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Critical Essay on for Whom the Bell Tolls

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Essay title: Critical Essay on for Whom the Bell Tolls

It takes a very talented writer to bring a work of fiction to life. Every single detail must have some minimal degree of appropriateness for the author to include it in his work, and this is especially true for Ernest Hemingway in the case of For Whom the Bell Tolls. The most prevailing theme in the novel is the loss of innocence in war, which, at some point during the story, happens to every character. Hence it is not surprising that For Whom the Bell Tolls is rich in imagery, motifs, and symbolism. Using these literary devices Hemingway paints a clear picture of humanity, and doing so unmasks the true nature of man; men are easily corrupted and are capable of doing evil without feeling guilt. Death is very abundant throughout the novel. Hemingway writes of normal men being corrupted by both their values and those of their enemies and being driven to kill another man, a brother, to defend an ideal. Dignity, an attribute that is scarcely present in the novel, separates the hero, Robert Jordan, from the rest of the characters. It is with dignity, his tragic flaw, that Jordan is able to triumph over his conflict, even though this means death. Yet another symbol that Hemingway employs is the motif of technology. The presence of planes, tanks, and machine guns reminds us that the mechanical hand of man has crushed the classic art of war. Mankind’s loss of dignity, the frequent event of death, and the recurrence of technology all help Hemingway illustrate mankind’s true face.

Being a war novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls embraces death. The fact that the story takes place in a civil war contributes so much to the significance of fate, and with this Hemingway helps himself in emphasizing the loss of innocence during war. A war between men of the same colours is much more powerful than a war between those who would see their enemies’ colour smeared with blood. Perhaps Hemingway was trying to embellish the presence of death in the novel by making Jordan so comfortable with killing a man. However the difference between Jordan and another character such as Anselmo is that Anselmo finds it hard to justify killing another man. Although Jordan does have to deal with the guilt of taking the lives of many men in the line of duty, he tends not to dwell on it, probably because he finds it less productive. This recurring image of death demonstrates Hemingway’s ability to cater to the reader’s mind, and also gives more life to the characters of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway’s passionate writing emphasizes the loss of innocence in war. In the novel, the most direct and focused reference to death comes when Pilar recounts for Robert Jordan the Republican’s executions of the Fascists at Pablo’s village. The brutal violence that is recounted brings us to the question: just what does justify the killing of another man, if anything? A response to this question is not clearly indicated in the novel; it is the topic of discussion many times between the Spanish members of the guerilla unit. Several characters, such as Andrйs, Rafael, and Jordan explain a certain rush of adrenaline that comes only from killing a man. Ultimately, death brings out the darker side of man more than anything else in the novel.

Many of Hemingway’s protagonists follow a somewhat specific archetype, one in which the hero must face fear alone with a growing sense of hopelessness in mankind. This character becomes a hero when he accepts his fate with dignity. Robert Jordan does just that. Jordan achieves dignity through an expression of communal good, a fulfillment explained by the John Donne poem at the very beginning of the novel. It reads, “No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine;… any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Hemingway included this poem because it explains Jordan’s motivation to face his end with dignity. However, this dignity is not something that follows Jordan throughout his journey. He achieves it close to the end of the novel when he delays death to stall the Fascists. In the novel, Hemingway uses Jordan to stress the loss of dignity in men and how their hearts are easily corrupted. One of Hemingway’s other well-known novels, Death in the Afternoon, reveals one of the dogmas of the code hero, that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after. This tenet offers some insight into Jordan’s state of mind throughout the novel. For example, Jordan’s comfort in killing a man might lead one to believe that he is a man who does not have a strong set of morals, but if killing a man is something that Jordan does not seem to feel bad after, then it can be considered moral.

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