Old Man at the Bridge

by

Ernest Hemingway

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The narrator Character Analysis

The narrator is a soldier for the Republican (left-wing) side in the Spanish Civil War. When carrying out his duties of determining the extent of the enemy advance, he finds an old man who is sitting by the side of the road in the enemy’s path. He talks with the old man, trying to convince him to flee to safety, but he is constantly distracted by thoughts of the enemy’s advancement. His responses to the man are often perfunctory or dismissive, such as when the man earnestly and emotionally inquires about whether the animals he left behind might survive, and the narrator simply answers, “Why not?” While the narrator does encourage the man to flee, he never tries to understand who the man is or what might motivate him, and he fairly quickly decides that, since there is “nothing to do about” the old man, he must leave. The reader concludes that the old man will die.

The narrator Quotes in Old Man at the Bridge

The Old Man at the Bridge quotes below are all either spoken by The narrator or refer to The narrator. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Old Man at the Bridge published in 1987.
Old Man at the Bridge Quotes

“And you have no family?” I asked, watching the far end of the bridge where a few last carts were hurrying down the slope of the bank.

“No,” he said, “only the animals I stated. The cat, of course, will be all right. A cat can look out for itself, but I cannot think what will become of the others.”

Related Characters: The Old Man (speaker), The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

“I will wait a while,” he said, “and then I will go. Where do the trucks go?”

“Towards Barcelona,” I told him.

“I know no one in that direction,” he said, “but thank you very much. Thank you again very much.”

Related Characters: The Old Man (speaker), The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

He looked at me very blankly and tiredly, then said, having to share his worry with some one, “The cat will be all right. I am sure. . . But the others. Now what do you think about the others?”

“Why they’ll probably come through it all right.”

“You think so?”

“Why not,” I said, watching the far bank where now there were no

carts.

Related Characters: The Old Man (speaker), The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

“Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Then they’ll fly.”

“Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others. It’s better not to think about the others,” he said.

Related Characters: The Old Man (speaker), The narrator (speaker)
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro. It was a gray 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.

Related Characters: The narrator (speaker), The Old Man
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
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The narrator Character Timeline in Old Man at the Bridge

The timeline below shows where the character The narrator appears in Old Man at the Bridge. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Old Man at the Bridge
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
...push the carts up the banks. The old man sits, too tired to move. The narrator, a soldier, crosses the bridge in the other direction to see how far the enemy... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
The narrator approaches the old man, who says proudly that he has come from his native town... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
The narrator asks the old man if he has any family, and the old man says he... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
The narrator asks the old man what his political opinions are. The old man answers that he... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
The old man can’t help but share his concerns for his animals with the narrator. He repeats that the cat will surely be fine, but asks the narrator what he... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
The narrator urges the old man to try to get up and walk. The old man manages... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
The narrator observes that it is Easter Sunday and the Fascists are advancing towards the Ebro River,... (full context)