Quotes From "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

Hemingway's Novel About an American Fighter in the Spanish Civil War

Garry Cooper in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Getty Images

Ernest Hemingway's novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" was originally published in 1940 and follows a young American guerrilla fighter and dynamiter named Robert Jordan 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, and is quoted in conversation and English classrooms alike across the United States, even to this day.

The following quotes most exemplify the eloquence and ease with which Hemingway addressed the turmoil and strife of living the American dream during the 1920s through 40s.

Providing Context and Setting Through Quotes

"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, as he saw the brutality of the war and what it did to both domestic and foreign fighters for and against the fascist rule of the time.

International soldiers helping overthrow the rulership had it especially hard — at least in terms of fearing for their lives, as expressed in Chapter 1 when Hemingway writes "I would always rather not know. Then, no matter what can happen, it was not me that talked" and again later in the chapter when he writes "'I don't like that sadness,' he thought. That sadness is bad. That's the sadness they bet before they quit or betray. That is the sadness that comes before the sell-out."

Religion played a large role in Spain at the time (and currently, for that matter), though the protagonist of Hemingway's piece grappled with the existence of God. In Chapter 3, Hemingway wrote "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 the following quote from Chapter 4, Hemingway masterfully describes the details of Spanish life at the time, especially for foreigners like the protagonist.

"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 Guarangy 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."

On Loss and Ugliness

In Chapter 9, Hemingway says that "To make war all you need is intelligence. But to win you need talent and material," but this almost lighthearted observation is overshadowed by the following grief at experiencing the ugliness of wartime in Spain.

In Chapter 10, the protagonist grapples with having to behold the horrors mankind is capable of committing:

"Look at the ugliness. Yet one has a feeling within one that blinds a man while he loves you. You, with that feeling, blind him, and blind yourself. Then, one day, for no reason, he sees you as ugly as you really are and he is not blind anymore and then you see yourself as ugly as he sees you and you lose your man and your feeling... After a while, when you are as ugly as I am, as ugly as women can be, then, as I say after a while the feeling, the idiotic feeling that you are beautiful, grows slowly in one again. It grows like a cabbage. And then, when the feeling is grown, another man sees you and thinks you are beautiful and it is all to do over."

In the next chapter, Hemingway discusses dealing with loss itself:

"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."

A Reprieve Mid-Novel

Halfway through "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Hemingway allows the protagonist Jordan a moment of reprieve from the war in an unexpected way: the quiet cold of winter. In Chapter 14, Hemmingway describes it as almost as exciting 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 he might as well enjoy it."

But even these moments are tainted in wartimes. Hemingway describes the idea of going back while the war is still raging on in Chapter 18 by saying "Here it is the shift from deadliness to normal family life that is the strangest." This is largely because, after a while, soldiers get used to the mentality of battle:

"You learned the dry-mouthed, fear-purged purging ecstasy of battle and you fought that summer and that fall for all the poor in the world against all tyranny, for all the things you believed in and for the new world you had been educated into."
— Chapter 18

The End of the Novel and Other Selected Quotes

In Chapter 25, Hemingway writes "In war cannot say what say what one feels," and in Chapter 26 he revisits the notion of self-awareness and governance:

"It is right, he told himself, not reassuringly, but proudly. I believe in the people and their right to govern themselves as they wish. But you mustn't believe in killing, he told himself. You must do it as a necessity but you must not believe in it. If you believe in it the whole thing is wrong."

One character in Chapter 27 was 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 or fear of it in his mind." and further expanded on the thought later in the chapter in his observation of life:

"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."

On soldiers, Hemingway wrote in Chapter 30 "I guess really good soldiers are really good at very little else" and again in Chapter 31 "There is no finer and no worse people in the world. No kinder people and no crueler." But still, Hemingway applauds those who fight because, as he says in Chapter 34, "It was easier to live under a regime than fight it."