A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that For Whom the Bell Tolls takes an unvarnished view of the Spanish Civil War. It's emotionally and politically complex, and creates a profoundly honest picture of war and the individual personalities involved; parents and teachers will want to bolster readers' understanding of fascism and communism in Spain in the late 1930s. Though the lead character, Robert Jordan, finds some pleasure and humanity under extreme duress, he lives in a brutal world full of violence, death, and deprivation. Many consider For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway's greatest literary achievement, but it is not for the faint of heart. Also, one note on the text: Hemingway uses an unusual literary conceit in this novel: All of the conversation that takes place between Jordan and his Spanish comrades is written as a literal translation from Spanish, to inform the reader that these people would actually be speaking to each other in Spanish, so the language can sound slightly strange.
What's the story?
In 1937, American professor Robert Jordan is working with Spanish guerrillas in the mountains of Spain, attempting to sabotage fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. Assigned to blow up a bridge, Jordan struggles to obtain the manpower and supplies he needs to achieve his objective at the appointed time. Dissent among the guerrillas, and his affection for a beautiful young girl, distract from Jordan's mission, but he is committed to performing his duty, even though he has lost some faith in its purpose.
Is it any good?
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS is a rich, complex novel about the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway offers several points of view into the tragic events -- from Jordan's personal memories of his family, which explain the man he is and wants to be, to the inner workings of the Communist Party members in Madrid, to soldiers on the battlefield -- creating an enormously effective and multifaceted picture of what the war did to individuals. This is a profound novel, on a grand scale -- just as upsetting and confusing and sad as it should be.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Hemingway is trying to tell readers about the Spanish Civil War, and about war in general. Is war glorified in the novel?
What kind of man is Robert Jordan? Do you admire him? Is he doing the right thing?
What do you make of Jordan's relationship with Maria? What is Jordan doing when he fantasizes about what their life will be like after the war?
Many consider For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway's greatest novel, and one of the greatest novels ever written about war, and it is often required reading in school. Why do you think this is the case?
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