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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father was a doctor, and his mother was musically trained. He inherited his passion for vigorous activities, such as fishing, shooting, bullfighting, and hunting, from his father. From his mother, he acquired a quick, observant eye and a sensitive mind.

Even as a young man, Hemingway believed in living life dangerously. He is supposed to have lied about his age in order to join the army during World War I. He was rejected because he had an injured eye. Concealing his disappointment, he went to Kansas City to work as a cub reporter for The Star. His stint as a journalist gave Hemingway the first guidelines to writing: short sentences, short paragraphs, vigorous language, and a positive attitude. All these qualities went into the making of a simple yet effective style, which was later to win the Nobel Prize for him.

After working for seven restless months on the newspaper, Hemingway left for Italy to become an ambulance driver. During his stay in Italy, he was severely wounded and sent home in 1919. In 1920, Hemingway covered the Greco-Turkish conflict as a reporter on The Toronto Star. His fame as a journalist grew, but his heart was in creative writing and not mere reporting. He went to Paris and began his literary life under the guidance of noted American writers, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

Hemingway's first novel, The Sun Also Rises, brought him widespread recognition and acceptance. In 1929, he published A Farewell to Arms, which reinforced his position as one of the finest writers of modern American fiction. Other novels, such as Death in the Afternoon and Green Hills of Africa, furthered his reputation. During the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway again served as a journalist to cover the fighting; his experiences in Spain form the subject of his masterpiece, For Whom The Bell Tolls (1940). Hemingway also covered World War II as a war correspondent.

Personally Hemingway led a very colorful life. He was married four times. Twice in his life, he escaped near death. The first time was during World War I, and the second time was in 1954, when his plane crashed in Kenya. For awhile, he lived in Cuba, but left the country at the time of the Castro Revolution. When his health began to deteriorate, he was miserable, for he believed in an active and strenuous lifestyle. As a result, he shot himself in 1961.

Hemingway's talent as a writer won him several accolades. In 1953, he received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Old Man and the Sea. In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize. As a writer, he became known for his predominant them of "grace under pressure." This theme was clearly developed in the old man who fought the giant fish and killed it against all odds; it is also seen in the bullfighters, who risk their lives each time they enter the ring. It also characterized Hemingway's own life until the point that he felt he was no longer able to demonstrate grace under pressure.


The Spanish Civil War began with a military uprising on July 17- 18, 1936, and ended with the defeat of the Spanish Republic on March 28, 1939. Besides the military, the Nationalist side included conservatives from many parties and extreme rightists, such as the Carlists and the members of the Falange. On the Republican or Loyalist side were Republicans, Socialists, Communists, members of the CNT (the anarchist Confederation National del Trabajo), and the revolutionary Marxist POUM (Parti-do Obrero de Unification Marxista), the dissident faction of the Spanish Communist Party.

The Spanish Republic before 1936 had increasing difficulties. From 1931 to 1934, a reformist government alienated landowners, officers, and clergy. From 1934 to 1936, a conservative government repressed workers' rebellions. In 1936, a leftist popular front government threatened to bring about a social revolution.

The military uprising of 1936 began in Spanish Morocco and was led by General Francisco Franco. The insurgents then seized control of the agrarian provinces of Western Spain. By the end of July 1936, Spain was split in two. The leftist parties and labor unions succeeded in defending Madrid, but the Loyalists could not push the Nationalists back. As a result, the fighting turned into a stalemate during the winter of 1936-37.

During its first months, the war acquired international political and ideological significance. Within a year from the conflict's onset, Fascist Italy sent about 70,000 ground troops to aid the Nationalists, and Nazi Germany provided planes, pilots, arms, and technicians. In response, Russia sent weapons and advisors to the Republicans, and the Comintern organized thousands of liberals and leftists from fifty-three foreign countries, particularly from France, into Volunteer International Brigades, intent on fighting fascism.

The conflict in Spain symbolized the polarization of much of the western world into extreme left and right camps. Both sides engaged in mass arrests and executions in the name of anti- communism or anti-fascism, and the Civil War later came to be known as a dress rehearsal for World War II. Britain, France, and the United States, however, pursued a policy of nonintervention in the Civil War.

In 1937, the Nationalists scored some gains, taking Malaga in February and the Basque Provinces and Asturias by October. Madrid, however, held out. Meanwhile, the Loyalists, unlike their well-disciplined opponents under Franco's dictatorial rule, were beset by internal strife. In May 1937, anarchists and radical Marxists staged an abortive revolution in Barcelona, which was opposed by the Socialists and Communists. The Communists then led a drive to repress the ultra leftist elements.

Soviet supply shipments declined in 1938, giving the Nationalists a substantial military edge. After an unsuccessful drive into Valencia during the summer, Franco moved on Catalonia in the winter of 1938-39, and Barcelona was captured on January 26, 1939. Isolated in Madrid and Valencia, the Loyalists were sharply divided over whether to continue fighting. When Madrid fell to Franco's forces on March 28, 1939, the Civil War was over.

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