The Portrayal of Masculinity in For Whom The Bell Tolls


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For Everyone the Bell Tolls

In his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway promotes his well-known philosophy about masculinity. He believes that humans should be brave and strong enough to cope with adversities, and that they should never allow weakness to reign their minds. To support his argument, he creates Robert Jordan, the perfect protagonist of the novel with much of intelligence and resolution. Jordan achieves his goal that is successfully blowing the bridge even though he loses part of his explosives. Because Hemingway constructs a compelling plot that justifies Jordan’s actions, the death and success of Jordan are noble and heroic. Jordan exhibits a strong belief in the cause. He sacrifices his love and friendships for the cause. Moreover, he manages to be graceful under pressure. Likewise, he maintains his practicality throughout the novel.

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Robert Jordan strongly believes in the cause which is to build a better Spain. He leaves behind his country and his teaching Spanish and comes to Spain to fight for the Communists. As a foreigner, he must feel excluded sometimes because the band keeps calling “Inglés,” not Comrade but “Inglés.” However, he still is willing to fight for the Republic because he loves Spain and feels the need to build a better Spain. The Communists appeal to him because they offer “the best discipline and the soundest and sanest for the prosecution of the war” and “the only party whose program and whose discipline he [can] respect” (163). He looks at this fighting as his duty, and he is only “instruments to do [his] duty” (43). Jordan idealizes his duty and puts himself under it: “He himself [is] nothing, and he [knows] death [is] nothing” (393). Winning the war is the only goal he wishes to achieve because he believes in the cause. He recognizes that his work brings “added danger and bad luck to people” who shelter him and work with him, and he resents it (162) though they volunteer to help him. However, he realizes these sacrifices will contribute to the success of the war. Once they win, there will be “no more danger”, and “the country should be a good place to live in” (162). Therefore, he still believes in the cause.

Robert Jordan dedicates himself to the war without knowing the result, which gives the death of Jordan nobility even though his work is futile. People who know the outcomes of the war may think Jordan’s putting the band and himself at risk is pointless because the Republic is going to lose. However, Jordan does not know the outcomes, and he acts as if “that bridge can be the point on which the future of the human race can turn” (43). He puts “many things in abeyance to win a war,” such as love and friendships (305). He disregards his own happiness for the better future of people in Spain. All of his strength is devoted to winning the war. Even when he knows the mission will fail, and they are likely to die because the attack is not a surprise any more, he still executes the mission:

Maybe it is only a holding attack. Maybe they want to draw those troops from somewhere else. Perhaps they make it to draw those planes from the North. Maybe that is what it is about. Perhaps it is not expected to succeed. (333)

He believes even the failure of his mission could contribute to the overall success of the war. Because Jordan sacrifices himself for the cause without knowing the outcomes of the war, he deserves to be praised and glorified as a hero.

Friendships and love are important to Robert Jordant, but he is willing to sacrifice them for the cause. The death of Anselmo causes his despair. He feels “lonely, detached and unrelated” (447). The old man is with him from the beginning of the mission and always supports him. Anselmo is honest and courageous and abhors killing human beings. He tells Jordan what he thinks deep down in his heart: “Such a barbarity is unthinkable” (40). To lose a friend like Anselmo, Jordan is sad and resents this misfortune. However, he still blows the bridge because for him, the cause is more important than his personal feelings. Moreover, he not only sacrifices friendships but also love. Jordan has never fallen in love until he meets Maria. His love for her does not affect his resolution, but he prefers “not to die;” because of her, he can “abandon a hero’s or a martyr’s end gladly,” and “he would like to spend a long, long time with her” (164). In his moments of trepidation before the attack, he even feels blessed with her love as if he were to die tomorrow (304). Maria now is a crucial part of his life: “In the last few days he [learns] that he himself, with another person, [can] be everything” (393). During the last minutes before he leaves her, he does not forget to ask Agustín to take care of her and to reassure her that as “long as there is one of [them] there is both of [them]” (304). He could have escaped with her. They could have run away and lived happily together in America. Nevertheless, he chooses his duty over love, and he blows the bridge although he knows they will likely die or be separated from each other. To Jordan, duty is regarded as more important than personal relationships.

Although the mission causes Robert Jordan anxiety and puts pressure on him, he is graceful. The freak snow is one of the troubles that Jordan overcomes. He did not expect there would be snow. Snowing makes the mission harder for him to execute. He proclaims to himself: “That’s too bloody much” (181). A battle of thoughts takes place in his mind, and finally self-abnegation wins. He tells himself: “You just have to take it and fight out of it and now stop prima-donnaing and accept the fact that it is snowing . . . Cut it out and take it” (181). He quickly composes himself and adjusts his plan. Self-abnegation is “the greatest gift that he [has], the talent that [fits] him for war [, and the] ability not to ignore but to despise whatever bad ending there [can] be”(393). Self-abnegation helps him stay graceful under pressure, and “what there is to do now is [his] work” (393). In the end, he is “shaking . . . like a Goddamn woman” (437), but he successfully blows the bridge with the grenades not with his explosives that Pablo throws into the river. He tells himself: “Come on Jordan, pull yourself together” (438). Jordan is pressured in executing his mission, but he still is graceful and manages to do it successfully.

Besides self-abnegation, another prominent character of Robert Jordan is practicality. He maintains it throughout the novel. In the beginning, he chooses to not kill Pablo after Pablo objects to and criticizes Jordan’s mission not because of morality but because of practicality. In his rationale, for “a stranger [like him] to kill where he must work with the people afterwards is very bad,” and it “would be ideal if [Pilar] would kill [Pablo]” (63). He supports killing Pablo but does not do it because he thinks it will cause him more difficulties. Similarly, during the attack of the Fascists on El Sordo’s band, Jordan does not permit his band to run over to aid El Sordo. All the bombing on El Sordo’s hill hurts Jordan, but he needs his band to stay because it “is impossible to divide what force [they] have” (296). He is practical because if they went there, they would die there, and the mission would fail. Therefore, he tells everyone to stay even though they are abandoning his comrades. In the end, because he feels the need to give the band more time to run, he tries to live though the injury so severely hurts him that he cannot “wait any longer now”. The hemorrhage afflicts him while he strives to think of the band riding far away:

Think about them being away, he said. Think about them going through the timber. Think about them crossing a creek. Think about them riding through the heather. Think about them going up the slope. Think about them O.K. tonight. Think about them travelling, all night. Think about them hiding up tomorrow. Think about them. God damn it, think about them. ‘That’s just as far as I can think about them’, he said. (470)

Thinking of them escaping safely gives him strength to hold on to life and somehow calms him down: “Now, finally and at last, there [is] no problem” (466). Jordan is practical until the last minutes of his life. He is hero who always cares for his people.

The death and success of Jordan are noble and heroic. His strong belief in the cause and his sacrifices give noble air to his actions even though they are futile. Jordan is an exemplar of Hemingway’s philosophy advocating masculinity and practicality. He is a human being that cherishes love and friendships, but he is willing to put his duty above his personal feelings. He executes his mission even though difficulties suddenly appear, and he acknowledges his mission will fail. However, he is in hopes that the failure will contribute to the overall success of the Republic. Therefore, he is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause.

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