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Robert Jordan is the protagonist of the novel. Fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, he accepts a mission to destroy a bridge in the Sierra Mountains. Since the bridge cannot be destroyed until after an attack on the enemy begins, it is a highly risky mission. Initially Jordan is dedicated and determined to carry out his orders; but somewhere along the line, he becomes disenchanted with the war. He even questions the correctness of his mission after he kills a fascist cavalryman and falls in love with Maria.
Robert Jordan must fight both external and internal antagonists. The external conflict, caused by the war in which he is fighting, is the dangerous assignment he has been given, which could cost him his life. He must blow up the bridge only after an attack on the enemy has begun; as a result, it must be accomplished in daylight, making his escape more difficult. His task is made worse by the lack of cooperation he receives from Pablo and his guerilla band, which has been assigned to support him, and by the fact that the fascists have learned about the planned offensive against them, guaranteeing a counter-offensive. Jordan must also fight against his own emotions. Although he is very enthusiastic at the beginning of his assignment, he becomes weary and disenchanted with the entire war effort during the course of the novel. He longs to settle down to a peaceful existence with Maria.
When Jordan tries to escape on horseback after he has blown up the bridge, the fascist cavalry starts firing at him from behind. When he falls and breaks his leg, it is the turning point of the plot. One moment Jordan is trying to escape to a future with Maria, and the next moment he is lying seriously injured on the ground. The tragic ending of the novel is clear at this moment.
The outcome of the novel is a tragedy, with Jordan lying on the ground in the forest, waiting for either the enemy or death, whichever reaches him first. He pleads with Maria to leave him so that at least one of them survives. Although his dreams are destroyed and death is eminent, he displays the typical Hemingway grace under pressure, accepting his end in a noble way and trying to help the others to escape the enemy.
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Robert Jordan, an American expert in dynamite, is fighting for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War. A Russian officer, General Golz, sends him on a dangerous mission to destroy an important bridge in the Sierra Mountains. Anselmo, an old Spaniard, guides Jordan through the enemy lines to see the bridge, which is guarded by fascists at both ends, and to meet a guerilla band, which is to aid him in his mission.
The head of the guerilla band is Pablo, a sullen and uncooperative man, who hides out with his men in a cave. From the beginning, he thinks of Jordan as an alien and fears that he has really come to displace his band from the mountains. He becomes further concerned when he learns from Jordan that Kashkin, Jordan's predecessor who had helped to blow up an enemy train, is not dead.
When the men sit down to eat and drink wine, Maria enters, bringing food. She is a Spanish girl, who was rescued by the guerilla band after the train incident. Jordan is instantly attracted to her. Jordan also meets Pilar, Pablo's woman, who fights with the band. She encourages Jordan to pursue a courtship with Maria, but she warns him to take care of her, for Maria has undergone tremendous trauma.
Jordan and Anselmo leave to inspect the bridge. Jordan sketches it and takes notes about the best way to place the explosives. On the way back to the cave, the two men discuss war. Anselmo believes it a sin to kill, even in war, but he says he will do it for the cause. Jordan says he is also fully prepared to kill the enemy. Near the cave, Agustin, who is serving as guard, challenges their approach. When he learns their identities, he warns Jordan to protect his explosives from Pablo.
A hush descends on the cave as Jordan enters, indicating that the band of guerillas has been talking about him. Pablo addresses Jordan and voices his disapproval of the mission. Pilar, however, interrupts to say that she supports the demolition of the bridge. Pablo sullenly departs the cave to go out and tend his horses. As Jordan follows Pablo, Rafael stops him and tells him he should kill Pablo.
Back in the cave, Pilar is disturbed that El Sordo, another guerilla leader, has not put in an appearance. They make a plan to go and visit him the next day. When everyone adjourns for the night, Maria comes and joins Jordan. The sound of fascist airplanes wakes them in the morning. When Jordan gets up and goes into the cave, he hears Pilar asking Fernando what news he has brought from La Granja. Fernando says that there is talk about the Republican offensive. This news upsets Jordan, for the planned attack should have remained confidential. If everyone knows about it, the fascists are sure to be planning a counter-offensive.
Pilar, Maria, and Jordan leave for Sordo's camp. Along the way, Pilar recounts incidents from the past. She talks about the massacre of fascists in Anila, the town from which Pablo has come. When they arrive at Sordo's cave, he greets them and offers Jordan whiskey. In the course of their discussion, both Sordo and Jordan agree that night would be a better time to attack the enemy and blow up the bridge; unfortunately, their orders do not permit it. As they discuss the planned daytime attack, Jordan and Sordo realize they do not have enough horses for the mission. Sordo volunteers to steal some after Jordan departs.
Returning to the area of Pablo's cave, Jordan goes to find Anselmo, who has been left behind as a guard and a spy on enemy movement. When he returns to the cave, he and Pablo get into another fight. After Pablo goes out, all the others encourage Jordan to kill him; but Pablo disarms them with politeness when he comes back, averting the crisis.
The next morning, Jordan awakes to the sound of an approaching cavalryman. Recognizing the uniform as fascist, he kills the man and orders the others to take their posts. When four other fascists come in range, Jordan prevents the men from firing, not wanting to provoke a confrontation. Before long they hear gunfire coming from the area of Sordo's camp. Sordo has been trapped on a hilltop under fire from fascist planes. The fascist leader, Lieutenant Berrendo, orders his men to cut off the heads of Sordo's band.
Anselmo later sees the headless bodies.
Since the fascists are taking the offensive, Jordan dispatches a note for General Golz, asking him to cancel the guerilla attack and destruction of the bridge. Hoping to receive a positive response the next day, he retires for the night with Maria, who tells him about her traumatic past. At two o'clock in the morning, Pilar awakes Jordan to inform him that his sacks of explosives have been slit open, and Pablo has departed. When Jordan goes to inspect his sacks, he finds that the exploder, detonators, fuse, and caps are missing. Pablo has also taken two horses with him. Jordan is appropriately enraged.
Jordan comes up with a plan to use some grenades as detonators. When she hears of the plan, Pilar bravely volunteers to take Pablo's place at the lower post. Suddenly Pablo returns and confesses that he has thrown the explosives in the river. As a conciliatory gesture, he has brought men from other bands to assist them in the attack on the fascists forces.
Andres, the messenger sent to Golz with Jordan's request, does not succeed in reaching him in time. As a result, the Republican planes take off and the shelling of the fascists begins. Pablo goes to his lower post and begins an attack. Jordan now has no choice but to commence his mission. He approaches the bridge and kills the sentry. He places the explosives on the bridge with Anselmo's help. By the time he finishes, he sees that the guerillas are retreating from the upper post and that Fernando is badly wounded.
Jordan hands to Anselmo the coil of wire coming out of one set of the explosives and signals him to pull on it. When the explosion occurs, the center of the bridge drops into the gorge, and Anselmo is killed. The remaining guerillas rush to the appointed place, where Maria is holding the horses. They quickly mount and gallop away as the fascists begin to fire. Jordan's horse is hit. He is thrown from the animal, crushing his left leg.
He is dragged to a spot away from the gunfire, but Jordan knows that death his eminent. He urges Maria to leave and save herself. As Maria, Pablo, and Pilar depart, Agustin offers to shoot Jordan, sparing him from capture or death from the fascist enemy, but Jordan refuses. He feels he may be able to slow down the enemy so that Maria can reach safety. As the book ends, Jordan waits with his gun for the fascist cavalry to come into range.