Rabbit Stew and Blowing Dorothy's Bridges: Love, Aggression, and Fetishism in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'

By Eby, Carl | Twentieth Century Literature, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Rabbit Stew and Blowing Dorothy's Bridges: Love, Aggression, and Fetishism in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls.'


Eby, Carl, Twentieth Century Literature


"Then you and me are the same," Maria said. She put her hand on his arm and looked in his face. He looked at her brown face and at the eyes that, since he had seen them, had never been as young as the rest of her face but that now were suddenly hungry and young and wanting.

"You could be brother and sister by the look," [Pilar] said. "But I believe it is fortunate that you are not."

"Now I know why I have felt as I have," Maria said. "Now it is clear."

"Que va," Robert Jordan said and reaching over, he ran his hand over the top of her head. He had been wanting to do that all day and now he did it, he could feel his throat swelling. She moved her head under his hand and smiled up at him and he felt the thick but silky roughness of the cropped head rippling between his fingers.

- Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls (67)

There is something a little perverse about love at first sight. Powerful and poetically beautiful, such love is nevertheless constituted by a sort of blindness unlike the ordinary blindness of dull sublunary lovers' love. The lover who truly loves passionately at first sight somehow fails to see the immediate object of his devotion. Instead he recognizes some quality that speaks to him, or "hails" him in an almost Althusserian sense; but this quality isn't in the object so much as it is projected onto the object and then "discovered" there. It is as if the unwitting love object had stumbled by chance onto the stage of an imaginary drama, long in progress, only to be immediately and unconsciously recognized as a replacement for another object lost in the opening scene. The quality in the love object that hails the lover can't really do so from "outside" because in the "other scene" the subject was formed partly in a dialectical relationship with precisely the quality that now appears to hail and subject him from without. Thus, colored by nostalgia from the moment of its inception, this love so refined that it knows not what it is takes the immediate object of devotion as a countermelancholic replacement for a lost object whose absence cannot be admitted and for whom mourning has long been forbidden?

When Maria, lithe and fragile, first steps forth from the darkness of the cave carrying a big iron cooking platter in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan falls in love at first sight. As she sets the platter before him, Jordan admires her features - her high cheekbones, her bright smile and eyes, her irises and skin of the same golden tawny brown, her full lips, and her "small up-tilted breasts" showing through her gray shirt - but there is something else, something that clearly hails Jordan and that he immediately recognizes as "the strange thing about her":

Her hair was the golden brown of a grain field that has been burned dark in the sun but it was cut all over her head so it was but little longer than the fur on a beaver pelt. She smiled in Robert Jordan's face and put her brown hand up and ran it over her head, flattening the hair which rose again as the hand passed. (22)

"She'd be beautiful if they hadn't cropped her hair,"Jordan muses; yet when his throat swells up so that he can't speak (indicating, perhaps, a swelling elsewhere) it seems fairly obvious that Jordan is moved, and he is moved precisely by Maria's cropped hair. Running her hand over her head, Maria has to remind Jordan not to stare, and to divert him, or perhaps suspecting with prophetic accuracy that the way to this man's heart is through his stomach, she tells him to eat.

The communal meal that follows bonds Jordan with his new comrades, but the dish also establishes a more subtle bond between the two lovers: "It was rabbit cooked with onions and green peppers and there were chick peas in the red wine sauce. It was well cooked, the rabbit meat flaked off the bones, and the sauce was delicious" (23). As Jordan carefully piles the bones to one side of his plate and uses his bread to sop up every last drop of the sauce, the girl continues to watch him.

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