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"old Man at the Bridge" by Ernest Hemingway

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“Old Man at the Bridge” by Ernest Hemingway

1. Summary

“The Old Man at the Bridge” is set in Spain, during the civil war between the republicans and the fascists, on an Easter Sunday. The narrator is on a military operation to scout the whereabouts of the fascists. Not far from the fascist frontline, he meets an old man who is sitting by the side of a road on a bridge. The old man, who is neutral in the war, has been forced to leave his hometown because of artillery attacks. The narrator advices the old man to move on, as the fascists are closing in, but the old man is too tired. He tells the narrator of his animals back at his farm; his cat, his two goats and his four pairs of pigeons. He is worried about them. Not so much about the cat, and the pigeons, but the goats. When the old man gets up to walk on, he stumbles and sits back down.

2. Analytical essay

“The Old Man at the Bridge” is a minimalistic short story, because it has a very lean style of writing; the descriptions are cut to the bone, so only the bare minimum is told. The rest is up to the reader to interpret, in order to fully understand the story.

The story takes place on a bridge. This setting symbolizes an obstacle to overcome, in this case the border between life and death. If the old man could manage to get over the bridge, he might have a chance of survival. There are several other symbols in the story, such as the animals. The cat symbolizes the survivors, as cats are associated with the thought of having 9 lives and generally being independent creatures. The pigeons symbolizes the ones that are able to flee the war. The fact that the pigeons are later being called doves may give the old man a minor hope, as doves are a symbol of peace, and could therefore symbolize the hope of peace during wartime, or maybe a petty hope that the fascists are not going to hurt him. It could also symbolize his death, where he may obtain peace at last. The goat however, is a sacrificial animal, which symbolizes the death of the old man and the numerous other innocent victims of war.

The story takes place on an Easter Sunday, which was the day of resurrection for Jesus. In this story it symbolizes the changes in society that happens as war unravels; the hope from both parties of the war that their victory will lead to a resurrection of a better society. However, in the context of this story, it is used as a clear comment on the ambiguity of warfare, as it is very ironic that innocent victims die on the day of resurrection.

The main theme of the story is the impact of war on the innocent. This is seen in the text with the man repeatedly saying “I was only taking care of animals”, and the fact, that the old man is “without politics”. He has nothing to do with this conflict, and even though he wants to stay out of it and just take care of his animals, he is drawn into it, most likely with his life at stake.



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