Structured Questions Answers from Old Man at The Bridge by Ernest Hemingway

QUESTION AND ANSWERS from The Old Man at The Bridge

Structured Questions from Old Man At The Bridge by Ernest Hemingway

Read the extract and answer the following questions:

1. An old man with steel-rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road. There was a pontoon bridge across the river and carts, trucks, and men, women and children were crossing it. The mule-drawn carts staggered up the steep bank from the bridge with soldiers helping push against the spokes of the wheels. The trucks ground up and away heading out of it all and the peasants plodded along in the ankle-deep dust.

1. What is the Pontoon Bridge? Why has it been made?


A Pontoon Bridge is a temporary floating platform built across several boats or hollow structures or we can say it's a floating bridge. It was the time when Spanish Civil war broke out and the scene was a typical war zone when the civilians were fleeing and the vehicles were moving across the bridge to protect themselves from the enemy's attack. The scene was 12 kilometres away from the town of the San Carlos and the temporary bridge had been made to help the people move out of the war zone.

2. What did the narrator observe while doing his duty?


The narrator who was a soldier was on his duty to find out how far the enemy had advanced. When the soldier crossed the Pontoon bridge near the Ebro River towards the enemy, he observed an old man sitting at the bridge while everybody else was fleeing from the place. When he returned back, he again saw the same old man sitting at the same place whereas there were not so many carts now and very few people on foot. This aroused his curiosity.

3. Who was sitting by the roadside? In which condition was he sitting?


An old man was sitting by the roadside. He was wearing steel-rimmed spectacles and his clothes were very dusty. He was sitting by the roadside near a Pontoon bridge across the river. The situation was chaotic as the civilians were fleeing from the place due to unexpected anytime attack of the enemy somewhere from beyond the bridge. The old man seemed to be totally exhausted and was looking somewhat confused and worried.

4. Why was there chaos on the bridge?


There was a lot of chaos on the Pontoon bridge which stood across the river. The carts, trucks, men, women and children were crossing the bridge. The mule-drawn carts were pushed by the soldiers against the spokes of the wheels as they staggered up the steep bank from the bridge. It was all due to anytime approach of the enemy from beyond the bridge as the Civil War had taken place in Spain and everyone was fleeing to save their lives.

5. Which business is the narrator talking about? Is it actually a business?


The narrator is talking about his job in the above extract. Being a soldier, it's his duty which he calls as a business, to maintain peace and security in the country. As the story is set up during the Spanish Civil War, and the enemies are approaching fast, the narrator is exploring the bridgehead beyond to find out to what point the enemy has advanced. He is watching the bridge and the African looking country Ebro Delta, listening to the voices for the signal.

2. I was watching the bridge and the African looking country of the Ebro Delta and wondering how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there."What animals were they?" I asked. "There were three animals altogether", he explained. "There were two goats and a cat and then there were four pairs of pigeons."

1. What did the narrator ask the old man and how did he react to the question?
To which place did the old man belong to? What was his occupation?


The narrator was following his duty of observing the approach of the enemy beyond the bridge. The atmosphere was much tensed due to the heavy firing from the enemy side. When everybody was rushing to save their lives, an old man was noticed by the soldier who didn't seem to try to flee from the place. Out of curiosity, the narrator asked him, "Where do you come from"? To this, the old man replied that he had come from San Carlos and it gave him a pleasure to mention it and he smiled. His occupation was to take care of a few animals which included goats, cats and pigeons.

2. On being questioned by the narrator, what did old man tell about himself?


The old man did not move a bit from the roadside even after such a critical situation and chaos. While doing his duty, when the narrator saw him again and again at the same place, he became anxious about his safety and made an enquiry about his whereabouts. The old man told that he came from San Carlos, his native town and was taking care of the animals he was in charge of. But he didn't look like a shepherd or a herdsman to the narrator as they generally don't wear steel-rimmed spectacles. His clothes and face were dusty.

3. Which animals was he in charge of and what were his feelings for them?
Which animals he was taking care of and how was he attached to them?


The old man was sitting by the side of the road. He looked too tired to move further even after knowing that the enemy was advancing towards them. On being questioned by the narrator, he told that he was from San Carlos and was taking care of the animals. So the narrator asked him "Which animals were they?" And then he told that they were three animals altogether which included two goats, a cat and four pairs of pigeons. From his appearance, he did not seem to be a shepherd or a herdsman but he had a great sense of duty towards his animals. He was anxious for the safety of the animals than his own safety.

4. Why was he worried too much about the animals?


The old man was in charge of various animals. Those animals were two goats, a cat and four pairs of pigeons. He had to leave them due to the untimely war and the captain had asked him to leave because of the artillery. The old man had no family and was without politics. Only those animals were his family. He did not want to leave his animals unattended. Still, he was less worried about the safety of the cat as it could look after itself and the pigeons which would fly away from the unlocked cage but he lamented the fate of the two goats.

5. What do you learn from the above extract about the consequences of the war?


The story had taken place during the Spanish Civil War at a pontoon bridge across the Ebro Delta. It is Easter Sunday but there is a lot of disturbance everywhere instead of celebrations. The enemy troops are firing heavily. People are fleeing leaving their homes and things. They all are frightened and worried. The old man who is the main character of the story seems to be worried about the animals he has left behind in his town. This indicates that the poor, helpless birds and animals are not left behind from becoming the victims of war besides human beings.

3. "What politics have you?" I asked. "I am without politics", he said. "I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometres now and I think now I can go no further." "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.

1. Who asked, "What politics have you" and what did he mean by this?


This question has been asked by the narrator to the old man when he was on his duty to look for the advancement of the enemy from across the bridge. While going to and fro he observed an unusual scene. When everybody was fleeing to save their lives, an old man was sitting carelessly at the same place on the roadside. This made the narrator anxious. And he couldn't refrain himself from asking the old man about his political views to which the old man replied, "I am without politics".

2. What advice did the narrator give to the old man?


The old man told the narrator that he had neither family nor he was into politics. He was 76 years old and had travelled 12 kilometres on foot because of which his energy had been drained and he could move no more. Therefore he sat there on the roadside. Seeing the situation, narrator tried to convince him by telling that it was not a good place to stop and advised him to go by trucks which were standing on the road where it was divided for Tortosa.

3. Why did he refuse to go to Barcelona?


The narrator urged the old man to leave the place as there was fear of an enemy's approach. Seeing no anxiety, the narrator asked him to go by trucks standing on the road where it forked for Tortosa because according to him it was not a good place to halt. But the old man was so exhausted that he preferred to stay back for some more time and when he came to know that trucks were going towards Barcelona, he refused, as he didn't know anyone there.

4. Why was the old man not willing to cross the bridge and escape to a safer place?


The mention of his native town San Carlos' brought a smile on the old man's face in such a tensed atmosphere. It showed that he became sentimental while telling its name to the narrator. He had to leave the town and his animals forcibly due to fire attack by the enemy. The narrator advised him to cross the bridge but he seemed to be least concerned about his life and he didn't want to part with his animals. Apart from this, he was attacked by severing fatigue.

5. What does it reveal about the mental situation of the old man when he said "Thank you" again and again to the narrator?


The narrator after hearing about the whereabouts of the old man asked him to get up and walk. He warned him against the upcoming danger and told him that it was not the right place to halt. But the old man was too much attached to his town and animals that he refused to go. He was a lonely person and when the narrator showed his concern for him, he felt happy and grateful that he talked to him. Perhaps somebody had conversed with him after a long time. He also felt that there was someone who cared for him too. That was why he, again and again, thanked the narrator to show his gratitude.

4. "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. "If you are rested I would go", I urged. "Get up and try to walk now." "Thank you", he said and got to his feet, swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust. "I was taking care of animals", he said dully, but no longer to me. "I was only taking care of animals."

1. Who looked at whom very blankly and tiredly? What was the reason behind such looks?


The old man looked at the narrator very blankly and tiredly when he suggested him to go by trucks. He didn't want to go to Barcelona where the trucks were going as he didn't know anyone there. It was obvious that he had lost his hope and surrendered to his fate. He was waiting for his imminent death. The only thing that troubled him was his anxiety towards his animals.

2. How did the old man relieve himself by sharing his worries with the narrator?


The old man seemed to be tired of his life. Despite the sensitive situation due to untimely Civil War, he was not at all worried. The only thing that troubled him was his animals that he was taking care of. On one hand, he knew that cat would be alright but the worry of other animals made him restless. He told the narrator that he had left the cage of the pigeons unlocked and that they would fly but nothing could be done of the goats and they would become the victims of war for sure.

3. How did the narrator try to console the old man? Did he get success?


The narrator tried his best to console him by reassuring the safety of his animals. And at times, he reminded him to move away from the place where he was sitting. The old man was worried about the safety of his animals and the narrator was worried about the safety of the old man. Even though he told the old man that the animals would be alright still it didn't stop him from worrying about the animals. The narrator could not get success as the old man was not able to get rid of the thought of his animals.

4. Which animal was the old man most worried about and why?


The animal which worried him the most was the pair of goats. The old man knew that a cat could look after itself because it did not need anybody to survive. They could independently protect themselves and as he had left the cage of the pigeons unlocked, they would also fly away. But it was the goats that were meek and helpless animals which totally depend on human beings. That was why the old man was the last person to leave the town. His own fate was like that of the goats - no one to take care and waiting for the impending death.

5. Why did the narrator think that 'There was nothing to do about him'? Who he is referring to?


The narrator in the above lines refers to the old man. He urged the old man to get up and walk. The old man tried to get up but he was too tired and weak that he swayed from side to side and then sat down backwards in the dust. The narrator thought that 'There was nothing to do about him'. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were moving towards the Ebro. The day was overcast and their planes were not up, so he could perhaps get one more chance to escape but it was next to impossible and therefore the narrator felt pity for him.

Compound Questions Answers

1. (a) Explain why the narrator spends so much time to converse with the old man. Use details from the story to support your answer.


The narrator who is a soldier sees an old man at a pontoon bridge near the Ebro river. People are crossing the bridge to escape from the war zone. The still image of the old man intrigues the narrator to talk to him. He learns that the old man is worried about his animals and not himself. The narrator is kind and starts pitying the old man's condition and reassures him that the animals will be fine. The narrator becomes interested to hear more from the old man and thus spends so much time to converse with him.

(b) What statements from the story suggest that the old man is about to give up on life? Quote specific statements to support your answer.


When the old man says, “I am seventy-six years old. I have come twelve kilometres now, I can go no further," it seems that he does not wish to save his life from the enemies. Also when the narrator says that it is not a good place to stay and he should start moving, the old man plainly replies, "I will wait a while".

In the end, when the narrator persuades him to try to walk, the old man says, "thank you" and gets to his feet only to sway from side to side and then sit down backwards in the dust.

(c) How does Hemingway show that war disrupts the lives of ordinary people? Is this portrayal realistic? Explain why you think so.


The story clearly portrays how war disrupts the life of ordinary people. They are forced to leave their homes, their comfort, belongings, pets and freedom. Some become homeless, some are separated from their families. There are destruction and sorrow that pervades the atmosphere. The old man had to leave his home, and his beloved animals, because of the enemy attack. He is fatigued to walk twelve kilometres and his age does not allow him to continue further. He sits down thinking about his animals, neglecting the terrible situation in which he is. This is true, the reality of war and a bitter one at that.

2. (a) "Hemingway takes a small, ordinary detail in a situation and transforms it into a powerful story about the tragedy of war." Comment.


The story 'Old Man at the Bridge' is set during the Spanish Civil war and begins with a scene where people are crossing the bridge to protect themselves from the impending attack by the enemy troops. An old man with steel-rimmed spectacles and dusty clothes sits by the road. He is the symbol of the countless civilian victims, who get relocated due to war. He is not into politics. He is not bothered about more now or establishing supremacy over other lands. He is a simple character who loves his land and the creatures in it. His only worry is about the animals he has left behind. He is alone and disoriented. He fatalistically accepts his death. The writer has been able to portray the tragedy of war; how it affects the common people and drags them to their inevitable fate for no fault of theirs.

(b) 'I was taking care of the animals'. What animals are being referred to and what is the underlying message in the line.


The old man had two goats, a cat and four pairs of pigeons. The animals were his family: he loved them and cared for them so much that separating from them made him feel that he had lost his reason for existence. He left the animals behind in his native town of San Carlos. The heavy firing from the enemy forced him to do so.

The underlying message is that civilians of country life for their family and the animals they take care of. They are least bothered about political games, wars or empowerment. All they want is to be left alone, to lead their day to day life in peace and contentment. Looking after the animals gives meaning to the life of the old man, and it is a tragedy that he is denied of this satisfaction by the heavy firing during the Spanish Civil War.

(c) 'There was nothing to do about him', is the comment made by the narrator. Explain the significance of this line in light of the story.


In spite of the narrator's repeated suggestions to move on, the old man does not make any effort to leave the bridge. It seems he is tied to the place where he has left his beloved animals. It is Easter Sunday, the day when Christ resurrected from the grave. The day is symbolic of peace and joy of a new beginning. But, paradoxically, this is not the case with men like the helpless protagonist of the story. After leaving his town, he has nothing to live for; not even his animals.

Consequently, the old man surrenders to his fate and till the end, he only thinks of his animals. "I was taking care of the animals", "I was only taking care of the animals"- he goes on repeating. The narrator, thus realizes that nothing can be done about him and moves on, leaving the decrepit man to his fate. The old man's only hope of survival hinges on the fact that the sky is overcast; so no bombing for the time being; and also, 'cats know how to look after themselves'.

His age, his tiredness and lack of anything to look forward to, make the old man a tragic victim of war. Destruction and the fatal end is the inevitable result of any war and it is a universal truth that man has to realize. He should realise the need to amend his ways and thus, pave way for universal peace.

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