Mourning and Melancholia in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) begins with a quotation
from John Donne’s “Meditation XVII.” With this epigraph, Hemingway identifies the
source of his title and defines the connections achieved between human beings through
mourning.: Donne’s argument begins, “No man is an island,” and it concludes with an
assertion of our bond to the dead: “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls
for thee.” Proper mourning acknowledges the losses to our self in the death of another.
Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls depicts such connections to the dead and
examines the emotional effects of incomplete mourning in terms that parallel Freud’s
own comments in “Mourning and Melancholia”(1917. Hogarth Press edition 1937).
Hemingway’s novel about mourning concludes by depicting Robert Jordan, the
American volunteer in Spain, as he prepares for his death. Jordan accepts the inevitability
of this death and he designs a ritual which expresses his commitment to his lover, Maria,
and contributes to the successful retreat of the members the guerrilla band (401-10). He
provides a last effort of participation in their struggle against fascism and affirms his
connection to the future of Spain. In a parallel to the argument of Donne’s “Meditation,”
Jordan’s death while fighting as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War is presented as a
loss to fascism suffered by the people of all the republican nations of the world. In a
report published in 1938 Hemingway wrote of the deaths of such volunteers of the
International Brigades, and said, “They die fighting for you” (Hem on War 293).
The depiction of Jordan’s life and death parallels the expression of mourning in
Hemingway’s eulogy of 1939, “On the American Dead in Spain” (Nelson 36-9). In both
works, Hemingway praises the volunteers who died fighting to protect republican values.
In an introduction to the “Eulogy” written after World War II, Hemingway scolded
America for its failure to support these “premature antifascists” (Nelson 26). At another
point, he explains this failure:
The majority of the career diplomats of England, France, and the United
States , are fascist, and it is they who supply the erroneous information on
which their foreign offices and state departments act (Hem on War, 293).
The ideologies of the diplomats led to the great bloodbath of the Second World War.
Hemingway helps us to mourn the deaths of Jordan and the other volunteers because he
affirms that they are, in fact, unacknowledged instances of our own losses.
Yet, many of the volunteers in the International Corps during the Spanish Civil
War felt betrayed by Hemingway’s depictions of literary and historical characters and
events. Some of the veterans criticized the lack of political ideology in the central
character, the literary self-indulgence of the love relationship between Jordan and Maria,