Disillusionment in Hemingway's for Whom the Bell Tolls

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John Austin
Men at War: MW 9:30 – 10:45
8 October 2003

Disillusionment in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls

In the late 1930's, Spain was in the midst of a civil war. The country had been in a state of disarray since 1931, when King Alfonso XIII went into voluntary exile. This was followed by a five-year power struggle between the fascists, led by General Francesco Franco, and the Republicans. This struggle became violent in the summer of 1936, and the war lasted until 1939, when Franco's forces triumphed. (Thomas 600)

Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan and his Republican comrades as they resist the fascists in the fall of 1937. Although a work of fiction, Hemingway's novel accurately portrays the events of the period, and the characters display many of the attitudes prevalent among Spanish revolutionaries. The two central characters, Robert Jordan and Pablo, begin the war as idealistic fighters, but both become disillusioned as the war progresses.

The Spanish civil war had a violent beginning. Across the country, local peasants revolted against the fascist bourgeoisie, killing 512 people during the first months of the war (Thomas 176). In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway poignantly and accurately describes the execution of the upper classmen of the Spanish town of Ronda. The peasants of the town, led by a man named Pablo, corralled the town's fascists into the city hall. Pablo had the peasants, armed with flays, form two lines that extended from the door of the hall to a cliff overlooking a nearby river. One by one, Pablo forces the fascists to leave the city hall and walk between the two lines towards the cliff, which the fascists are thrown off; meanwhile, the peasants beat them to death with flails.

Pablo is ruthless in executing the local fascist police in Ronda. As he prepares to shoot one man in the head, Pablo says, "And you are an ugly thing, you murderer of peasants. You...
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