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
“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.”
“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.”
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
“Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” I asked.
“Then they’ll fly.”
“Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others. It’s better not to think about the others,” he said.
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.