For Whom the Bell Tolls: Pilar Character Analysis
Pilar: Character or Caricature? Ernest Hemingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is a story about Robert Jordan, an American professor, who travels to Spain to fight with the Spanish guerrillas.
Jordan’s western prejudices against gypsies and his romantic ideals are transformed by the guerillas he meets especially Pilar, who becomes the leader of the guerilla band. Hemingway believes that an author’s ability to create lifelike characters that are believable as real people to tell his stories is essential. In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway avers, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.
A character is a caricature . . .
” (191). Nevertheless, critic David Murad argues that Pilar does not meet this standard established by Hemingway as she cannot be believed as one living person (1). Murad’s assessment that Pilar is a caricature is misguided because Pilar is one of Hemingway’s most magnificent creations. Pilar’s character is exceptional as she is the vehicle that Hemingway specifically creates and fully exploits to deliver unexpectedly diverse narratives and insights that add great depth and pathos to his novel.
Even though Pilar’s character is a composite of diametrically opposing ideals, it should not be said that she is merely a caricature. Recognizing the flexibility of Pilar’s character in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway teasingly dubs her the “great whore” because she easily embodies the diverse multitude of characteristics that he needs to make his novel succeed (93).
Hemingway, completely enthralled by his unique creation, has Jordan opine that Pilar is “better than Quevedo,” thereby admonishing the reader to carefully heed her words because she is more eloquent than one of the most prominent Spanish poets (134).
Without Pilar, Jordan and the reader would not empathize with the glory of the Spanish Republic (Mandel 1), the ideal of the “New Spanish Woman” (Guill 1), or Hemingway’s own belief that wars diminish all people (Reynolds 3). Pilar is a multifaceted hybrid of many living people who embodies every characteristic that Hemingway desires to serve his needs in this novel. Thus, Pilar’s moniker is appropriate not because she is a woman of loose morals, but because she exemplifies quintessential feminine power that allows Hemingway to use her character in many contradictory ways as a tool to convey his disparate ideas within the novel.
Hemingway’s description of Pilar’s physical appearance is designed to invoke the image of Delores Ibarurri, the woman who is nicknamed La Pasionaria during the Spanish Civil War (Guill 8).
Just as Ibarurri is described by Hemingway in his narrative for the documentary film The Spanish Earth (qtd Guill 3), Pilar is similarly described by Robert Jordan. Both Ibarurri and Pilar are women who are . . . about fifty almost as big as Pablo, almost as wide as she is tall, in a black peasant skirt and waist, with heavy wool socks on heavy legs, black rope-soled shoes and a brown face like a model for a granite monument.
She has big but nice looking hands and her thick curly black hair was twisted into a knot on her neck.
(For Whom the Bell Tolls 30) In the The Spanish Earth, Hemingway tells the viewer, as the camera zooms in on a “large matronly looking woman dressed in black and wearing her dark hair pulled back in a bun,” that she is “the most famous woman in Spain today” (qtd Guill 3). Likewise, Pilar wears the traditional costume of Spanish women, not the liberated trousers of the “New Spanish Woman” (Guill 9), thus retaining her ties to the old Republic of Spain and her femininity.
Furthermore, Hemingway’s commentary states that La Pasionaria is not beautiful, but “the character of the New Spanish Woman is in her voice” (qtd Guill 3). The similarity between the physical characteristics of Pilar and La Pasionaria is undeniable, especially when Hemingway’s use of their voices and mannerisms is considered. Ibarurri’s charisma, intelligence, passion for the Spanish Republican cause, and women’s rights are embodied by the character Pilar. In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pilar is depicted as a “barbarous” (26) and “ugly” (26), but “intelligent woman” (168) who is sure of her feminine power.
Pilar is also “loyal to” (61) and deeply believes in the cause of the Spanish Republic (100). These traits allow Pilar to freely live with and then eventually lead the guerrillas in Pablo’s stead. Pilar is “Senora Commander” (214) who makes it clear to all that “Here I command” (55). Jordan’s concurrence with Pilar’s decision to usurp the leadership role of the guerillas from Pablo is seen when Jordan states: “I trust the woman absolutely . .
. Without the woman there is no organization nor discipline here and with the woman it can be very good” (63).
Pilar is a completely self-assured character. She smokes (97), has a “deep voice” (55, 139), and has a “booming laugh” (93). She is a “woman who does things that she has no right to do” (125) and she is able to “scare people with her voice” (28, 145).
Hemingway uses Pilar’s narrations to lead the other characters in the novel to deeper levels of understanding. The critic Robert Gadjusek explains in his essay, “Pilar’s Tale: The Myth and the Message,” that Jordan, “a projection of Hemingway within his own work,” is so “deeply moved by Pilar’s description” that “Pilar had made him see that town . . I wish I could write it . . .
you had to know what they had been in the village” (For Whom the Bell Tolls 134). Consequently, via Pilar’s storytelling skills, Hemingway is also able to join future and the past events to emphasize the feminine and cyclical nature of life (Gadjusek 1). Further, Hemingway’s attribution of masculine qualities to Pilar does not diminish her femininity. These attributions show that Pilar’s femininity can transform and enhance basic masculine qualities into more powerfully enduring ideals.
Similarly, Hemingway also differentiates Pilar from Ibarurri by criticizing Ibarurri’s unfaithfulness to her ideals.
In a letter to Jay Allen, Hemingway writes that “Delores always did make me vomit” (qtd Guill 5), thus showing his great disillusionment with Ibarurri because she sent her son to safety in Russia during the Spanish Civil War. Moreover, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway chastises Ibarurri when he has one of the characters reveal her weakness: “Do you know your Pasionaria has a son thy age in Russia since the start of the movement? ” (309).
Further disparaging La Pasionaria, who is famous for giving voice to the rallying cry of the Spanish Republic “none shall pass” or “No Pasaran” (Guill 3), Hemingway writes Pilar’s version of this tag line as “that which must pass will pass” (For Whom the Bell Tolls 54). Pilar’s version emphasizes her gypsy heritage and her beliefs in the cyclical nature of life (Gadjusek 1). It also reveals Hemingway’s contradictory feelings and doubts about the justness of war. To establish Pilar as the “New Spanish Woman” (Guill 6) she is depicted as a proud woman who is not ashamed of her umerous past lovers.
Pilar repudiates the old conventions of femininity by using her past to give sexual advice to Maria, “It never moves more than three times in a lifetime. Did it really move? ” (For Whom the Bell Tolls 174) and “Pilar has told me there are things that one can do for a husband” (349). Hemingway has Pilar recount many tales of her past celebrated lovers to enrich the novel with the glory of the old Spanish Republic and to share the life lessons she has learned.
Pilar proclaims to Pablo in front of the guerillas, “Did I live nine years with three of the worst paid matadors in the world not to learn about fear and safety? ” (55). Pilar uses this proclamation, as well as the stories of her amours with the matadors, to prove her right to lead the band in their mission.
Pilar’s references to various matadors who are cultural icons would also have been familiar to the coeval reader. Mandel asserts that “two of Pilar’s narratives, her definition of the smell of death and her description of the party in Finito’s honor are particularly rich in cultural references . . and has sufficient detail to identify” (2) to Hemingway’s contemporaries seven bullfighters including Joselito Jose who is considered by many critics to be one the most famous bullfighters of the twentieth century. Through Pilar, Hemingway is able to enlarge the novel beyond the tight restrictions he has imposed in terms of time (three days), place (Guadarrama Mountains), action (one military operation, one love affair), and Protagonist (romantic outsider). (Mandel 1) Pilar is used by Hemingway to introduce “the cultural icons of peacetime Spain” (Mandel 1).
Hemingway’s dexterity as a writer is revealed as he manipulates Pilar’s character. Using Pilar’s narration to weave the past and the present together in the novel, Hemingway gives depth, lifts the limitations he has imposed on the story’s timeline, and enriches the readers’ appreciation of the forces that shape the characters’ actions. Once the reader is fully engaged by Pilar’s narratives, Hemingway is able to reveal more of his own beliefs through the musings and reactions of the other characters to Pilar’s words and deeds.
Like Pilar, Hemingway believes that people must act in a certain way when they are “under pressure” (Reynolds 4). Pilar is able to forgive Pablo, because she knows the man that Pablo was before the war wearied him. In chapter 10 of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Pilar recounts Pablo’s tale of the fascists in the village so movingly that the other characters are convinced not to kill Pablo despite his subversive activities (Gadjusek 1).
Pablo begrudgingly acquiesces to Pilar’s leadership role within the band because he knows that she is able to lead when he cannot.
Pablo submits to Pilar by grumbling, “All right. You command . . . It is possible that I am too lazy and that I drink too much” (56).
Jordan trusts Pilar’s judgment when she is being analytical, but he is leery of her gypsy tendencies that force him to contemplate ideas that are beyond his experiences. When Pilar reads Jordan’s palm, she tells him that she sees “nothing” (33). Jordan insists that he does not believe that she saw “nothing” (33), but Jordan says it does not matter what Pilar saw, since he only believes “in my work” (33).
The reader, unburdened by Jordan’s stereotypically western prejudices that all gypsies are lazy or thieves, knows that when Pilar says she saw “nothing” it means that Jordan will die soon (Murad 98). Thus, Hemingway uses Pilar’s diverse character to presage the novel’s “compact circular cycle” (Reynold 4) (Gadjusek 4) of the diminishing effects of the war on the protagonist as well as on all mankind.
Pilar is not merely a character within the novel; she is the crucial character who drives the action and enables the author to present his deep philosophical beliefs within the controlled scenario of For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The title of this Hemingway novel quotes John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17 showing Hemingway’s belief that . . .
any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. (qtd Reynold 3) To convey his philosophical point of view, Hemingway is compelled to create a character who can weave, within this limited three day timeframe, a rich tapestry of his belief that even though war diminishes us all, it is sometimes necessary.
Hemingway calls Pilar the “whore of whores” (For Whom the Bell Tolls 311) because she is the character that he has specifically creates to manipulate the story, to drive the other characters, and to push the reader to understand the author’s world view. He fully exploits Pilar’s character causing her alternatively to be narrator, fortuneteller, storyteller, woman, leader, lover, and advisor to convey his many disparate ideas within the novel. Hemingway carefully constructs Pilar’s character to lead his readers on a philosophical journey describing the futility of war.
Pilar embodies the “New Woman of Spain,” (Guill 6) and the old idea of Spanish womanhood, the gypsy and the analytical tactician, the bold lover and the victim, the eloquent storyteller and the sharp tongued critic.
Pilar possess the ability to shift masculine qualities to female control (Gadjusek 5), to lead and to advise the band, to show the cyclical nature of man’s struggle to bravely meet his destiny, and to show that man’s purpose is fulfilled, not wasted, when he gives his life for the betterment of others.