For Whom The Bell Tolls

For Whom The Bell Tolls is a war novel by Ernest Hemingway, based on his personal experience of the Spanish Civil War which he participated in as a reporter. I was taken aback by the language used and the counterfeit love story throughout the novel.

Fundamentally, the novel is written like a translation as discussed previously in class. The obscure phrases that Hemingway uses as an attempt to make the novel seem like a translation did not work for me. For example, during a conversation between the gypsy and Robert Jordan the gypsy asks why Pablo wasn’t killed, to which Robert responds, “I thought it might molest you others or the woman” (34). The word molest (molestar) in the Spanish language translates in English as “to bother” as opposed to the English word which generally is understood as sexual abuse. Despite the attempts to bring the “Spanishness” to the novel, I believe it disrupts the flow of the plot and can seem pretentious for the native English speakers who may not have a full grasp of the Spanish language. Also, during the scene where Maria and Robert Jordan is copulating, there is extreme repetition of the word “nowhere” which I did not enjoy.

“For him it was a dark passage which led to nowhere, then to nowhere, then again to nowhere, once again to nowhere, always and forever to nowhere, heavy on the elbows in the earth to nowhere, dark, never any end to nowhere, hung on all time always to unknowing nowhere, this time and again for always to nowhere, now not to be borne once again always and to nowhere, now beyond all bearing up, up, up and into nowhere, suddenly, scaldingly, holdingly all nowhere gone and time absolutely still and they were both there, time having stopped and he felt the earth move out and away from under them” (88).

The novel also attempts to present itself as a romance novel, which I argue it has failed also. Given the circumstances that it was a civil war, there is a dramatic element that paints any form of romance be it an affair or not as a beautiful love story. However, the sudden escalation of the romance between Maria and Robert Jordan and the scene in which they fornicate does not appear to be very logical. I’m no feminist, but the classic scene of a military man and a poor woman is a theme too familiar in literature and looked as if Hemingway was objectifying the woman, projecting his insecurities he faced in his life. The dramatic farewell between Maria and Robert Jordan was also seemed far-fetched.

All in all, I was not too impressed with the novel as it failed to reach its objectives. I also don’t believe it gives a fair assessment of the Spanish Civil War other than the desperate environment Spain was in. It was presented merely as a backdrop to the love story.

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