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A NEGATIVE VIEW
Hemingway's novel is Tolstoyan in scope but rarely in achievement. But it has many merits, and even its defects are generally interesting... Yet the novel falls considerably short of greatness. To some extent, Hemingway's failure in his longest, most densely populated novel is stylistic, but far more serious are his distortions of the experience he describes. Together these technical and thematic flaws confuse and mislead the reader and, at last, diminish the novel.
Arthur Waldhorn, A Reader's Guide to Hemingway, 1972
A POSITIVE VIEW
The result is a novel that is complex, meaningful, and as close to aesthetic perfection as Hemingway could make it. For Whom the Bell Tolls... stands somewhat in relation to Hemingway's other works as Moby Dick does to the rest of Melville's work. And, like Moby Dick, it is true enough to stand continued reinterpretation....
The skill with which this novel was for the most part written demonstrated that Hemingway's talent was once again intact and formidable. None of his books had evoked more richly the life of the senses, had shown a truer sense of plotting, or provided more fully living secondary characters, or livelier dialog.
Delbert E. Wylder, Hemingway's Heroes, 1969
ON THE BRIDGE IN FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
The brilliance of execution becomes apparent when the reader stands in imagination on the flooring of the bridge and looks in any direction. He will see his horizons lifting by degrees towards a circumference far beyond the Guadarrama mountains. For the guerrillas' central task, the blowing of the bridge, is only one phase of a larger operation which Hemingway once called "the greatest holding action in history." Since the battle strategy which requires the bridge to be destroyed is early made available to the reader, he has no difficulty in seeing its relation to the next circle outside, where a republican division under General Golz prepares for an attack. The general's attack, in turn, is enough to suggest the outlines of the whole civil war, while the Heinkel bombers and Fiat pursuit planes which cut across the circle- foreign shadows over the Spanish earth- extend our grasp one more circle outwards to the trans-European aspect of the struggle. The outermost ring of the circle is nothing less than the great globe itself. Once the Spanish holding operation is over, the wheel of fire will encompass the earth. The bridge, therefore- such is the structural achievement of this novel- becomes the hub on which the "future of the human race can turn."
Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, 1963
ON SEX AND LOVE IN THE NOVEL
It is not surprising that sex becomes more dominant the deeper one gets beneath the outer political surface of the novel, since it is the sexual experience with Maria that is the basis of Jordan's mystical experience.
Delbert E. Wylder, Hemingway's Heroes, 1969
The nadir [of For Whom the Bell Tolls] is the love scenes. Possibly it is these that set up initial hostility to the book in some critics. These scenes fail because Hemingway not only breaks but reverses a principle that served him so well in earlier works: to undercut anything to do with romantic love so sharply that even the possibility of sentimentality is extinguished.
Wirt Williams, The Tragic Art of Ernest Hemingway, 1981
ON THE NOVEL AND THE SPANISH PEOPLE
Devoted to the Loyalist cause, Hemingway remains sufficiently the objective artist to delineate the human faults of what the left-wing propagandists wished to see presented as an incorrupt and shining chivalry. For Whom the Bell Tolls is not propaganda but art, and like all art it promotes a complex, even ambivalent, attachment to its subject. The book taught thousands to love or hate Spain, but it could not leave them indifferent to the land, its people, its history.
Anthony Burgess, Ernest Hemingway and His World, 1978
I myself was fascinated by the book and felt it to be honest in so far as it renders Hemingway's real vision. And yet I find myself awkwardly alone in the conviction that, as a novel about Spaniards and their war, it is unreal and, in the last analysis, deeply untruthful.
Arturo Barea (Spanish novelist) in Horizon, 1941
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts