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Free Study Guide-For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway-BookNotes
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CHAPTERS 38 - 43


The last section of the book is very gloomy. Chapter 38 begins on a negative note, for Jordan admits to himself that the chances of the mission being a success are slim. When Pablo steals some of the equipment and deserts the cause, the whole operation becomes even more hopeless than before. Jordan curses himself for trusting the guerilla leader and risking the lives of the others. Even the optimistic Pilar tells Fernando, "Be careful where you spit . . . it may be some place you will not be leaving."

Hemingway masterfully interweaves the frustration of Jordan with that of Andres, who is still trying to reach General Golz to deliver Jordan's message. The progress is extremely slow, largely hampered by soldiers and officers of the Republican army. It is ironic that the disorganization and lack of logic that Andres encounters are the things that contribute to the tragic end of Jordan's mission. If Jordan had been allowed to conduct his mission at night under ordinary circumstances, the outcome could have been very different.

Matters temporarily improve for Jordan when Pablo returns, pledging his support to the mission. He informs Jordan that he has even brought additional men from other guerilla bands to help in the operation. It is his way of making up for having deserted the cause and destroying some of the equipment.

In spite of Pablo's return, Jordan is still very nervous about the destruction of the bridge and their attempt to escape afterwards. His restlessness is apparent by his constant repetition of instruction. He keeps reminding the members of the guerilla band not to commence the attack until they hear Republican bombardment, indicating the start of the offensive. In spite of his nervousness, Jordan never questions his ability to destroy the bridge. He knows he is a competent explosives expert, and even though Pablo has destroyed some of his key equipment, the bridge will be blown. Jordan's fear is that he and the others will not be able to escape after the bridge is destroyed, for it will be daylight and the fascists will have been alerted by the attack. He feels very guilty that he will probably not be able to save the others.

It is very hard for Jordan to say goodbye to Maria, for he is uncertain that he will ever see her again, even though he would like to spend the rest of his life with her. He is surprised at his own emotions and sentimentality. It reminds him of his childhood when his father would become emotional when he left for school. Jordan then felt embarrassed by his father's sentimentality; now he is ironically embarrassed by his own.

When Jordan and Anselmo take their posts at the bridge, Jordan tells the old man to be courageous and to fire at the enemy. Since he knows Anselmo's feelings about killing another human being, even if it is an enemy, Jordan kindly 'orders' him to shoot, for carrying out orders should not weigh as heavily on the old man's conscience.

It is ironic that as Anselmo and Jordan wait at the bridge for the offensive to begin, Andres and Gomez are still trying to reach General Golz in order to try and stop the offensive. The true insanity of the entire operation is depicted in the character of Comrade Marty, an eccentric Republican who has literally gone insane because his ambitions have been thwarted. He further delays Andres' progress by threatening to have both men arrested. By the time that Andres finally reaches the headquarters of Golz, the offensive at the bridge has already begun.

When the scene switches back to Jordan, the action of the operation is in progress. Having heard the start of the Republican bombardment, Jordan prepares to shoot the sentry guarding the bridge. Before he pulls the trigger to kill the guard, he thinks that he is just another human being like himself. After the sentry is dead, Jordan regrets that he had to kill him. In spite of his feelings, Jordan never hesitates to do his duty and fire the deadly shot. He is, after all, the Hemingway code hero.

Throughout this key section, Hemingway uses several ironies and symbols. The sentry at the bridge comes out of his box when the bombing starts, and "the sun shone bright on him through trees." A moment later, he lies dark and dead on the bridge. Anselmo is the one chosen to detonate the grenades to blow the bridge. In faithfully carrying out his duties, he looses his own life. Ironically, if Pablo had not stolen the detonator, Anselmo's life would have been spared. At the end of the book, the injured Jordan is lying in the "shade" of a tree, waiting for the enemy to approach. His life will soon be lost. Maria, however, waits with him, and the sun shines on her. Jordan also lets his love shine on her, for he convinces her to save herself so his mission will seem worthwhile.

In the end, Jordan proves that he is a true Hemingway code hero. Having been injured by the fascists and unable to escape with the others, he still shows his bravery. He insists that they leave him behind and hurry on their way. He promises to shower gunfire on the approaching fascists, giving the guerilla band more time to escape. When Agustin offers to shoot him so he will not have to face the enemy, Jordan declines the offer. He will face death bravely and attempt to aid those whose lives he has endangered. He is a perfect picture of Hemingway's philosophy of "grace under pressure." He is at his best when the going is the toughest.

The book intentionally ends on a vague note. Jordan hides behind a tree and waits for the fascists to approach so that he can open fire. Death is certainly around the corner for him, but Hemingway spares the reader from any detail about it, allowing him to use his imagination about the manner in which Jordan is killed. It is a very effective ending for a well-written novel.

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