Major Spoilers Ahead
For Whom the Bell Tolls
By Ernest Hemingway
"No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends of of thine owne were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
Robert Jordan: an American dynamiter volunteering on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War.
Maria: a young girl who was raped by the Fascists.
Pilar: Pablo's wife, a strong, feisty woman who leads a small group of guerrilla fighters in the mountains.
Pablo: the recognized leader of the guerilla fighters, he is something of a coward, not trustworthy, and loves horses.
Anselmo: a member of the band of fighters who enjoys hunting but hates killing people.
El Sordo: The leader of a nearby group of guerilla fighters.
Other members of the band:
Andre: Eladio's younger brother.
Rafael: a gypsy, regarded as lazy and useless.
Setting: during the Spanish Civil War. All of the characters listed above are on the side of the Republicans, who were fighting the Fascists. The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939, ending with the victory of the Fascists.
For Whom the Bell Tolls is about Robert Jordan's mission to blow up a bridge in Fascist territory with the help of a group of guerilla fighters who are living in the mountains nearby. Upon arriving in the mountains and meeting the group, Robert Jordan immediately falls in love with Maria and realizes the Pablo is not trustworthy. The nearby band, headed by El Sordo, will help with the operation.
However, things go wrong when El Sordo's band is discovered by the Fascists after an episode of snowfall works to their disadvantage and exposes their tracks. They are trapped on a hill and all killed. Pablo's band wants to help them, but they know it would be impossible to do any good.
After this, Robert Jordan becomes concerned for the outcome of the operation because they are short on people and it is likely the Fascists know that the Republicans will be launching a surprise attack. Robert Jordan sends Andre with a message to someone who might be able to call off the operation, but he is delayed by too many things.
In the night before the day the bridge will be blown, Pilar wakes Robert Jordan and tells him Pablo has disappeared, and he has stolen something of Robert Jordan's, which turns out to be important to the success of the bridge. Pablo had declared earlier that the mission would not be successful, and Robert Jordan is afraid he will be right. However, Pablo comes back several hours later, claiming he had left in "a moment of weakness". While he had thrown the things he stole in a river, he also picked up a group of fighters to fill in for those who were killed.
The bridge is blown up after the Republicans drop the first bombs on the Fascists and actual exploding goes well, but Anselmo is killed by a piece of the bridge. Some of the people with Pilar were killed by Fascists, and Pablo claims all of his group was killed. Agustin angrily claims he shot them all for their horses. Pablo ignores him, but this seems to be a likely possibility.
As the band escapes on horseback through the woods, a Fascist shoots the horse Robert Jordan is riding. Robert Jordan's leg is broken and he knows he must remain behind while the band goes on. He thinks he could kill himself, but decides to try and shoot some Fascists before he dies, which is inevitable. The novel ends with Robert Jordan about to shoot a Fascist lieutenant and be killed in turn.
The story illustrates how Robert Jordan begins his mission as a stoic, rational, and somewhat cold man, but, because of his love for Maria, he lives his life in the three days he spends with the band and dies in harmony with himself and his surroundings. He finally loves someone enough to think of them during a battle, which represents the rational and emotional sides of his nature coming together. Although the end may come as a surprise to some (it did to me), most of the characters sense or know that Robert Jordan will die, even himself, and especially Pilar.
I enjoyed this book a great deal. The entire book takes place over the course of only three or four days and supplies a detailed description of what happens, as well as numerous flashbacks, one of which reveals that Robert Jordan's father killed himself. The only thing that could be distracting is the dialogue, which is written as if it were a direct translation from Spanish. All though it makes you feel as if the characters are truly speaking a foreign language, it results in phrases such as "I obscenity in thy milk". Considered one of Hemingway's best works and based on his own experiences during the Spanish Civil War, it is full of realistic and somewhat graphic depictions of war. All in all, I would give this book four out of five stars and will probably be looking for something else to read by Hemingway in the future.
In a last analysis, I would probably give this book 5/5 stars. And also, I think I am glad it was not graded.