Ernest Hemingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is a story about Robert Jordan, an American professor, who travels to Spain to fight with the Spanish guerrillas. Jordan’s western prejudices against gypsies and his romantic ideals are transformed by the guerillas he meets especially Pilar, who becomes the leader of the guerilla band. Hemingway believes that an author’s ability to create lifelike characters that are believable as real people to tell his stories is essential. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway avers, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature . . . ” (191). Nevertheless, critic David Murad argues that Pilar does not meet this standard established by Hemingway as she cannot be believed as one living person (1). Murad’s assessment that Pilar is a caricature is misguided because Pilar is one of Hemingway’s most magnificent creations. Pilar’s character is exceptional as she is the vehicle that Hemingway specifically creates and fully exploits to deliver unexpectedly diverse narratives and insights that add great depth and pathos to his novel. Even though Pilar’s character is a composite of diametrically opposing ideals, it should not be said that she is merely a caricature. Recognizing the flexibility of Pilar’s character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway teasingly dubs her the “great whore” because she easily embodies the diverse multitude of characteristics that he needs to make his novel succeed (93). Hemingway, completely enthralled by his unique creation, has Jordan opine that Pilar is “better than Quevedo,” thereby admonishing the reader to carefully heed her words because she is more eloquent than one of the most prominent Spanish poets (134). Without Pilar, Jordan and the reader would not empathize with the glory of the Spanish Republic (Mandel 1), the ideal of the “New Spanish Woman” (Guill 1), or Hemingway’s own belief that wars diminish all people (Reynolds 3). Pilar is a multifaceted hybrid of many living people who embodies every
characteristic that Hemingway desires to serve his needs in this novel. Thus, Pilar’s moniker is appropriate not because she is a woman of loose morals, but because she exemplifies quintessential feminine power that allows Hemingway to use her character in many contradictory ways as a tool to convey his disparate ideas within the novel. Hemingway’s description of Pilar’s physical appearance is designed to invoke the image of Delores Ibárurri, the woman who is nicknamed La Pasionaria during the Spanish Civil War (Guill 8). Just as Ibárurri is described by Hemingway in his narrative for the documentary film The Spanish Earth (qtd Guill 3), Pilar is similarly described by Robert Jordan. Both Ibárurri and Pilar are women who are
. . . about fifty almost as big as Pablo, almost as wide as she is tall, in a black peasant skirt and waist, with heavy wool socks on heavy legs, black rope-soled shoes and a brown face like a model for a granite monument. She has big but nice looking hands and her thick curly black hair was twisted into a knot on her neck. (For Whom the Bell Tolls 30)
In the The Spanish Earth, Hemingway tells the viewer, as the camera zooms in on a “large matronly looking woman dressed in black and wearing her dark hair pulled back in a bun,” that she is “the most famous woman in Spain today” (qtd Guill 3). Likewise, Pilar wears the traditional costume of Spanish women, not the liberated trousers of the “New Spanish Woman” (Guill 9), thus retaining her ties to the old Republic of Spain and her femininity. Furthermore, Hemingway’s commentary states that La Pasionaria is not beautiful, but “the character of the New Spanish Woman is in her voice” (qtd Guill 3). The similarity between the physical characteristics of Pilar and La Pasionaria is undeniable, especially when Hemingway’s use of their voices and mannerisms is considered.