Note: This post is part of The Hemingway Collection, an archive of essays, images, and hyperlinks to interesting articles about the great American author.
A review of Robert E. Gajdusek’s Pilar’s Tale: The Myth and the Message, an essay on For Whom the Bell Tolls by Nathan Kotas
Robert Gajdusek’s article titled “Pilar’s Tale: The Myth and the Message” closely analyzes the tale that Pilar tells to Maria and Robert Jordan as they are resting on a mountain side. Gajdusek points out that the story about the cleansing of the fascists has been widely acclaimed as one of the most powerful demonstrations of Hemingway’s ability of prose, but he suggests that it has not been “adequately judged the intellectual and psychological tour de force that it is.”
Gajdusek writes that through Pilar’s tale Hemingway has written one of his most philosophical analyses of war, the revolution in particular. Hemingway is showing us a revolution through Pilar’s eyes, but it is written by a man who has himself seen revolution. He analyzes what is happening on the deeper levels of being as a country engages in civil war.
The use of alternatives by Pilar at the beginning of her tale is necessary according to Gajdusek because it sets up a reflection of the dialectical alternatives of fascists caught in revolution, or “caught in a cyclical process of renewal.” To begin with the three characters are half way up the mountain. They are neither closer to the top or closer to the bottom and Pilar points out that one can only go up or down on a mountain. She speaks of a bird called the water wagtail that only goes up and down and is good for nothing else because you cannot eat it and it is without song. Pilar follows this with a contrast between ugliness and beauty and eventually links this to the antitheses of the tale that follows.
I was comprehending nicely up to this point and then Gajdusek extends his interpretation either beyond what is feasible or beyond my knowledge and ability to connect unrelated factors. He writes: “Most details in Pilar’s tale that are identified with the old order are distinguished by their Apollonian attributes … the Republican cause are given as Dionysian attributes.” I expected a further explanation but the author anticipates too much and I feel he assumed the reader knows the difference between these attributes.
Eventually Gajdusek returns to the thrust of Pilar’s tale and presents a nice contrast between the bull and bullfighter, and the fascists and townsmen. He says it is easy to see the fascists in Pilar’s tale as bulls, but throughout Pilar’s tale they are associated with those values of the bullfighter. It is the revolution itself that is given to be associated with the “dark wildness and ferocity of the bull in its attempt to destroy the insulting and goading codified forms.” Gajdusek suggests that Hemingway purposes confuses killer and killed, bull and bullfighter.
Many strong points are brought up by Gajdusek and they are for the most part thoroughly explained, but the transition from one point to another is very strained. At times it is only loosely connected by the string that is Pilar’s tale, while at other times Gajdusek completely abandons the tale to make another point. This technique of straying from Pilar’s tale and his main point to such an extent that sometimes the reader (me) becomes lost to the point that is trying to be made. I believe he does it to shore up loose ends and present examples that support his claims about Hemingway’s writing.
An example of the straying technique is when Gajdusek writes about the novel itself and how the central metaphor of the novel, the destruction of a bridge rather than the building of one, is ironic compared to the opening poem and theme of the novel that no man is an island. He also points out that Robert Jordan, a foreigner from the United States with no reason to take one side or another and should therefore be a bridge builder, is a bomb specialist who blows up bridges. The author strains to try and connect this irony to Pilar’s tale by suggesting it is she who understands Jordan’s irony.
The destructive nature of the revolution attempts to bring down the people at the top and create life and liberty out of chaos. The villagers in Pilar’s tale even use harvesting tools to maim and kill the fascists, to separate the wheat from the chaff in order to give birth to life. They then throw them off the cliff and down to the ocean so that the environment becomes the destroyer that something better might be created.
Another interesting point made by Gajdusek is the way Hemingway, through Pilar’s tale, shows how quickly, almost instantaneously a revolution creates the same competitive struggle for ascendancy and power as existed in the capitalist world it tries to replace. Pilar herself is a metaphor for this as she struggles to watch the proceedings while balancing on a chair, struggling to gain advantage.
Gajdusek also suggests that Robert Jordan, later in the novel, breaks the frame by speaking for the author. Robert steps out of his role and becomes Hemingway’s voice and Gajdusek says this reveals a “weariness of an artist (Hemingway) whose intricately crafted structures have created no public and scant critical awareness, who labors to establish deep patterns that meet no appreciative response.” Although this is very interesting and well backed up with examples, it falls into the straying technique that Gajdusek is very adept at.
Responses to “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
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what year did hemingway write for whom the bell tolls? ive been looking all over and i cant find it anywhere.
You could not have looked very hard! There is a timeline and a bibliography right on this site, and both of them contain the answer to your question.
Where can I find a interprtation of Hemingway’s “On the bridge”?
where can i locate a copy of this article by robert gatdusek?gracias…
To ding the author because the reader does not know the difference between Apollonian and Dionysian is to misunderstand the job of a reader.