Old Man at the Bridge
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Discuss the theme of the story ‘Old Man at the Bridge’.Marks:16
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.
Read the extract below and answer the questions that follow-
“There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a grey overcast day with a low ceiling so their planes were not up. That and the fact that cats know how to look after themselves was all the good luck that old man would ever have.”
a. What does the narrator mean when he says, “There was nothing to do about him”? (3x1=3)
b. Why do you think the Fascists could not fly their planes on that day? (3x1=3)
c. Why was the narrator sad and guilty while leaving?(3x1=3)
d. Whydidn’t the old man leave when asked to do so by the soldier? (3x1=3)
e. Explain the reference to cats in the story. How did the pigeons mentioned earlier in the story become doves? (4x1=4)Marks:16
a. When the narrator says that there was nothing to do about him, he refers to the fact that the old man was unwilling to go anywhere and kept repeating about his animals. The soldier told him that he could catch a truck to Barcelona, but the old man couldn’t move.
b. The fascists could not fly their planes on that day because it was a cloudy day, and the sky was overcast. It meant that it would rain anytime, and hence the enemy could not attack. In this case, the old man could probably get saved, but the narrator knew that it might not be so.
c. The narrator was sad and guilty while leaving because he was concerned about the old man, but did not do anything to help him. Instead, he left him to his own fate. Just like the old man left his animals but could not stop thinking about them, similarly the soldier left the old man to his fate, but cannot stop thinking about him.
d. The old man was in a kind of trance. He kept repeating something about his animals, and how they will be able to take care of themselves. Moreover, he was not strong enough to move from his place. Although he tried, he was too tired and sat down again.
e. Cats can take care of themselves, but the old man is not like the cats who could fend for themselves. He was to be taken care of, like his goats. The pigeons mentioned earlier in the story are referred to as doves later. They represent chaos (as pigeons), and peace (as doves). The doves symbolise hope that the future may not be what it is at this point in the story.
Read the extract below and answer the questions that follow-
“I am without politics,” he said. “I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometres now and I think now I can go no further.”
“This is not a good place to stop,” I said. “If you can make it, there are trucks up the road where it forks for Tortosa.”
a. Explain the meaning of the line, ‘I am without politics’. (3x1=3)
b. Do you think the soldier is helpful? Why?
c. Why is the old man not able to walk further? Does he take the soldier’s suggestion of catching a truck?(3x1=3)
d. Why wasn’t it a good place to stop? (3x1=3)
e. Why did the old man leave his animals behind, even though they were his family? (4x1=4)Marks:16
a. The old man is seventy-six years old, nearing his death. When he is asked as to what politics he has, he replies that he’s without any. It means that he is a simple man who cares for his family, and has no interest in the affairs around him. All he cares for is humanity.
b. The soldier is not of much help to the old man. He asks the latter to catch a truck to Barcelona, but does not take him to it. He could have helped the old man get up and take him to a safe place, where he could travel further.
c. The old man is not able to walk further, as he is too tired. He has walked a long way, away from his home town. He is concerned about his animals, and they are the only family he has. Still, he had to leave them behind.
d. It wasn’t a good place to stop because the Spanish Civil War was going on, and the fascists could attack any time. Therefore, everyone was crossing the bridge to move to a safer place.
e. The old man had no choice. He had to leave his animals behind because the captain had asked him to vacate the place, due to the artillery. He had come a long way, but he was guilty of leaving his animals to their fate. He keeps thinking of his cat, goats, and pigeons.
“An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle deep dust. But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.”
a. Where was the old man from? Why did he sit beside the road?
b. Who is the other character in the story besides the old man? What did he do?
c. Who is the narrator of the story? What does he inform us about?
d. Why was the old man forced to leave his home?
e. What is a pontoon bridge? Describe the activities on the bridge that happened on the day.
a. The old man was from San Carlos, and he took care of his animals back home. He came and sat beside the road as he was too tired and dejected. He did not know where to go.
b. The other character in the story is the soldier, who is also the narrator of the story. His duty was to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead, and check how far the enemy has advanced. That day, while doing his duty, he found the old man sitting on the side of the road.
c. The soldier is the narrator of the story. He informs the readers of the activities on the pontoon bridge. He also tells the readers that the old man was wearing steel rimmed spectacles and dusty clothes, and sat by the side of the road.
d. The old man came from San Carlos. He was forced to leave his home town because of an attack by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. The captain had asked him to leave because of the artillery.
e. A pontoon bridge is a bridge which floats on water. It is not strong enough, and is supported on the sides by barges or boats. Pontoon bridges are generally temporary, but sometimes they are used for long periods. On the day when the story is set, people were crossing the bridge, there were mule-drawn carts and the soldiers were helping to push the spokes of the wheels. The trucks moved, and there were peasants plodding along in ankle-deep dust.