S1 E2 | CLIP

Sen. John McCain on His Hero from 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'

Published in the fall of 1940 at the end of the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" follows character Robert Jordan, a young American college instructor, in his fight against fascism. Senator John McCain discusses the profound impact the novel and its hero had on him.

AIRED: April 06, 2021 | 0:02:45

- I was 12 years old.

I found a four-leaf clover,

and I brought it in to press it in a book

so I could preserve it.

That happened to be "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

Still the great American novel,

and I started reading, and I couldn't stop

until I finished.

- [Narrator] When "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

was published in October of 1940,

Europe and Asia were engulfed in a world war

far more cataclysmic than the one

in which Hemingway had been wounded.

(ominous orchestral music)

(plane engine roars)

(bomb explodes)

(tank rattles)

(soldiers yelling)

(artillery fires)

(munition explodes)

(fire crackles)

- By the time "For Whom the Bell Tolls" came out in 1940,

war in Europe was a reality.

France had fallen.

It was do or die time.

The questions that Hemingway raises in that novel

were incredibly urgent.

And it was clear that the bell was tolling

for everybody in this country,

not just for the people in France and in England,

or Spain.

(light suspenseful music) (gunfire pops)

- [Narrator] The story is set in 1937,

when the defeat of Franco's forces

had still seemed possible.

(plane engines roar)

(bomb explodes)

It's hero is an idealistic

young American college instructor named Robert Jordan,

with some knowledge of explosives,

and no political affiliation

other than hatred of fascism,

who finds himself part of a guerrilla band

that undertakes a doomed mission to dynamite a bridge.

(light piano music)

- My hero is Robert Jordan.

Robert Jordan is as real to me as you are.

He was working as a professor in the University of Montana,

but he heard about this struggle.

He knew about fascism.

He knew what Hitler and Mussolini were doing.

(gunfire cracks)

And he decided to go and fight on behalf of people

he had never met, and he did not know,

(gunfire cracks)

even knowing that that cause was a flawed cause.

But he was willing to fight

and do whatever he thought he could,

for the cause of justice and freedom.

I always wanted to be Robert Jordan (laughs).


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