For Whom the Bell Tolls portrays the typical Hemingway characters and addresses the issues of machoism and womanizing. In this novel, as in many of his other works, Hemingway employs extensive use of what is known as the Hemingway Code. Numerous influences from various people and events from his personal life also had an effect on his writing.
Many people hold the opinion that there has been no American writer like Ernest Hemingway. A member of the World War I "lost generation," Hemingway was in many ways his own best character. Whether as his childhood nickname of "Champ" or as the older "Papa," Ernest Hemingway became a legend of his own lifetime. Although the drama and romance of his life sometimes seem to overshadow the quality of his work, Hemingway was first and foremost a literary scholar, a writer and reader of books. This is often overlooked among all the talk about his safaris and hunting trips, adventures with bullfighting, fishing and war. Hemingway enjoyed being famous, and delighted in playing for the public spotlight. However, Hemingway considered himself an artist, and he did not want to become celebrated for all the wrong reasons.
Hemingway was born in the quiet town of Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, on July 21, 1899. His father was a physician, and Ernest was the second of six children born to Dr. and Mrs. Clarence E. Hemingway. His mother, a devout, religious woman with considerable music talent, hoped that her son would develop an interest in music. Instead, Ernest acquired his father's enthusiasm for guns and for fishing trips in the north woods of Michigan (Lynn 63).
From almost the beginning of his writing career, Hemingway employed a distinctive style which drew comment from many critics. Hemingway does not give way to lengthy geographical and psychological description. His style has been said to lack substance because he avoids direct statements and descriptions of emotion. Basically his style is simple, direct and somewhat plain. He developed a forceful prose style characterized by simple sentences and few adverbs or adjectives. He wrote concise, vivid dialogue and exact description of places and things. Critic Harry Levin pointed out the weakness of syntax and diction in Hemingway's writing, but was quick to praise his ability to convey action (Rovit 47).
Hemingway spent the early part of his career as a journalist. In 1937, he went to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. After a few months in Spain, Hemingway announced his plan to write a book with the Spanish Civil War as its background. The result was For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The majority of his early novels were narrated in the first person and enclosed within a single point of view, however, when Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, he used several different narrative techniques. He employed the use of internal monologues (where the reader is in the "mind" of a particular character), objective descriptions, rapid shifts of point of view, and in general a looser structure than in his earlier works. Hemingway believed that "a writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous. The greatest writers have the gift of brevity, are hard workers, diligent scholars and competent stylists (Magill 1287).
For Whom the Bell Tolls is the most serious and politically motivated novel that Hemingway wrote. There are few comic or light episodes in the entire book. For Whom the Bell Tolls is an attempt to present in depth a country and people that Hemingway loved very much. It was an effort to deal honestly with a very complex war made even more complex by the beliefs it inspired (Gurko 127).
Common to almost all of Hemingway's novels is the concept of the Hemingway hero, sometimes known as the "code hero." When Hemingway's novels were first published, the public readily accepted them. Part of this acceptance was due to the fact that Hemingway had created a character whose response to life appealed strongly to those who read his works. The reader saw in the Hemingway hero a person whom they could identify with in almost a dream sense. The Hemmingway hero was a man's man. He moved from one love affair to another, he participated in wild game hunting, enjoyed bullfights, drank insatiably, he was involved in all of the so-called manly activities in which the typical American male did not participate (Rovit 56).
Hemingway's involvement in the war instilled him with deep-seated political views. For Whom the Bell Tolls is a study of the individual involved in what was a politically motivated war. But this novel differs greatly from Hemingway's prior portrayal of the individual hero in the world. In this book, the hero accepts the people around him, not only a few select members of the distinguished, but with the whole community. The organization of this community is stated with great eloquence in the quotation from one of the poet John Donne's sermons upon the death of a close friend. This is the quotation from which the book takes its title:
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe, every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine, if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for I thee.
Therefore, while the hero retains the qualities of the Hemingway Code, he has been built up by his unity with mankind. In the end, he finds the world a "fine place," that is "worth fighting for" (Curly 795). In his personal confrontation with death, Robert Jordan realizes that there is a larger cause that a man can chose to serve. In this way he differs from the earlier Hemingway hero. The insistence that action and its form be solely placed on one individual is still present, along with the need for the character to dominate that action. However, this issue is not longer a single matador against a single bull, or an individual character against his entire environment. The person is the "instrument of mankind" against the horrors of war. The political issues of this book are therefore presented not as a "contrast of black and white, but in the shaded tones of reality" (Magill 491).
While Jordan is the epitome of the hero in his actions, he is also in command of himself and his circumstances to a far greater extent than Hemingway's previous heroes; he is driven to face reality by deep emotional needs. Jordan's drives in the novel seem to be a direct reflection of Hemingway's own, because Hemingway had also been deeply affected by the suicide of his own father (Kunitz 561). Ironically, suicide as an escape from reality is a violation of Hemingway's own code. The self-doubt and fear that such an act brings to the children of a person who commits suicide is a well-known psychological outcome. This is perhaps why the painfulness of their fears causes Hemingway's heroes to avoid "thinking" at all costs. For "thinking" too much may prevent a person from reacting. And without something to react to, the hero is left to face his inner fears (Magill 474). Death is also used by Hemingway at the end of the novel to resolve the dramatic conflicts established by the story. The theme of death is likewise observable in other parts of the book, such as when the characters express their concern about dying during the attack on the bridge. As in other works following the suicide of his father, Hemingway brings his characters face to face with death. He admires those who face death bravely and without expressing emotion. For Hemingway, a man does not truly live life until analyzes the significance of death personally (Brooks 323).
In contrast to the Hemingway heroes are his female characters. Hemingway's approach to women in his works is particularly masculine. They are seen and valued in relation to the men in his stories insofar as they are absolutely feminine. Hemingway does not go into their inner world except as this world is related to the men with whom they are involved. The reader comes to view them as love objects or as anti-love figures (Whitlock 231). Part of the reason Hemingway had this opinion of woman was because the way he viewed his mother. He believed his mother to be a manipulator and blamed her in part for the suicide of his father. "The qualities he thought admirable in a man-ambition, and independent point of view, defiance of his supremacy-became threatening in a woman" (Kert 103).
Hemingway's heroines almost always personify the physical appearance of the ideal woman in their beauty. But in their personality they appear as two types: the "all-woman" who gives herself entirely to the hero and the "femme fatale" who retains herself and prevents the hero from possessing her completely. The "all-woman" is acceptable in Hemingway view because she submits to the hero. She wants no other life than with him. By succumbing to the hero, she allows him to dominate her and affirm his manhood. The "femme fatale" is usually a more complex character than the "all-woman" (Lynn 98). While she may or may not be nasty, she does not submit to the hero and wounds him and all the men around her primarily because they can not manage her and thus can not assert their manhood through her. But despite Hemmingway's portrayal of women, he usually has them fall into the same basic category as the men. The heroine, like the hero, obeys the "Hemmingway Code." She sees life for what it is even as she longs for something more. She is basically courageous in life, choosing reality over thought, and she faces death stoically. In practically every case there has already been in her life some tragic event-the loss of a lover, violence-which has given her the strength to face life this way (Lynn 102).
For Whom the Bell Tolls "is a living example of how, in modern times, the epic quality must be projected" (Baker 132). Heroic action is an epic quality, and For Whom the Bell Tolls contains this element. The setting is simple and the emphasis is on the basic virtues of uncomplicated people. The men are engaged in the conflict are prepared to sacrifice their lives; they are exceptional for their deeds of daring and heroism (Baker 94).
Behind the conception of this idea of the hero lies the disillusionment of the American public, the disillusionment that was brought about by the First World War. The impressionable man came to realize that the old ideas and beliefs rooted in religion and ethics had not helped to save man the catastrophe of World War I. As a result, after the war came to an end, Hemingway and other writers began to look for a new system of values, a system of values that would replace the old attitudes which they thought proved to be useless. The writers who adopted these new beliefs came to be known as the "lost generation."
The "lost generation," was a name instituted by Gertrude Stein and it signified the postwar generation and the literary movement produced by the young writers of the time (Unger 654). Their writing reflected their belief that "the only reality was that life is harsh" (Bryfonski 1874).
A great deal has been written about Ernest Hemingway's distinctive style. Ever since he began writing in the 1920's, he has been the subject of lavish praise and sometimes savage criticism. He has not been ignored.
To explain Hemingway's style in a few paragraphs in such a manner as to satisfy those who have read his articles and books is almost impossible. It is a simple style, straight forward and modest. Hemingway's prose is unadorned as a result of his abstaining from using adjectives as much as possible. He relates a story in the form of straight journalism, but because he is a master of transmitting emotion with out embellishing it, the product is even more enjoyable.