reads the life line in Jordan’s palm instead of consulting the shape and colour of animals’ entrails, makes the consciousness of the supernatural an operative factor.
As if these were not enough to establish the novel as a modern epic Hemingway seems to have added a few more details to complete the picture. The Fascists’ planes––what Hemingway has elsewhere called mechanized doom––come in threes. They are compared to sharks that are ruthless in their hunt. Pilar is a half-witch, half-woman who predicts Jordan’s death almost infallibly. Her prediction hovers over the book like an evil spirit. Jordan tries to keep it out of his mind but he cannot. Maria confirms it when she comes to Jordan’s bag for the last time. Golz’s despair is evident in his outburst when Jordan asks for the exact time of the attack. In this picture of Nada––nothingness––Jordan and Anselmo are veritable islands of hope for the Republic.

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