For Whom the Bell Tolls: Theme Analysis

Average Overall Rating: 4.5
Total Votes: 268

Theme Analysis

Two-in-one
Hemingway's highly idealized two-people-in-one theme positions Maria and Jordan as two personalities in one entity. Before he found Maria, Jordan was a loner, did not fear death and killed without remorse. Maria was abused in prison and lived as a shell of a woman until she met Jordan. However, after they meet they heal each other. Jordan becomes less of an automaton and more of a human, as if he is coming out of a black and white world into one filled with color and wonder. In effect, he is spiritually healed. And, as Pilar fully realizes, a positive loving relationship with Jordan results in Maria's emotional healing. Thus, their unity heals them both and they come to feel as one being: "I will be thee when thou are not there," Maria states when they part. Hemingway the writer must find a way to convince readers that Jordan and Maria fall emotionally and spiritually in love instantly. After all, the novel's action occurs in three days. The proposition of total love at first sight, or the soul mate who makes one finally whole, accomplishes this.
However, feminist scholars harshly criticize Hemingway for his depiction of the character Maria who, they state, is much too sentimental. And, while Jordan states "it is better to be one and each one to be the one he is," Maria is the one who says "I would be thee because I love thee," and worries over growing out her hair to please him and learning English and American ways to become more of what he would desire in an American wife. Meanwhile, Jordan merely carries on with his plans and dreams of returning to Montana with her. In other words, Maria must change while he remains the same. However, on the other hand, it is Maria who carries on her life for both of them at the end.
Superstition vs. Rationalism
As the novel opens, Robert Jordan is a machine-like man who operates without much emotion as a volunteer for the Republican Cause against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War. He is logical and rational to an extreme in carrying out his missions as an explosives expert. However, after he encounters the highly superstitious Pilar, who reads omens in nature and everyday occurrences and who can even small death in others, he begins to consider that perhaps there is, after all, a supernatural power that coincides with sound scientific judgment. In chapter one he hears that Pilar can prophesy the future by reading palms, and he wonders what she would see if she examined his palm. In chapter two, she examines his palm but drops it quickly, as if burned, and answers "nothing," to his inquiry about what she saw.
It would seem then, that a logical man would dismiss this palm reading incident as an entertaining interlude, but the incident circulates in Jordan's mind throughout the novel. He knows on some level that Pilar saw his death-a short life, perhaps-and this realization makes him more aware of life. Indeed, perhaps it provides the catalyst for him to fall so deeply in love with Maria. After he falls in love, Jordan becomes much more spiritual. Indeed, the couple's love-making at times seems like a ritualized religious encounter, a mystical union that Jordan has never experienced before. His love for Maria comes to interfere with his cold-minded belief in the Cause. Now that he has found her, he doesn't want to lose her, and the possibility of a happy future together begins to dominate his mind instead of the mission he feels he must carry out with total objectivity. In this regard, he becomes preoccupied with the omen Pilar saw in his hand. As time passes, Jordan becomes much more aware of the world and begins to consider that there is after all, another reality beyond the physical. And by the end of the novel, he comes to believe in Pilar's prophesies to the point where she reassures him that what she saw in his hand was just nonsense. They both correctly believe, however, that he will soon die.

Quotes: Search by Author

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z