For Whom the Bell Tolls

Discuss Hemingway’s Style of writing For Whom the Bell Tolls/ Discuss Hemingway’s style as a major contribution

For Whom the Bell Tolls : Ernest Hemingway was a writer whose style was very different to that of most writers in his time. Instead of using more drawn out, overly descriptive writing, his stories were more of a “get to the point” style. Hemingway’s style came from his background as a journalist, where he was taught to make stories short and informative, as most articles in newspapers are.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Instead of using 20 pages to describe one person’s odor or something along those lines, Hemingway would finish an entire story in a small amount of space. But what set him apart from the rest was his ability to use the fewest words with maximum information. Before Hemingway began publishing his short stories, American writers affected British mannerisms. Adjectives piled on top of one another; adverbs tripped over each other and the plethora of semicolons often caused readers exasperation.

And then came Hemingway to set the trend. An excellent example of Hemingway’s style is found in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” whose plot is simple, yet highly complex and difficult. When Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954, his writing style was singled out as one of his foremost achievements. The committee recognized his

 “forceful and style-making mastery of the art of modern narration.”

This spare, carefully honed and polished writing style of Hemingway was spontaneous but he had learned to report facts crisply and succinctly as a journalist.  Another aspect of Hemingway’s style was his use of atmosphere. When you read a story by Hemingway, you feel like you were in the setting, seeing what the characters saw, and feeling as the characters felt. In the novella “The Old Man and the Sea,” Hemingway writes about an old fisherman who goes out into the sea in search of fish. The story is about 15% dialogue and 85% of the old man alone in the sea.  Being an obsessive revisionist, Hemingway has been reported to have revised and rewritten all or portions of ‘The Old man and the Sea’ more than two hundred times. His words are simple and uniquely brilliant. So Hemingway said that a writer’s style should be:

 “direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous”

For Hemingway, point of view is important. ‘For Whom Bell Tolls’ presents the narrative through an omniscient point of view that continually shifts back and forth between the characters. In this way, Hemingway can effectively chronicle the effect of the war on the men and women involved. The narrator shifts from Anselmo’s struggles in the snow during his watch to Pilar’s story about Pablo’s execution of Fascists and El Sordo’s lonely death to help readers more clearly visualize their experiences. Against the backdrop of the group’s attempt to blow up the bridge, each character tells his or her story: Maria tells of her parents’ murder and her rape; Jordan shares what he learned about the true politics of war at Gaylord’s in Madrid.

Pilar provides the most compelling and comprehensive stories of Finito’s fears in bullfighting and of Pablo and his men as they beat the Fascists to death in a drunken rage.  Hemingway employs flashbacks and flashforwards to enhance thematic focus. Pilar’s stories of struggle and heroism make their mission more poignant and place it in an historical context. Jordan‘s flashbacks to a time when his ideals were not tempered by the reality of war highlight his growing sense of disillusionment. His dreams of a future with Maria in Madrid add a bittersweet touch to his present predicament.   Michael Reynolds says about ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ that:

“Without drawing undue attention to his artistry, Hemingway has written a collection of short stories embedded in a framing novel.”

Hemingway is a master of dialogues. Hemingway’s most important contribution to the art of narration is perhaps his dialogue wherein the authorial comment is absolutely minimum as exemplified by the short story, ‘The Killers’. When George says, ‘What are you looking at?’ Max looked at George. ‘Nothing’…‘The hell you were. You were looking at me.’ In ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, he captured the vital Spanish idiom through English as in, ‘the mujer of Pablo’. There are very few adjectives and adverbs in Hemingway style. These are replaced by the simple word ‘Said’.

Certainly, he was influenced by Gertrude Stein and Mark Twain and thus his style reflects simplicity of expression. Although his style has shifted from casual to mature but in the typical Hemingway Style, the greatest burden is carried forward by the nouns and the simplest verbs. But at all times, his style perfectly suits to his theme and subject matter. His style is also symbolic.  For Whom the Bell Tolls the bridge stands for many things simultaneously. His style seems, in fact, to gain from association and connotation rather than denotation. The sea in The Old Man and the Sea, can stand for life, the world in which one meets one’s friends and adversaries:

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone…”

Hemingway will be remembered as a stylist. His short, concrete sentences, his lively dialogue and his desperate search for the exact word which will express an exact truth are landmarks in the twentieth-century fiction. He is extremely sensitive to the light, colour, form, and atmosphere of particular places. He succeeds in suggesting emotions. His ability to transfer what he feels and thinks on paper is superb. His goal was to ensure that his words accurately described reality. For this, Faulkner once criticized Hemingway’s style. When Hemingway found out, he replied: “I use the oldest words in the English language. People think I’m an ignorant bastard that doesn’t know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older, better words, and if you use them in the proper combination you make it stick.”

Read it also:

1 thought on “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

Leave a Comment