Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discuss Main Themes in For Whom the Bell Tolls/ The relevance of Donne’s Quotation to the main theme.

Hemingway's choice of a John Donne poem as the source of the novel's title and epigraph emphasizes a major theme of For Whom the Bell Tolls: "No man is an island," that is, no person can exist separate from the lives of others, even others living in far-away countries. The theme is demonstrated by the actions of Robert Jordan. Throughout his participation in the Spanish Civil War, he has fought actively for a cause of antifascism. As the novel progresses, his involvement with the guerrillas and his love for Maria, teach him the value of the individual as he or she affects a larger society.
He doesn’t believes in the abstract ideology which doesn’t represent people. For Jordan, Maria represents human love, the first he has ever known. It is for her that he stays behind to allow the rest of the band to escape, demonstrating his realization that others depend on him as he has depended on them. His decision not to commit suicide at the end of the novel represents his ultimate understanding that he must fight for the people whose lives are affected by the cause. Apart from the relationship of individual and society, death is another theme:

"his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest."
The main topic of the novel is death and violence as effected by war. When Robert Jordan is given the mission to blow up the bridge, he knows that he will not survive it. Pablo also knows that it will lead to their deaths. El Sordo faces that inevitability also. Almost all of the main characters in the book contemplate their own deaths, and it is their reaction to the prospect of death, and what meaning they attach to death, especially in relation to the cause of the Republic, that defines them. Violence haunts the novel, death of Maria’s parents, Joaquin’s tragedy and above all, Robert Jordan awaits his death feeling his heat beating on the floor of Spanish land at the end. The war has affected the lives of people physically as in Maria who loses her physical innocence when she is raped by Fascist soldiers and also psychologically as  the changed behaviours  of characters like Anselmo who has to suppress his aversion to killing human beings, and Lieutenant Berrendo to quell his aversion to cutting heads off of corpses.  War even costs the innocence of people who aren’t involved in it directly as War journalists, writers, and we as readers who abandon innocent expectation. In war, Hemingway shows that morality is subjective and conditional, and that the sides of right and wrong are almost never clear-cut. All these conditions are resulted by fascism which Jordon calls ‘a lie told by rods’. Later, he talks of the threat of fascism in his country:

“…many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes”

Thus, salvation lies in romantic love which is another main them of the novel. Even though many of the characters in For Whom the Bell Tolls take a cynical view of human nature and feel fatigued by the war, the novel still holds out hope for romantic love. Even the worldly-wise Pilar, in her memories of Finito, reveals traces of a romantic outlook on the world. Robert Jordan and Maria fall in love at first sight, and their love is grand and idealistic. Love endows Robert Jordan’s life with new meaning and gives him new reasons to fight in the wake of the disillusionment he feels for the Republican cause. He believes in love despite the fact that other people like Karkov entertain “purely materialistic” outlook. Romantic love is one of the most important ways in which Robert Jordan rejects abstract theories in favor of intuition and action over the course of the novel. Loving her transports him from his intellectual world of ideology to the world of real-life relationships. Maria represents the love that humanizes Jordan, making possible his transition from a political partisan to one who recognizes the worth of the individual. For Maria, Jordan's love is the healing touch she needs to cure the psychic wounds and a moving spirit for Jordon as he declares:

“I have not found one [woman] that moved me as they say they should move you.”

The most important theme which is the integral part of Hemingway’s novel is heroism, especially code-heroism. To be a hero, Hemingway believes that a man must display grace under pressure. Most of his characters put themselves into dangerous situations and then act with remarkable bravery in the face of danger. Robert Jordan is no exception. During the novel, Robert Jordan becomes the true Hemingway Code Hero, displaying a penchant for action and grace under pressure. Even though he realizes the dangerous nature of his mission and questions the orders of General Golz to carry it out in daylight after the offensive has commenced, he never doubts his own ability to accomplish the task. Even after Pablo steals and destroys some of his key equipment, he does not run from the danger. Jordan more clearly displays grace under pressure after he has been injured by fascist gunfire. Paralyzed and unable to easily escape with the others, he insists upon being left behind with a gun. When Maria begs to stay with him, he convinces her to leave by telling her his mission will have been worthwhile if her life is saved. Thus unable to travel to safety, he faces death with bravery, firing his gun at the enemy to give the others time to get away. He exemplifies the Hemingway code because the code heroes also fight to the last bit as he stated:

"there is something you can do yet"

Finally, there are other themes in Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ ranging from the power of superstition and divination as in Pilar, suicide as in Jordon’s father, the Spanish War and its tragedy and hypocrisy and theme of solidarity as in Robert Jordon. Jordan laid down his life for a cause but the irony of the situation is that he couldn’t make a total commitment to his “cause” for the Fascists to be killed are, also human beings. “No man is an island”.  Thus the novel takes a pure ironical stand in the situation of Spanish War.

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Anonymous said...

i like it to some extance

Anonymous said...

some of this is copied from sparknotes, but generally pretty helpful

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