Old Man at the Bridge

by

Ernest Hemingway

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Old Man at the Bridge can help.
Animals Symbol Icon

The old man’s beloved animals symbolize innocent victims of war. The cat, which “can look out for itself,” is the most resilient creature because it is autonomous and does not depend on others to survive. It is also a solitary animal, and in an ugly conflict where people must fend for themselves, the cat represents someone who can stay alive but won’t necessarily help others. The flock of birds, first called pigeons by the old man and later called doves by the narrator, can escape from the unlocked cage and fly away from the artillery. The fact that the narrator refers to them as “doves” (a symbol of peace) after the old man spoke of them as pigeons reveals his longing for the war to end. The uncaged doves may appear to be a symbol of hope, but their fate is both uncertain and irrelevant to the story’s dark ending. Finally, the goats come to be associated with the narrator himself, as they have no chance of surviving with nobody to care for them, just as the old man himself will likely die without family or friends to help him escape. Likewise, just as the old man says that it’s “better not to think about [the fate of the goats],” the narrator comes to believe that it’s better to move along and not think too much about the old man.

Animals Quotes in Old Man at the Bridge

The Old Man at the Bridge quotes below all refer to the symbol of Animals. 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

Animals Symbol Timeline in Old Man at the Bridge

The timeline below shows where the symbol Animals 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
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
...He was the last person to leave San Carlos because he was taking care of animals there (goats, pigeons, and a cat), but he eventually had to flee from the artillery... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
...has any family, and the old man says he does not have anybody, only the animals. He says that the cat will be alright because it can look out for itself,... (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... (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
...so he sits back down. He says to himself, “I was only taking care of animals.” The narrator thinks that there is “nothing to do about him.” (full context)
Life, Death, and War Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Religion and Morality Theme Icon
...with the heavy cloud cover. He concludes that the weather and the fact that the cat can take care of itself are “all the good luck that the old man would... (full context)