Sobre For Whom the Bell Tolls

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So far, my reading of this book (which happens to be my first Hemingway) has left me not only with so many mixed feelings, but also with a number of questions I can’t seem to answer for myself about the nature of the book as a whole.

Firstly, as I mentioned in class, I’ve really taken issue with Robert and Maria’s relationship. While their first encounter was more or less an affective experience for me, their second encounter in the heather, as it were, did not resonate with me at all. To be fair, I did appreciate the literary devices Hemingway used to portray such a scene and evoke a certain emotional response in his audience, but overall I felt the scene was overly melodramatic. Given the nature of the “relationship” and her not so distant traumatic past, I have a really hard time believing that such a thing would’ve happened in real life. And given that this is a historical novel (I would argue), I suppose I expected it to be more or less realistic in its portrayal of the human experience. In the case of Robert and Maria, however, I do not feel Hemingway delivered.

Secondly, I find myself still unsure of whether I identify with the protagonist. In the past, it has been sometimes very difficult for me to enjoy a book if I do not identify or sympathize with the protagonist. On the one hand, I’ve found I’ve enjoyed Robert Jordan’s inner monologue, for the most part, which doesn’t necessarily appear as much as other narrators we’ve read so far, but I’ve enjoyed it because to me it feels authentically human, something with which I can easily sympathize and experience a degree of affect from. On the other hand, however, I think I’ve struggled with his character because I can’t discern just how much Hemingway as an author speaks through Robert Jordan, if he does at all. Because we’ve spent a lot of class time discussing the concept of genre and what we as readers expect from not just different genres but different authors, especially when it comes to representations of a conflict as complicated as the Spanish Civil War, I think I’ve had a harder time separating what Robert Jordan says and thinks and feels to be true and right, and what Hemingway, the author who penned this character, says and thinks and feels to be true and right. However, also as I mentioned in class, I can’t help but wonder what I would’ve taken away from this book had I not read it in this particular classroom setting.

And finally, I just want to consider the epitaph again, by the poet John Donne: I’m not entirely sure I agree with the conclusion we drew in class the other day, regarding the meaninglessness (or not) of war and death. I don’t know why I didn’t speak up, but my impression of this short little passage wasn’t necessarily a negative one. To me, the notion that each individual death diminishes every other individual, and that therefore when the bell tolls, it doesn’t just toll for the dead, but every other individual (again, I could be misinterpreting his words), actually evoked a more positive, compassionate feeling in me as a reader. My first impression of those particular words was more hopeful, as if we are all in this together. It’s like my favorite Golden State Warrior said in the press conference after their ugly loss this evening, we win together, we lose together, it’s no one person’s fault. How can all of this amount to meaninglessness? Obviously, yes, I agree with Mauricio’s argument that there comes a certain point where a conflict becomes pointless because the losses are too great or the overall cause is lost. But isn’t it rather hopeful (and yes, perhaps blindly idealistic) to consider that we are all in this together and somehow, if we continue sticking together, we shall overcome? Or, at least, the deaths wouldn’t have been in vain because we fought for what we believe in?

I guess that’s my main personal conclusion from this book. It doesn’t do me any good in coming up with definitive answers to these sorts of questions. And it bothers me. But oh well, such is literature, I suppose.