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The conclusion of Azuela's 'The Underdogs' and Hemingway's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.' (Mariano Azuela, Ernest Hemingway)

INTERNAL EVIDENCE SUGGESTS that when Ernest Hemingway wrote the final chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), he was influenced by the final scene of Los de Abajo, a novel by Mexican writer Mariano Azuela first published in 1916 and translated into English in 1929 as The Underdogs. Although neither the standard biographies(1) nor Michael Reynolds's inventory of Hemingway's library indicate that he read Azuela, it would be surprising if he had not. The Underdogs was widely read both by a Spanish-speaking audience when it was first published and by an English-speaking audience when it was translated. As Angel Capellan documents, Hemingway read a great deal of Spanish literature, concentrating on works by authors such as Pio Baroja, who wrote of characters, themes, and settings similar to those of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Consequently, it is probable that by the time Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls he had read The Underdogs.

Both novels describe the experiences of a group of combatants involved, in a civil war against totalitarianism. Azuela's novel describes the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and Hemingway's the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39. Both novels begin with the bonding of the combatants, follow their travels, describe their successful battles, and end with the group facing imminent defeat and the protagonist certain death. Maryse Bertrand-De-Munoz points out other general similarities: both novels portray an unwilling participant, include some intellectuals, and follow the protagonist to his death in combat at the same place where the novel began. Both contain characters who idealistically determine to carry on in the face of nothingness, and both end tragically on a high Sierra, near a river.

There are major differences between the two final scenes of these novels. Hemingway's contains several characters, involves considerable dialogue, and contains two subordinate scenes--one describing the placing of explosives at the bridge and the other describing the lovers' farewell. It also covers forty-one pages, compared to Azuela's two. Nevertheless, the similarities are striking.

Both conclusions begin at the dawn of a beautiful day which the protagonists observe and enjoy. The last chapter of Azuela's novel begins with this description of the natural world: "It was a heavenly morning. It had rained all night, the sky awakened covered with white clouds. Young wild colts trotted on the summit of the sierra, with tense manes and waving hair, proud as the peaks lifting their heads to the clouds" (148).(2) Azuela goes on to recount how the "Trees, brush, and cactus shone fresh after rain" and "Heavy drops of limpid water fell from rocks, ocher in hue as rusty armor" (148). Hemingway's final chapter begins similarly:

Robert Jordan lay behind the trunk of a pine tree on the slope of the

hill ... and watched it become fight. He loved this hour of the day

always and now he watched; feeling it gray within him, as though he were

a part of the slow lightening that comes before the rising of the sun;

when solid things darken and space lightens and the lights that have

shone in the night go yellow and then fade as the day comes. The pine

trunks below him were hard and dear now, their trunks solid and brown

and the road was shiny with a wisp of mist over it. The dew had wet him

and the forest floor was soft and he felt the give of the brown, dropped

pine needles under his elbows. (431)

During their final mornings, both protagonists lose two of their closest comrades to enemy bullets. Demetrio Macias loses Anastasio and Venancio; Robert Jordan loses Fernando and Anselmo.

Both final scenes describe the combatants' retreat in the face of approaching enemy troops which badly outnumber them. In The Underdogs, "the recruits turned back hurriedly, retreating in shameful flight." While they are "searching for a way out of the canyon," they are ambushed and fall "like wheat under the sickle" (149). In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan's comrades, including Pilar and Maria, ride away from the approaching Fascists, but do so very reluctantly only after he insists.

In both novels, the protagonists choose to stay behind alone as snipers. Unlike his men, Demetrio never considers retreat and remains behind to fight until he is killed. Robert Jordan elects to stay behind so that his broken leg will not jeopardize his band's escape. Both men lie prone on hills awaiting final confrontations with an enemy approaching in the valley below. Demetrio "dismounts and crawls over the rocks, until he finds a parapet: he lays down a stone to protect his head and, lying flat on the ground, begins to shoot" (149). Robert Jordan "rest[s] ... with his two elbows in the pine needles and the muzzle of the submachine gun resting against the trunk of the pine tree" (417). Demetrio's "famous marksmanship fills him with joy. Where he settles his glance, he settles a bullet. He loads his gun once more ... takes aim ..." (149). Robert Jordan is consoled by thinking "I hope I have done some good," I have tried to with what talent I had," and I have fought for what I believed in for a year now" (467). Both protagonists face death alone. Azuela says, "Suddenly, Demetrio finds himself alone" (149). Robert Jordan observes, "They were all gone now and he was alone" (466).

The final paragraphs of both scenes show the protagonists, despite their imminent deaths, very much a part of the natural setting. Although Demetrio's attention remains focused on the approaching enemy and his own role as sniper, Azuela focuses the reader's attention on nature as wen. Azuela describes the singing of locusts and the cooing of doves and says that on this heavenly morning, the natural world is remarkably serene: "The cows graze placidly. The sierra is dad in gala colors. Over its inaccessible peaks the opalescent fog settles like a snowy veil on the forehead of a bride" (149). Although Robert Jordan at one point has to remind and encourage himself to be brave, by the final moments of the scene he is sufficiently resigned to his fate to focus on his natural surroundings:

He was completely integrated now and he took a good long look at

everything. Then he looked up at the sky. There were big white clouds in

it. He touched the palm of his hand against the pine needles where he lay

and he touched the bark of the pine trunk that he lay behind. (471)

Both protagonists are, as Hemingway puts it, "completely integrated." They give their attention to the sniping they will do, not to their inevitable deaths. The last sentence of Azuela's novel is "Demetrio Macias, his eyes leveled in an eternal glance, continues to point the barrel of his gun" (147). Hemingway's final sentences are similar:

Robert Jordan lay behind the tree, holding onto himself very carefully

and delicately to keep his hands steady. He was waiting until the officer

reached the sunlit place where the first trees of the pine forest

joined the green slope of the meadow. He could feel his heart beating

against the pine needle floor of the forest. (471)

These final scenes emphasize a major theme of both novels--that to be a man one must be brave, self-sufficient, loyal, and willing to fight and die for what one believes, without fear and without regrets. Both novels idealize soldiering as a heroic adventure on which a man will embark because of his democratic ideals. But there is a recognizable difference between the two novels in the degree of commitment to a cause, the protagonists confidence in their own skills, and the degree of courage that the protagonists portray. Azuela, writing during World War I, describes Demetrio's purpose as total and unquestioning. But Hemingway, a member of World War I's "Lost Generation" writing after the outbreak of World War II in Europe, presents a more complex protagonist and a more diffuse vision in a modernist text.

Unlike Demetrio, Robert Jordan is nervous. He chastises himself for "shaking like a Goddamn woman" and asks himself, "What the hell is the matter with you?" (437). He complains of "how lonely you can be when you do this" and says, when he sees a squirrel, that he "would like to have had the squirrel with him in his pocket. He would like to have anything that he could touch"(433) Also, both Jordan and his fellow soldier Anselmo reveal a reluctance to kill--even in war. Hemingway describes Jordan's fingers as "heavy, with reluctance" to pull the trigger on the submachine gun (434). Recognizing that it will be hard to kill the sentry after seeing his face clearly through binoculars, Jordan thinks "I won't look at him again"(433), and when he does finally pull the trigger to kill the man, Jordan "felt his own breath tight now as though a strand of wire bound his chest" (434). Jordan's companion, Anselmo, philosophically questions killing another human being, saying to himself,

"How could the Ingles say that the shooting of a man is like the

shooting of an animal? In all hunting I have had an elation and no

feeling of wrong. But to shoot a man gives a feeling as though one

had struck one's own brother when you are grown men. And to shoot him

various times to kill him. Nay, do not think of that."(442)

Furthermore, Hemingway recognizes that the more technology there is separating a killer from his victim, the easier it is to kill. Jordan says, "I think that killing a man with an automatic weapon makes it easier. I mean on the one doing it. It is different. After the first touch it is it that does it. Not you"(438).

Again in contrast to Demetrio, who never doubts his own abilities and whose "famous marksmanship fills him with joy" (149), Jordan must reassure himself about his own courage and skills. He admonishes himself. "Come on Jordan, pull yourself together." And, as he is working to mine the bridge, says to himself, "Don't get excited.... Don't fumble with it. Take your time .... You're trying to do it too fast"(437).

In addition, Jordan wrestles with the temptation of a quick death by suicide. He must bolster himself to fulfill his assignment, risking torture if he is captured. He considers suicide but says, "I don't want to do that business my father did" (469). Nevertheless, Jordan worries that "if I pass out ... and if they bring me to they will ask me a lot of questions and do things and all and that is no good" (469-70). He is torn between an earlier moral code which prohibits suicide, saying "No, you have to wait," and a modernist desire to avoid unnecessary suffering, "It's all right to do it now" (470).

Hemingway uses Azuela's plot elements in his final chapter, but elaborates them with a modernist consciousness that includes concern and grief for the death of one's comrades, an awareness of nature and a yearning for its solace, reluctance to kill even an enemy soldier, and the admission of fear--not only of death or injury in battle but of performing inadequately. Although Azuela's The Underdogs may have suggested to Hemingway an exciting way to emplot the final chapter of For Whom the Bell Tolls, the earlier novel presents a much less complex, vision of war.


(1.) Standard Hemingway biographies that do not mention Azuela include Carlos Baker, Ernest Hemingway. A Life Story (New York: Scribner's, 1969); Kenneth S. Lynn, Hemingway (New York. Simon and Schuster, 1987); James R. Mellow, Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992); and Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography (New York: Harper and Row, 1985).

(2.) Quotations are from E. Mungia's translation, The Underdogs (Tezontle: Fondo de Cultura. Economico, 1929).


Azuela, Mariano. Los de Abajo. Tezontle: Fondo de Cultura Economico, 1916.

--. The Underdogs. Trans. E. Munguia. New York. Brentano's, 1929.

Capellan, Angel. Hemingway and the Hispanic World. Ann Arbor: UMI Research, 1985.

Baker, Carlos. Ernest Hemingway. A Life Story. New York: Scribner's, 1969.

Bertrand-de-Munoz, Maryse. "Los de Abajo de Mariano Azuela y For Whom the Bell Tolls de Ernest Hemingway." La Torre Revista General de la Universidad de Puerto Rico 73-74 (1971):237-46.

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls. New York: Scribner's, 1940.

Lynn, Kenneth S. Hemingway. New York. Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Mellow, James R. Hemingway: A Life Without Consequences. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway. A Biography. New York: Harper and Row, 1985.

Reynolds, Michael. S. Hemingway's Reading, 1910-1940: An Inventory. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.
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Author:Zivley, Sherry Lutz
Publication:The Hemingway Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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