Old Man at the Bridge

Old Man at the Bridge Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Ernest Hemingway's Old Man at the Bridge. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway grew up in a suburb of Chicago, spending summers with his family in rural Michigan. After high school, he got a job writing for The Kansas City Star, but left after only six months to join the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I, where he was injured and awarded the Silver Medal of Military Valor. Afterward, he lived in Ontario and Chicago, where he met his first wife, Hadley Richardson. In 1921 they moved to Paris, where he worked on his writing and also developed a long friendship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and other ex-patriate American writers of the “lost generation.” After the 1926 publication of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, he divorced Hadley and married Arkansas native Pauline Pfeiffer. The couple moved to Florida, where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms (1929), which became a bestseller. Hemingway finally moved to Spain to serve as a war correspondent in the Spanish Civil War, a job that inspired his famous 1939 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. After its publication, he met his third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Hemingway married his fourth and final wife, Mary Hemingway, in 1946, and the couple spent the next fourteen years living in Cuba. In 1953 Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for his novel The Old Man and the Sea, and in 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. After a final move to Idaho, Hemingway took his own life in 1961, following in the footsteps of his father who had died by suicide in 1928. Hemingway left behind his wife and three sons.
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Historical Context of Old Man at the Bridge

The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, at a time when two other European countries were already under brutal, anti-democratic regimes: Fascist Italy, under the rule of Benito Mussolini since 1922, and Nazi Germany, controlled by Adolf Hitler since 1933. The Spanish Civil War exacerbated political divisions across Europe. On the right, it intensified fears of Communism, while on the left, it bolstered opposition to Fascism. Many non-Spanish citizens joined the Republican cause voluntarily, fighting in the Communist-run International Brigades. However, the Nationalists ultimately won the war in 1939 and Francisco Franco ruled Spain as a military dictator until his death in 1975. The war became famous for the atrocities that were committed on both sides. Today, the Spanish Civil War is often seen as setting the stage for the Second World War, as various fascist, nationalistic political regimes were taking power across Europe.

Other Books Related to Old Man at the Bridge

Two of Hemingway’s most famous novels are also about war: A Farewell to Arms (1929) takes place during WWI, and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) takes place during the Spanish Civil War, just like “Old Man at the Bridge.” His interest in writing about war, death, and the failure of conventional values like religion was shared with other members of the Lost Generation, a group of writers who came of age during WWI and were deeply affected by their exposure to the horrors of warfare. After WWI, many such American and British writers formed an expatriate community in Paris and created lasting intellectual and personal bonds. Other notable writers who belonged to the Lost Generation include F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and William Faulkner.
Key Facts about Old Man at the Bridge
  • Full Title: "Old Man at the Bridge"
  • When Written: 1938
  • Where Written: Spain
  • When Published: 1938
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: Near bridge over the Ebro River in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)
  • Climax: The old man tries to walk forward but collapses
  • Antagonist: Alienation, Fascists
  • Point of View: First Person from the Soldier’s perspective

Extra Credit for Old Man at the Bridge

Based on a True Story. Hemingway worked as a foreign correspondent covering the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA), and he originally drafted a news article about the real-life events of “Old Man at the Bridge” before deciding to submit it to a magazine as a short story instead.

A Pair of Bridges. Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) also takes place by a bridge that the Republican fighters are trying to blow up during the Spanish Civil War.