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Translation Criticism of for Whom the Bell Tolls sample essay


It is inevitable that a literary masterpiece is going to be translated to different languages by different translators, however, what matters is the quality of the translations produced in a particular language. The translator has to be aware of the writer’s style, diction, point of view, tone,… in order to produce an adequate, effective, and natural translation. It is the duty of translation critics to assess the quality of the translations produced in order for the translators to be able to enhance the quality of their translations. In this paper the translation of for whom the bell tolls written by Ernest Hemingway and translated by Dr. Ali Salimi has been evaluated. First the biography of the writer and a short discussion about the title has been given , then a summary of the book and some background information about it as well as a brief discussion of the work has been presented, afterwards the analysis of major characters has been discussed, next the style of Hemingway’s works in addition to the book’s tone, point of view and some other information has been introduced, after that some points about the procedures of translation criticism according to Newmark has been given and last the above mentioned translation has been assessed and criticized.


Translation criticism can be defined as looking comprehensively at different aspects of a translated work. According to Newmark (1998, p.184) translation criticism is an essential link between translation theory and its practice. Literary translation provides a wider readership for a literary work, however, the quality of a translation produced in a particular target language is of utmost importance. A translation of a literary work should be oriented toward the writer rather than the reader.

So, it can be said that a literary translation should convey as precisely as possible the style, diction, point of view and tone of the writer. It is the duty of translation critics to comment on different aspects of a translated work in order to improve the quality of the translations produced in a particular language. Newmark (ibid, p.186) maintained that: Any comprehensive criticism of a translation has to cover five topics: (1) a brief analysis of the SL text stressing its intention and its functional aspects; (2) the translators interpretation of the SL text’s purpose, his translation method ; and the translation’s likely readership.

(3) a selective but representative detailed comparison of the translation with the original;
(4) an evaluation of the translation –(a) in the translators terms, (b) in the critic’s terms;
(5) where appropriate, an assessment of the likely place of the translation in the target language culture or discipline.

The present paper has attempted to evaluate the translation of for whom the bell tolls written by Ernest Hemingway and translated by Dr. Ali Salimi. First the biography of the writer and a short discussion about the title has been given , then a summary of the book and some background information about it as well as a brief discussion of the work has been presented, afterwards the analysis of major characters has been discussed, next the style of Hemingway’s works in addition to the book’s tone, point of view and some other information has been introduced, after that some points about the procedures of translation criticism according to Newmark has been given and last the above mentioned translation has been assessed and criticized and some examples has been given.

A short summary of Hemingway’s biography

Ernest Hemingway born in 1899, was an American author and journalist. His distinctive writing style, characterized by economy and understatement, influenced 20th-century fiction, as did his life of adventure and public image. He produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Many of his works are classics of American literature.

Hemingway’s detailed biography

Ernest Miller Hemingway was born July 2, 1899 in Oak Park, Illinois. Clarence and Grace Hemingway raised their son in this conservative suburb of Chicago, but the family also spent a great deal of time in northern Michigan, where they had a cabin. It was there that the future sportsman learned to hunt, fish and appreciate the outdoors. In high school, Hemingway worked on his school newspaper, Trapeze and Tabula, writing primarily about sports. Immediately after graduation, the budding journalist went to work for the Kansas City Star, gaining experience that would later influence his distinctively stripped-down prose style. He once said, “On the Star you were forced to learn to write a simple declarative sentence. This is useful to anyone. Newspaper work will not harm a young writer and could help him if he gets out of it in time.” In 1918, Hemingway went overseas to serve in World War I as an ambulance driver in the Italian Army. For his service, he was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery, but soon sustained injuries that landed him in a hospital in Milan.

There he met a nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky, who soon accepted his proposal of marriage, but later left him for another man. This devastated the young writer but provided fodder for his works “A Very Short Story” and, more famously, A Farewell to Arms. Still nursing his injury and recovering from the brutalities of war at the young age of 20, he returned to the United States and spent time in northern Michigan before taking a job at the Toronto Star. It was in Chicago that Hemingway met Hadley Richardson, the woman who would become his first wife. The couple married and quickly moved to Paris, where Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent for the Star. In Paris, Hemingway soon became a key part of what Gertrude Stein would famously call “The Lost Generation.” With Stein as his mentor, Hemingway made the acquaintance of many of the great writers and artists of his generation, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce. In 1923, Hemingway and Hadley had a son, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway.

By this time the writer had also begun frequenting the famous Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. In 1925, the couple, joining a group of British and American expatriates, took a trip to the festival that would later provided the basis of Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises. The novel is widely considered Hemingway’s greatest work, artfully examining the postwar disillusionment of his generation. Soon after the publication of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway and Hadley divorced, due in part to his affair with a woman named Pauline Pfeiffer, who would become Hemingway’s second wife shortly after his divorce from Hadley was finalized. The author continued to work on his book of short stories, Men Without Women. Soon, Pauline became pregnant and the couple decided to move back to America. After the birth of their son Patrick Hemingway in 1928, they settled in Key West, Florida, but summered in Wyoming. During this time, Hemingway finished his celebrated World War I novel A Farewell to Arms, securing his lasting place in the literary canon. When he wasn’t writing, Hemingway spent much of the 1930s chasing adventure: big-game hunting in Africa, bullfighting in Spain, deep-sea fishing in Florida.

While reporting on the Spanish Civil War in 1937, Hemingway met a fellow war correspondent named Martha Gellhorn (soon to become wife number three) and gathered material for his next novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which would eventually be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Almost predictably, his marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer deteriorated and the couple divorced. Gellhorn and Hemingway married soon after and purchased a farm near Havana, Cuba, which would serve as their winter residence. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Hemingway served as a correspondent and was present at several of the war’s key moments, including the D-Day landing. Toward the end of the war, Hemingway met another war correspondent, Mary Welsh, whom he would later marry after divorcing Martha Gellhorn.

In 1951, Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea, which would become perhaps his most famous book, finally winning him the Pulitzer Prize he had long been denied. The author continued his forays into Africa and sustained several injuries during his adventures, even surviving multiple plane crashes. In 1954, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Even at this peak of his literary career, though, the burly Hemingway’s body and mind were beginning to betray him. Recovering from various old injuries in Cuba, Hemingway suffered from depression and was treated for numerous conditions such as high blood pressure and liver disease. He wrote A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his years in Paris, and retired permanently to Idaho. There he continued to battle with deteriorating mental and physical health.

Early on the morning of July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in his Ketchum home. Hemingway left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent. When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Hemingway proved once again to be a master of the “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

The title of the book
The title of the book has been taken from a poem by John Donne which goes as follows: No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


Donne (1572-1631) lived in England and at that time the tolling of church bells to mark various events, was an important part of the daily life. The tolling referred to in the poem is that of the funeral bells. Donne believed that all people are socially and religiously interconnected. He seems to imply that what affects one person, affects us all. So he wants to say that: “Don’t forget your death because it is imminent.” Ernest Hemingway helped to make the phrase famous by choosing it for the title of his book. He seems to be implying that all people should be concerned about other’s problems. For example the protagonist of the book is an American who wants to help Spanish people in the civil war, although apparently it should not concern him.

For Whom the Bell Tolls Summary

This novel traces three days in the life of Robert Jordan, an American Spanish professor who has volunteered to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. Jordan is a dynamite expert, and is ordered by General Golz, a Russian leader of the International Brigades, to bomb a bridge as part of their offensive against the Fascists. Golz is only interested in the offensive as a means of practicing his military tactics and he is cynical about its success in the hands of the Spanish peasants. Anselmo, an old guide, brings Jordan through the woods to the hideout, an abandoned cave, of the men who will help him complete his mission. The guerillas that Jordan encounters obviously do not want to be involved in the war any longer. They meet Agustin in the woods, visibly relieved to see them because he has forgotten the password to their lair. The gypsy Rafael, despite being the guard, is only interested in cracking jokes. He tells Jordan about Kashkin, the previous foreign dynamite expert who, ironically, killed himself after being wounded during their last mission, the explosion of a train.

The most cynical and despondent guerilla, however, is Pablo, their leader. Despite being a courageous man before, Pablo now wants only to return to his village to raise the horses he gained as spoils of war. Many conflicts arise between Pablo and Jordan, as the Pablo resents that a foreigner is interfering in a matter that can risk his own life and those of his band. There are also two women at the camp: Pilar, who is Pablo’s wife, and Maria, a girl they rescued from the train carrying prisoners of war. Despite her cropped hair, which was shaved during her interment by the Fascists and the obvious psychological damage wrought upon her, she is beautiful. Pilar is an ugly woman, but celebrated for her bravery. Since Pablo “went bad” and lost the courage and zeal he displayed at the beginning of the war, Pilar maintains the unity of his band. Pilar is a gypsy and, upon introductions, reads Jordan’s palm. The future she foretells there, but will not reveal, is grim.

Pablo’s cowardice soon makes him relinquish power to Pilar, his bold wife. Pablo announces that he is against blowing up the bridge, but Pilar backs Robert Jordan and the men follow her lead. After the confrontation, Rafael tells Jordan that he should have killed Pablo, and that he would have had the support of the guerillas. Jordan reasons that, unprovoked, this would be assassination. As Pablo continues to insult and cause trouble of Jordan throughout the novel, Jordan wonders if he made the right decision. After the confrontation with Pablo, during the night after the first day, Jordan makes love to Maria when she comes to his makeshift bed outside the cave. The nineteen-year-old girl, who has been raped and orphaned, has fallen quickly and madly in love with Jordan. She believes that her love will purify her from past atrocities committed to her. Jordan returns her feelings, as he has gazed upon her all day with a lump in his throat.

He celebrates finding, for the first time, happiness in unity with another individual. Jordan’s newfound love, however, is overshadowed by the many obstacles he must face to complete his mission. The appearance of enemy planes, for one, heighten tension at the camp because either they are planning an attack of their own, or have gotten wind of the Loyalist offensive. So too, when Maria, Pilar and Jordan journey up the mountain to the guerilla leader El Sordo’s camp, he reminds them of how dangerous the bridge mission is. He agrees to help them, but as they leave camp it begins to snow. Now, the enemy could be able to follow El Sordo’s tracks to the bridge. The only person who really encourages Jordan is Anselmo, who he finds loyally waiting in his post, despite the storm, for Jordan to dismiss him. Besides being a loyal soldier who is committed to the Cause, Anselmo is distinguished as a true humanitarian. He is preoccupied not with the thought of losing his own life during the attack on the bridge, but rather fears that Jordan will order him to kill another human being.

He sees the enemy not as evil Fascists, as do the others, but as poor countrymen like themselves. Pablo again makes trouble for Jordan on the second day, when he baits him about his relationship with Maria. Jordan tries to goad him into fighting, as this would be an appropriate time to kill him for the sake of the mission. Pablo refuses to be baited, however, and later resumes a cooperative mood. Jordan trusts him less than ever, and grows increasingly worrisome about the success of the mission. Thus, Jordan feels his time is limited, which is evidenced by his urgent need to make love to Maria. The next morning, Jordan is awakened by the sounds of an approaching enemy horseman. Jordan shoots the soldier, and the camp frantically scrambles to arm themselves with a machine gun that did not even come with directions. Tension mounts as Fascist troops pass by the camp. Jordan acts as the example of level-headedness for his men, as Agustin wants to kill the passing soldiers.

Then, sounds come from El Sordo’s. His camp is attacked and bombed, and they all are killed. Primitivo urges Jordan to help El Sordo, but Jordan knows that the bridge mission must be his priority, even over the lives of his comrades. Thus, the guerillas remain undiscovered for the time being. The fighting between El Sordo and the Fascists, led by Lieutenant Berrendo, show how neither side really wants to fight or die. Jordan sends a young guerilla, to General Golz with news of El Sordo’s defeat and a request that the offensive be cancelled. The last night before the attack is very eventful. Maria is inflicted by pain, so the couple discusses their future and their luck in finding each other. Jordan, however, thinks that being unable to make love is a bad omen. Indeed, his presentiment comes true when Pilar wakes him with the news that Pablo, ever treacherous, has fled with some dynamite. Jordan is worried now that his plan won’t work. Jordan does not have enough men and Pablo stole the equipment he needed to blow the bridge correctly. It is highly unlikely that the attack will be postponed, even if Andres does deliver the message to General Golz. Pablo returns that morning accompanied by five extra men and their horses, claiming that he is not a coward after all and will help blow the bridge.

The apathy and inefficiency of the Loyalist army stalls Andres, and the message does not reach General Golz in time. The bridge bombing must proceed. At the bridge, Jordan orders Anselmo to kill the sentry, which he tearfully accomplishes. Then they dynamite the bridge, and Anselmo is killed by a falling rock. In the ensuing fighting, the only guerillas who survive are Pablo, Pilar, Maria, Primitivo and Agustin . Jordan is hit by a shell as they escape on horseback and is unable to escape. He tells Maria that they will always be one person, and refuses to be shot out of mercy. His comrades give him a machine gun so that he can defend himself from the approaching enemy. Jordan fights pain and suicidal thoughts with the hope that he can buy time for the fleeing guerillas. The novel closes here, as Jordan awaits his certain death on the pine-covered ground he appeared on in the first scene.

Background information about for whom the bell tolls

For Whom the Bell Tolls was inspired by Hemingway’s experiences as a foreign correspondent, first in Paris and then in Spain itself, during the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway visited Spain in 1931, just after the monarchy of Alfonso XIII had been overthrown. After several years of political conflict and civil unrest, elections were held in Spain. The resulting parliament was evenly divided between leftists and rightists, creating a very volatile political situation. It was then that Alfonso XIII voluntarily exiled himself and on April 13, 1931, the Republic was proclaimed. Hemingway, observing these events, predicted that a civil war would erupt between the leftist and rightist political factions. He was correct, and when the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, Hemingway wrote articles and delivered speeches to raise money for the leftist, now called the Loyalist, cause. In 1937, Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance.

Only a few months after his arrival, Hemingway announced to the literary world that he was working on a new novel- its subject was the Spanish Civil War. The fact that the protagonist of the novel, Robert Jordan, is an American is not unusual. The Spanish Civil War quickly became infiltrated by foreign intervention on both sides, and indeed has been likened to a “testing ground” for World War II, as the forces of Fascism and Communism pitted against one another. Many volunteers from democratic countries volunteered fought for the Loyalists against the Fascist army of Francisco Franco. The Russian General Golz who orders Robert Jordan to blow the bridge is also historically grounded. Russia sent “observers” and financial aid to help the leftist cause. The Fascist Monarchists had the support of Germany and Italy. As well as sending money and volunteers, these countries had the financial means to send weapons, vehicles, and supplies.

To understand the context of For Whom the Bell Tolls, an important fact to remember is that it was a war between communism and fascism, an ideological and tactical practice for foreign volunteers. Also, it is important to remember that the communism of the Spanish Civil War strictly abolished religion, as this will be an important theme in For Whom the Bell Tolls. By the spring of 1937, the time in which For Whom the Bell Tolls takes place, the Monarchist army had won their way up the Iberian peninsula and were besieging Madrid. The action in For Whom the Bell Tolls takes place in the woods surrounding the city of Segovia, which is a three hour journey from the capital. Although the Loyalists still retained control of the area, the Monarchists were slowly closing in.

Over the next two years, a blockade prevented the Loyalists from receiving supplies and resistance in Loyalist villages began to crumble. The war lasted until March 28, 1939, when the better-armed Monarchists finally conquered Madrid. A year after the war ended, in 1940, For Whom the Bell Tolls was published. The story of the American volunteer, Robert Jordan, is loosely based on Hemingway’s own experience covering the war for the press. Hemingway intended that the novel reveal the realities behind “the good fight” of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. According to the majority of critical receptions to the work, it seems Hemingway succeeded. After reading the preliminary manuscript, literary expert Maxwell Perkins told his friend that “If the function of a writer is to reveal reality, no one ever so completely performed it.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls was hailed as Hemingway’s finest work upon its publication, and is still considered by many critics to be his masterpiece. Specifically, the literary world hailed Hemingway’s spare style and powerful symbolism. The love scenes between Jordan and Maria, the dramatic account of El Sordo’s defeat, and the ironic commentary on the death of ideals created a novel of broad scope, with greater emotional power than his previous novels. Themes such as love and war had been narrated before, but never with such realistic and poignant prose as Hemingway crafted in For Whom the Bell Tolls. It is still celebrated not only as one of Hemingway’s best, but also as one of the best war novels of all time.

A short discussion of the book

For whom the bell tolls is a novel of incredible intensity and power. Although the prose is relatively simple (in typical Hemingway style), it belies a work of uncompromising power, which will stay in the mind long after the reader has reached its electrifying conclusion. Here, Hemingway gives us a number of inter-woven ideas, each of which has been argued as being the central theme of the novel. On the one hand, we have a simple tale of the attempt by a group of partisans, over a three day period, to blow up a fascist-held bridge.

Within this, Hemingway also effectively develops a very moving love story between the central character, Robert Jordan, and Maria. The back-drop to all this is a thought provoking account of the brutality and tragedy of the Spanish Civil War. It is very much the combination of these three threads which make For whom the bell tolls such a fine and captivating work. The characterization is impressive throughout, and the reader cannot help but feel a great sense of empathy and understanding for those caught up in this tale. As the novel surges to its explosive finale, Hemingway succeeds in creating a number of very mixed emotions in the reader’s mind. Indeed, these feelings are only intensified by the inevitable completion of the text.

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