Hemingway's magnificent novel has something for everyone: an action tale, an anti-war protest, a love story, subtle ironies, a magnificent short story within the novel, political criticism of communism and fascism, a philosophy of life, and beautiful descriptions of life that leave you gasping. You will learn a lot about yourself by considering which elements you notice most strongly. Reading For Whom the Bell Tolls is like holding up a mirror to your soul.
On the surface this is a book about 3 days and nights of war. But with the action packed into that time and extensive use of flashbacks, it becomes a tapestry of all humankind. After you start to notice the individual threads in the tapestry, be sure to step back and see the whole. For the remarkably balanced and connected artistry of the themes and directions in the story is what makes this book great.
If you are disturbed by descriptions of violence, brutality, and inhumanity, you will not enjoy this book.
Robert Jordan is an American who has joined the republican side of the Spanish civil war. In normal life, he teaches Spanish. Now, he is transformed into a demolitions expert who can blow up trains and bridges. With an offensive coming, he moves behind the fascist lines to join a guerilla group to blow a key bridge during an offensive that begins in 3 days. The rest of the story covers the action of preparing for and attacking the bridge. Along the way, you will become acquainted with the characters in the guerilla band as well as Jordan. Jordan will find himself moved in many ways to become more alive and fully connected than he has ever been before. He will experience the full range of human emotion and life within these 3 days.
If you don't know about the Spanish Civil War, you should be aware that it was the main warm-up for World War II. The fascists under Franco were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Hitler wanted to try out his new weapons and fine-tune tactical theory before attacking the rest of Europe. Communists from around the world flocked to the republic, as did pro-democracy volunteers. The republican forces had great popular support but had little war materiel and fought a losing campaign that created great anguish in the international community.
Civil wars are one of the worst forms of human conflict. Because the people are so much alike, they tend to behave with greater savagery towards one another. With modern weapons of mass destruction, the effects can be awful beginning with the American Civil War. Hemingway does a great job of showing the essential sameness of the forces on both sides in human terms, and takes away the meaning of their causes to show the greater importance of their humanity. The book reminds me in this aspect very much of All Quiet on the Western Front, the great ant-iwar novel about trench warfare in World War I.
As is usual with Hemingway, the writing is spare, effective, and graceful. Stylists will be delighted!
Why should you read this book today? You will probably not fight in a civil war. Or will you? For in fact, humans are as divided in their competitions as ever. They just normally don't involve bloodshed. There is great glory in the conflict, but even greater potential in their cooperation. Ask yourself about where you compete now and what could be accomplished if you focused on constructive cooperation instead. Think about this concerning your family, your love, your work, your hobbies, and your volunteer activities. Like the quote above, wherever there is one of us the other is present. If you start to represent each other's interests and connect with one another, the sum of mankind is greater and so is each person. You will also love life more!