Quotes From 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'

Quotes From 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'

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Ernest Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls," published in 1940, follows Robert Jordan, a young American guerrilla fighter and demolition expert, during the Spanish Civil War as he plots to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia.

Along with "The Old Man and the Sea," "A Farewell to Arms," and "The Sun Also Rises," "For Whom the Bell Tolls" is regarded as one of Hemingway's most popular works, quoted in conversation and English classrooms across the United States to this day.

The following quotes exemplify the eloquence and ease with which Hemingway addressed the turmoil and strife of the Spanish Civil War.

Context and Setting

"For Whom the Bell Tolls" relies heavily on Hemingway's own experience reporting on the conditions in Spain during the Spanish Civil War as a journalist for the North American Newspaper Alliance. He saw the brutality of the war and what it did to domestic and foreign fighters for and against the fascist rule of the time.

Religion played a large role in Spain, though the protagonist of Hemingway's story grappled with the existence of God. In Chapter 3, the old partisan Anselmo revealed his internal battle when he says to Jordan, "But with our without God, I think it is a sin to kill. To take the life of another is to me very grave. I will do it whenever necessary but I am not of the race of Pablo."

In Chapter 4, Hemingway masterfully describes the joys of city life as Jordan ponders the pleasure of drinking absinthe when he is far from Paris:

"There was very little of it left and one cup of it took the place of the evening papers, of all the old evenings in cafés, of all chestnut trees that would be in bloom now in this month, of the great slow horses of the outer boulevards, of book shops, of kiosques, and of galleries, of the Parc Montsouris, of the Stade Buffalo, and of the Butte Chaumont, of the Guaranty Trust Company and the Ile de la Cité, of Foyot's old hotel, and of being able to read and relax in the evening; of all things he had enjoyed and forgotten and that came back to him when he tasted that opaque, bitter, tongue-numbing, brain-warming, stomach-warming, idea-changing liquid alchemy."


In Chapter 9, Agustin says, "To make war all you need is intelligence. But to win you need talent and material," but this almost lighthearted observation is overshadowed in Chapter 11, when Jordan grapples with the horrors mankind is capable of committing:

"You only heard the statement of the loss. You did not see the father fall as Pilar made him see the fascists die in that story she had told by the stream. You knew the father died in some courtyard, or against some wall, or in some field or orchard, or at night, in the lights of a truck, beside some road. You had seen the lights of the car from down the hills and heard the shooting and afterwards you had come down to the road and found the bodies. You did not see the mother shot, nor the sister, nor the brother. You heard about it; you heard the shots; and you saw the bodies."

Mid-Novel Reprieve

Halfway through "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Hemingway allows the protagonist a reprieve from the war in an unexpected way: the quiet cold of winter. In Chapter 14, Hemingway describes it as almost as thrilling as battle:

"It was like the excitement of the battle except it was clean… In a snowstorm it always seemed, for a time, as though there were no enemies. In a snowstorm the wind could blow a gale; but it blew a white cleanness and the air was full of a driving whiteness and all things were changed and when the wind stopped there would be the stillness. This was a big storm and he might as well enjoy it. It was ruining everything, but you might as well enjoy it."

Life and Death

One of the partisans is mortally wounded in Chapter 27 and is described as "not at all afraid of dying but he was angry at being on this hill which was only utilizable as a place to die… Dying was nothing and he had no picture of it nor fear of it in his mind." As he lay he continued to think of death and its counterpart:

"Living was a hawk in the sky. Living was an earthen jar of water in the dust of the threshing with the grain flailed out and the chaff blowing. Living was a horse between your legs and a carbine under one leg and a hill and a valley and a stream with trees along it and the far side of the valley and the hills beyond."


Perhaps the most memorable quotes in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" were about neither life nor death, but love. In Chapter 13 Hemingway describes Jordan and Maria, a young woman fighting with the partisans, walking through a mountain meadow:

"From it, from the palm of her hand against the palm of his, from their fingers locked together, and from her wrist across his wrist something came from her hand, her fingers and her wrist to his that was as fresh as the first light air that moving toward you over the sea barely wrinkles the glassy surface of a calm, as light as a feather moved across one's lip, or a leaf falling when there is no breeze; so light that it could be felt with the touch of their fingers alone, but that was so strengthened, so intensified, and made so urgent, so aching and so strong by the hard pressure of their fingers and the close pressed palm and wrist, that it was as though a current moved up his arm and filled his whole body with an aching hollowness of wanting."

When they have sex, Hemingway writes that Jordan "felt the earth move out and away from under them." Maria says,

" 'I die each time. Do you not die?'
" 'No. Almost. But did thee feel the earth move?'
" 'Yes. As I died.' "

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