Monday, April 14, 2008

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I cannot remember why I checked this book out. I saw it on something and like to throw in a classic every once in a while. The only Hemingway I've ever read is The Old Man and the Sea in high school. One of my great regrets is not taking any great literature classes in college. Writing papers scared me to death! But, I think some books need the classroom setting to explore and explain why they are so great. This is one of those books.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a book about the Spanish Civil War. Robert Jordan, an American, is over in Spain fighting with the International Brigades in behalf of the anti-fascists or Republicans. His mission is to blow up a bridge and seeks the aid of a small guerrilla group hiding in the mountains led by a drunken, broken man named Pablo. The book takes place over a four day span and much of the book centers around the theme of death. What is bravery or cowardice? What is a man's life worth in comparison to a great cause?

I had read a little about Hemingway's prose. The most common descriptions are "terse" and "understated". His sentences tend to be shorter and more direct without losing any vividness. They are just more direct. This was no easy read for me. All of the dialogue was written in old English as a direct translation from Spanish. Lots and lots of "thee"s "thou"s and "thy"s. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading the scriptures but without the uplifting part of it:) Whenever the characters were mad at each other or at the situation, a popular phrase used was "I obscenity in the milk of...." which is probably a vulgar profanity but since I don't know what it means, I plead pure ignorance. The dialogue was hard to read. It got easier but this took me days to get into.

Hard or not, I think it's a worthwhile novel. Hemingway took his title from a poem written by John Donne:

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

This was Robert Jordan's enlightenment. This was his awakening.

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