At the risk of being accused of defrauding you, the title of today’s post does have a bearing on the next sentence, but you’ll have to earn it.
For whom the bell tolls.
An allusion, a title, a question, or a sentence (in both senses of the word)? A sentence, yes, that’s certainly it.
I’ve read the book twice. Once years ago. Hated it. I was put off by the thees and thous.
A second time just last week. Loved it.
Representing Old Castilian with archaic expressions may be awkward. But it works well enough to capture intimacies and flashes of anger, among other things.
Anyhow, here’s where the novel really shines: Our young American hero (a Snowden, perhaps, maybe, anyone?) knows he’s going to die. An idealistic fight against fascists in a foreign country yields predictable results.
He has less than four days to live, our hero. He knows this to be the case, it’s unavoidable. Yet the young man lives his life, intensely, with gusto and enjoyment. He drinks wine and savors food. He makes love and talks to people. And he recalls his life.
When his head begins to fret, he fights off the rising panic of death. Hemingway’s gift is the closing image. It’s stunning, really, recapitulating as it does the central theme of the novel. The young American hero is lying on the forest floor, wounded. His leg has been mangled. Retreat is impossible. So he lies in wait to take one or two or three more fascists with him. Instead of portraying his death, Hemingway ends the novel with our hero’s heart beating against the ground. A beating heart. A thing pulsing with life, pressed hard against the pine needles and fertile soil, on a green mountain slope.
Postscript. In a biography of Hemingway, I recently learned that his motto was, “One thousand words by noon. Drunk by 3:00.” He was productive that way, the old boy, downing words and alcohol like nobody’s business.