A close look will be taken into the ways in which the two female leads in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls contribute to the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War by analyzing their actions and attitudes held as parallel to the atrocities playing out during the rebel’s struggle for freedom…
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To begin with, Maria’s story essentially begins when the enchanting American professor, Robert Jordan, enters her life. Before that, she was a rebel, a broken character all but destroyed by the civil war. However, Maria is a survivor. Her very character is symbolic of the war effort in that she has endured the loss of her family, who were brutally murdered by a fascist group, was gang raped by the fascists herself, and then spent time as a prisoner of the fascists, during which time her hair was cut short to symbolize her forced renouncement of the Republican cause. She was an utterly broken woman. Stripped of her family, her dignity, and her inherent power as a woman, Maria was on the verge of giving up—and would have—if not for the shining light that Pilar represented and the sexual redemption found within Robert’s arms.
Maria is an inherently sexual heroine. She and Robert make love three times over the course of the novel’s three days and their relationship is fast-forming. Almost instantly, despite the civil war erupting around them, they discover a deep and transcendent love for one another. She is able to, at least outwardly, overcome the monstrous act upon her body; though, psychologically it appears as though she is taking up a sexual relationship with Robert because she is seeking a parallel comfort to her agony. In being sexually hurt, she seeks sexual redemption in the arms of the strong male lead.
As a character, Maria is stereotypical and does not experience much evolution during the course of For Whom the Bell Tolls. She is nineteen, and while many women grow to be stronger characters during times of crisis, she maintains a youthful mindset, unable to fully escape from the horrors of her past. It is only when she finds herself safely in the arms of Robert that she attains some semblance of peace. What her character does represent, however, is the archetypal fire of rebellion in the hearts of the rebels during the war. Like the rebels, her heart, while damaged, fought for freedom, seeking solace in the darkness, finding peace in redemption. Ultimately, Maria’s sexual search for self is a direct correlation to the passion of the rebellion and demonstrates that a person can find true peace—an almost transcendent immortality—when the fires of rebellion burn hot within them. On the other hand, Pilar is a diverse and challenging character. She claims she is “so simple [she is] complicated” (Hemingway 156). She is tough, almost more so than the male leads of For Whom a Bell Tolls, and, more importantly, she serves as an archetypal symbol for the strength of the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. She is a woman unafraid of conflict, and will challenge any of the men for their character flaws, cowardice, and mistakes. Perhaps the most endearing quality to Pilar—and that which makes her more accessible a character than Maria—is that she is nearing fifty and no longer knows the love of a man. She becomes almost instantly jealous of Maria and Robert’s relationship and makes a point of telling Maria so, explaining that “I love thee and he can have thee, I am no tortillera but a woman made for men”
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