Old Man at the Bridge

by

Ernest Hemingway

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The Old Man Character Analysis

The old man, the story’s central character, has fled his hometown to escape the encroaching violence of the Spanish Civil War. Throughout the story, he is sitting by the side of the road, exhausted from attempting to travel to safety and feeling that he can no longer go on. When the narrator (a soldier) stops to try to convince him to move along to a safer place, the old man reveals that he was reluctant to leave his hometown (the very mention of which is the only thing in the story that makes him happy) because he was the caretaker for a number of animals who might not survive without him. While at first he risked his life to stay and care for them, he evidently valued his own life enough to leave them behind when a captain ordered him to evacuate because of artillery fire. The old man says that he has no family, doesn’t know anyone in Barcelona (where the fleeing masses are heading), and has no politics, and therefore no stake in the war. Without his animals, he has no great reason to live, and he tries and fails to walk again when the narrator urges him to keep moving towards safety. Feeling that he cannot help the man, the narrator moves on, concluding that the only luck the old man would ever have was that his cat, at least, was likely to survive, and that the enemy planes were grounded for the moment. Presumably, the old man is left to die.

The Old Man Quotes in Old Man at the Bridge

The Old Man at the Bridge quotes below are all either spoken by The Old Man or refer to The Old Man. 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:
Get the entire Old Man at the Bridge LitChart as a printable PDF.
Old Man at the Bridge PDF

The Old Man Character Timeline in Old Man at the Bridge

The timeline below shows where the character The Old Man 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
An old man sits alongside a road, his clothes covered in dust. Nearby is a bridge over a... (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 of San Carlos—he... (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 does not have anybody,... (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 has “no politics,” and... (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... (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 to stand, but he... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
...that the cat can take care of itself are “all the good luck that the old man would ever have.” (full context)