Old Man at the Bridge
The story ‘Old Man at the Bridge’ was written during the time of the Spanish Civil War. It was meant to be published as a newspaper article, but Hemingway ended up publishing it as a short story. It is based on an incident that took place on an Easter Sunday, at the Ebro River. During this time, Hemingway served as a war correspondent.
In the story, the old man, who is seventy-six years old, is left to deal with his fate. He tells the narrator that he is from San Carlos, and is too old and tired to move any further. He constantly repeats that he was supposed to take care of his two goats, eight pigeons, and a cat, but he has left them because the captain asked him to do so. A war is round the corner, and he had to leave in order to avoid getting killed. What is ironical is that just like the old man is unable to stop thinking about his cat, pigeons, and goats, the narrator also finds himself unable to stop thinking about the old man. He keeps worrying that the old man might get killed by the fascists. The only hope he has is that it is an overcast day, so the enemy might not attack.
Initially, the birds that the old man was looking after are called “pigeons”, but towards the end of the story, they are termed as “doves”. The reference here could be to the war and peace situation. While, in the first case, “pigeons” could point towards the chaotic situation, due to which the old man is asked to leave; in the second case, the reference could be to some hope for peace, during war time. The day is overcast, and there might not be any bombings or killings.
The old man represents all the displaced people who have nowhere to go. The plight of leaving one’s homeland is reflected here. Throughout the story, the narrator continues to reassure the old man that the doves and the cat shall be able to take care of themselves. It is about the old man’s fate that he’s concerned about. He thinks that the animals (cat, and the doves) still might be able to take care of themselves, but the old man cannot do so, and shall become an innocent victim of the war (just like the goats).
The irony lies in the fact that a person is sacrificed on an Easter Sunday (the day of the resurrection of Christ). The title of the story ‘Old Man at the bridge’ symbolizes the old man hanging between life and death. The bridge is not a strong one, and acts as a gateway to either life or death.