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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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To understand the first three chapters and the rest of the book, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the Spanish Civil War that serves as the background setting for the novel. General Franciso Franco is the leader of the Spanish fascist party and is fully supported by Mussolini of Italy and Hitler of Germany. In fact, Mussolini has sent about 70,000 ground troops to aid Franco, and Germany has provided planes, pilots, arms, and technicians. In opposition to the fascist forces, Russia has sent weapons and advisors to support the Loyalists or Republicans. In addition, many young men from the United States, such as Robert Jordan, have joined the Loyalists in defense of democratic ideals.

In the first chapter, it becomes obvious that Robert Jordan is in Spain fighting for the Republican cause. He has taken his orders to blow up the bridge from General Golz, a Russian, who is using the Spanish Civil War as a testing ground for his own leadership. Since the troops are not his own, he seems willing to take greater risks. He insists to Jordan that he blow up the bridge after a daylight attack has commenced. As a result, the mission is much more dangerous than normal. It is not surprising that Jordan is very uncomfortable with his orders, as evidenced in his flashback to General Golz.

Jordan's mission is made even more dangerous by the fact that the fascist enemy is extremely strong. The disillusioned Pablo tells him, "You do not realize how strong they are. I see them always stronger, always better armed. Always with more material." In addition, Jordan instinctively knows that Pablo cannot be trusted since he is totally disenchanted with the war and fully resentful of Jordan's presence. It is no wonder that Jordan is unnerved by Pablo's challenge: "What right have you, a foreigner, to come to me and tell me what I must do?"

By the end of the first chapter, the reader is familiar with three of the key characters in the novel: Jordan, Anselmo, and Pablo. Each of them is introduced both physically and emotionally. All three suffer from some level of disillusionment about the war. Pablo is obviously the most discontent. He simply would like to be left alone to live in peace and raise his horses; he strongly resents Jordan's intrusion into the war and his life. Anselmo, although verbally devoted to the cause, openly admits that he feels that it is a sin to kill another man because of the war. Even Jordan himself questions the motives and methods of General Golz. Moreover, he has an almost mystical fear about his mission and sees signs foreshadowing a negative outcome.

In the second chapter, the two main female characters are introduced: Maria and Pilar. Their lives are interwoven by the fact that Maria has been rescued from the enemy by the guerilla band, and Pilar, who is Pablo's woman, has watched over Maria's rescue and her subsequent recovery. Protective of the younger woman, Pilar warns Jordan, who is obviously attracted to Maria, that he must treat her gently, for the girl has been traumatized by her experiences. Jordan assures Pilar that Maria will be in good hands with him. He then proceeds to fall in love with Maria, which causes him to change his feelings about the war. Wanting to spend the rest of his life with her, he is no longer so willing to sacrifice his life to the Republican cause.

Chapter three centers on the inhumanity of war. Jordan and Anselmo discuss whether it is morally wrong to kill a man during fighting. Anselmo clearly states that he thinks it is a sin that must later be atoned. His claim is ironic since he indicates that he is an agnostic. He tells Jordan, "If there were God, never would He have permitted what I have seen with my eyes." Up until this conversation, Jordan has convinced himself that this civil war is being fought for the good of the common people. Now he is forced to face the fact that the common people, including himself, are at risk of being killed to satisfy the political and military desires of the leaders.

Besides the theme of disillusionment about war, the theme of superstition is also presented in these first chapters. Jordan thinks that the fact that he has forgotten the name of Anselmo is a bad sign. He also "senses" a sadness in Pablo, which he believes is an indication of his future betrayal. When Pilar reads Jordan's palm, she stops midway, as if she sees something terrible there. When Jordan questions her about it, she refuses to answer him. These negative, superstitious signs add to the gloomy mood of the novel. The only relief from the gloominess comes from Agustin, who is serving as the guerilla guard. When he stops Anselmo and Jordan as they approach Pablo's cave, he is humorous in his conversation. Although a war rages in the background, he ironically states that he is "dying with boredom." His attitude of boredom with the war is similar to that of the other guerillas and foreshadows Jordan's own boredom with the cause.

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