The Old Man at the Bridge by Ernest Hemingway
“The Old Man at the Bridge” is a very short story by Ernest Hemingway. It is based on an incident that Hemingway witnessed in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was covering the war as a journalist and was at the Republican last stand at the Ebro River in 1938. He originally intended to file it as a newspaper article, but changed his mind.
An army scout is the narrator of the story. The story occurs on Easter Sunday which is meant to be ironic. He has returned from a reconnaissance mission to locate the Fascist forces. He crosses a pontoon bridge and encounters an old man sitting on the bank. Refugees are crossing the bridge, but the old man is not joining them. Curious, but mainly just killing time at first, the scout engages the old man in conversation as he listens “all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact….” The old man is obviously disoriented by his experience. He apparently was a poor farmer or shepherd who took care of a cat, some goats, and some pigeons. Now they are gone and he is worried about them more than about himself. He seems accepting of death and has no desire to continue on.
The story is full of symbolism. The cat with its nine lives symbolizes survival. The old man mentions that the cat will be fine on its own. The goats represent sacrifice. War requires sacrifices. The old man is a goat. As are all the refugees. The pigeons can fly away. Towards the end of the story, the scout refers to them as doves. This is a clear reference to peace. It has flown away. The bridge is the bridge between life and death. (Maybe that explains why the Republicans have not destroyed it as the superior Fascist army approaches.) In a sparse story, Hemingway has passed on his eye-witness experiences with war and peasants. The old man represents all the civilians. The war has turned his life upside down. He has not taken sides and probably has no idea of what the war is about. “’I was only taking care of animals.’” A variation of that line has been spoken since the dawn of warfare.
“The Old Man at the Bridge” is typical Hemingway. It seems simple on the surface and at first you wonder what the big deal is. It is best suited for a high school English class. I have to admit I am not big on reading between the lines. You have to read between the lines to get the symbolism, but it is obvious Hemingway means more than a simple article about an incident in a civil war. I mean who shepherds a cat, some goats, and some pigeons?
GRADE = C
You can read it at: http://rauschreading09.pbworks.com/f...dge+packet.pdf
You can listen to it being read on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zPfUJm5RhNQ