‘This is a story of death rather than defeat. The certainty of death is examined’
For Whom the Bell Tolls is a brilliant story inspired from true events during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Of the guerrilla warfare between the fascist leader Franco and the Republican resistance. A story that bluntly accepts the horrors of life and one that sheds light on the sheer obstacles that people can overcome with purpose. It is a book that not only delivers a thrilling read, but also has an intense moral code that one can aspire to follow.
“The world is a fine place and worth fighting for and I hate very much to leave it.”
As the quote above expresses, For Whom the Bells Tolls maintains a tone that delivers simultaneously an inevitability of death, but also hope in the acts of kindness and humanity that is shown throughout.
Told in the wonderfully slick prose that employs both a refreshing authenticity in dialogue and also a realistic depiction of the human mind. Unlike so many other books I have read, For Whom the Bell Tolls projects the actual human beings caught in conflict. The characters face significant challenges and are faced with tribulations I can hardly imagine, yet the daily struggles and moments of joy and laughter are shown as well. It was this incorporation of even the most trivial of things that brought the story to life for me, and somehow made the story more tragic, depicting the continuity and normalisation of living always with the possibility of death lurking beyond.
The range of characters that Hemingway created was incredible. With many authors, you find that they have a specific type of character who stands above anyone else. Silk in The Belgariad, Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, and so on. But in this, Robert Jordon is the typical driven military man who won't allow himself to feel emotion, then encounters love. But the exploration of his mental tenacity take this common archetype, and makes him a brilliant protagonist. His willingness to sacrifice anything for what he believes to be a great cause is presented in such a humble manner that is just incredible. He is a character that will go down in my list of favourites perspectives ever. Alongside this, you have Pilar, the ageing woman, wise and fiery, brutal and loving. I expected the female characters to fit into stereotypes because of the context this was written and the little I know about Hemingway himself, but it was radical in that Pilar is one of the strongest female characters I have encountered in fiction in any genre. Again, her motivations and limitations were constructed so realistically, and that is what sets them apart from most other novels. I could go through a long list of the unique characters, but my point is that if you read this, you will come away feeling an intense connection with each and every person. That is Hemingway's quality as a writer.
“For what are we born if not to aid one another?”
Alongside the wonderful prose and characterisation, the plot was also brilliant. A series of twists and turns, of big and small events that expertly drove the pace forward at what I felt to be almost perfection. There were scenes that slow the pace down and really make you think as a reader, and then heart pounding moments that immersed me into the chaos taking place on page, from the skirmishes to moments of clarity and the times when all seems to have descended into failure.
Overall, I think you can tell, I loved this book. As with so much I have been reading recently, it is a completely new style and subject to what I am comfortable with. Yet it was easy to adapt to and something I will searching for far more of in the future. Hemingway presents ideas of love, anger, hatred, discrimination and determination in such nuanced ways that was genuinely moving. It inspired both heartwarming moments and those of anger from myself. As a reader, there isn't much more you can ask for.
“How little we know of what there is to know. I wish that I were going to live a long time instead of going to die today because I have learned much about life in these four days; more, I think than in all other time. I'd like to be an old man to really know. I wonder if you keep on learning or if there is only a certain amount each man can understand. I thought I knew so many things that I know nothing of. I wish there was more time.”