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BOOK REVIEW – ERNEST HEMMINGWAY – FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS 1940 Penguin.

 

Hemmingway’s excellent book about a doomed American, Robert Jordan, serving in the International Brigades with the anti-fascists during the Spanish Civil War, as Hemmingway did himself.

 

John Donne draws the title from a prose poem Meditation XVII" of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. The line reads . “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” 

 

Jordan is an explosives expert, assigned to a dangerous mission to blow up a bridge held in enemy hands as a major part of a concentrated attack on the town of Segovia. Pablo, who becomes increasingly hesitant and indecisive, leads the Guerrilla band. He is increasingly disillusioned by the way the war is going. Jordan is troubled by Pablo, and also distracted by the fact that he is falling in love with Pablo’s gypsy daughter, Maria.

 

The mission is a suicide one, so everyone prepares to face what he or she take as an inevitable doom – hence the title. Like everyone, Jordan fears capture more than death – he would rather kill himself than be tortured into betraying the cause. The narration devise is mostly concerned with what characters think as their impending death comes closer. There is even a brief look into the minds of two fascist soldiers just before Jordan kills them.

 

The little band dread enemy aircraft, which they cannot fight – they can only run, hide or die from them. Hemmingway writes a lot about the increasing mechanization of war, with the guns and bombs doing the work, and reducing men to brutes who are just needed to push a button or pull a trigger.

 

The book, written with America soon to enter an ongoing European war against the Fascists is very powerful – the theme of suicide is more poignant given that the author took his own life too. An Oscar winning film version was made in 1943, with Gary Cooper as Jordan and Ingrid Bergman playing Maria.

 

© Copyright. Arthur Chappell

                                   

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