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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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Major Themes

Death and Disillusionment in War

The novel, as many of Hemingway's other works, deals with war. Since death is inevitable in the war effort, many of those fighting for the cause become disillusioned. They realize that the war does not really benefit the common man, even though the leaders insist that the war is being fought to protect them. From the time the book opens, Pablo, the guerilla leader is disenchanted with the war. He simply wants to be left alone to enjoy life. As the book progresses, the readers see Jordan and Anselmo also becoming disillusioned by the death and destruction that surrounds them.

Grace Under Pressure

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. Even though he has become disillusioned with the war effort and disagrees with the methodology of destroying the bridge, he carries out the mission flawlessly. After he blows up the bridge and is riding away to a new life with Maria, he is shot by the fascists who pursue them. When his horse is shot, he is thrown and injures his leg. Unable to travel to safety, he faces death with bravery, firing his gun at the enemy to give the others time to get away.

Minor Themes

The Power of Superstition

Throughout the novel, there are references to superstitions. In the very beginning, Robert Jordan sets the tone of the novel when he thinks it is a very bad sign that he has forgotten Anselmo's name. Although he claims several times in the book that he is not superstitious, his thoughts, words, and actions prove that he is always seeing "signs" about his fate. Although he is not openly superstitious like some of the Spaniards around him, he is influenced by the mystical.


A gloomy pall hangs over the novel from the first pages. A war rages in the background, and death is all around. Jordan has been sent to blow up a bridge under the most dangerous of circumstances. In the first pages of the book, he admits that he does not have a good feeling about the mission. When he meets Pablo, the guerilla leader who is to help him, things grow worse. Pablo is a sullen and disillusioned man who no longer cares about the war effort. He immediately dislikes Jordan, seeing him as a threat, and later deserts him for awhile. When Pilar reads Jordan's palm, she sees something negative that she is not willing to disclose. Then Jordan is forced to kill several men and, in turn, is injured himself. As the book ends, his death is eminent.

There are a few light moments in the novel when Jordan and Maria are together and plan for their future. They are also aware that there may not be a future for them because of the war. As a result, it seems that they are trying to live their entire lives in the little time that they have together. In the end, Jordan sends Maria away to safety as he is left to die alone.

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