Synopsis of Old Man at the Bridge by Ernest Hemingway from Treasure Trove

Synopsis of Old Man At The Bridge by Ernest Hemingway

About the Author Old Man at the Bridge

Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. He was born on 21st July 1899 in Oak-Park, US. After high school, he spent a few months in Kansas City as a reporter. He published his debut novel, The Sun also Rises in 1926. His economical style had a strong influence on twentieth-century fiction while his adventurous life and public image influenced later generations. He published seven novels, six short story collections and two non-fiction works. In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home. His novel A Farewell to Arms was the result of his wartime experiences. Most of his works are known to be the classic of American Literature. He wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940 when he returned from Spanish civil war where he had been a journalist. Shortly after the publication of The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, Hemingway went on safari to Africa where he was almost killed in two successive plane crashes and for his remaining life, he was left in pain. He killed himself in 1961. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

Summary of Old Man at the Bridge

The story is set in the countryside during the Spanish Civil War. An old man who was wearing steel-rimmed spectacles and dirty clothes sits exhausted by the roadside near a pontoon bridge that crosses a river. Peasant refugees and Republican soldiers were fleeing from the advancing Fascist army. Carts, trucks, men, women and children were also crossing the bridge. The narrator who is crossing the bridge as a part of his business to find out to what point the enemy had advanced, notices the old man while crossing back. Upon questioning him, he comes to know that the old man is from a town San Carlos. He is so exhausted as he has just walked 12 kms from his hometown that he has to halt at the bridge. His duty is to take care of animals left behind and he is more conscious and worried about their safety rather than his own safety. He is in charge of two goats, a cat and four pairs of pigeons. Sadly, he is compelled to leave them behind. He tells that cat will take care of itself but doesn't know what will happen to the other animals.

The correspondent suggests that he can catch a truck towards Barcelona at the crossroads but the old man explains that he knows no one there. The correspondent seems unconcerned and thinks that soon the enemy would cross the bridge and the old man would meet his fate.

Theme of Old Man at the Bridge

The theme of the story "Old Man at the Bridge" is a sense of duty. The old man encounters the soldier at the bridge. The town has to be evacuated due to artillery. The young soldier's duty is to make sure that everybody has left the town. When the narrator sees the old man sitting at the same place while exploring the region, he feels empathy for him and as a part of his duty, urges him to leave the place. But the old man is too tired to move and above all his caring nature and duty to take care of his animals restricts him from going. The story conveys the problems faced by the innocent and helpless victims, especially the old people. It's a short but heart touching story. The language is simple and unnecessary usage of sentimental words is being avoided. The climax is missing and everything is left on the reader's opinion.

The story consists of lots of metaphors and symbols. One of the symbols is a bridge which reflects risks, dangers and uncertainty which equalizes the feeling of people during wartime. People feel insecure and unsafe and are frightened but they do not want to give up. The bridge is symbolic of life too, on one side there is death as the enemy is approaching and on the other side there is life if one gets success in fleeing. Then it's Easter Sunday which signifies the hope and faith in God. Refugees have the same kind of feeling. They feel insecurity and danger on one hand and on the other, they have faith in God and their army men. Animals are also used as symbols in the story. The pigeons are the symbol of peace which will fly away from the war as the refugees will. The cat is independent and does not need anybody's help whereas the goat is a meek and submissive animal. Old man's situation in the story is like the goat that is helpless. The end is abrupt and the ironical situation arises when the old man is left to his fate whereas it's an Easter Sunday, the day of Christ's resurrection.

Character Sketches from Old Man at the Bridge

Character Sketch of The old man

The main character of the story is a 76-year-old man, a war refugee who has not been given any name. He is the protagonist of the story. He has been displaced by the Civil War. He had no family at all and was without politics. But few animals were his world and that too was destroyed. He was worried about their safety. He was confused and disconnected from the world. He had made a cocoon around himself in which he lived isolated from the rest of the world. He remained occupied in his self-oriented thoughts where there was no place for anyone except the animals and was too tired to go any further as he had already walked 12 kilometers from his town San Carlos to the bridge. He would die as an unnamed innocent victim of war. But when the soldier asked about his whereabouts, he felt happy. He was grateful towards him and thanked him many times. He opened up his worries before him. He felt guilty as he was not able to fulfill his duty of protecting the animals. He was like the goats that couldn't take care of himself and had to surrender to his fate.

Character Sketch of Narrator

The story is written in the first person and narrated by an anonymous soldier. The narrator did not make clear statements about himself apart from the fact that he was a soldier and it was his duty to observe the advancement of the enemy across the bridge. But it was somewhat obvious that he was among the people who volunteered to help the Republicans during the Civil War. Initially, he was not interested in the old man's story but when he saw no anxiety on his face to leave the place, he gradually began taking interest in him. He indulged in conversation with him. He realized old man's condition and consoled him by telling that his animals would be fine. By his lively description, he made the reader see the old man. He was conscious about the old man's safety although was unable to convince him to move. But he made him speak and smile by talking about the old man's hometown. He felt pity for him by saying, "There was nothing to do about him”.


rimmed - an edge or border of something circular;
pontoon bridge - a temporary floating bridge;
staggered - unsteady movement;
steep - sharp slope;
spokes - any of the bars connecting the hub to the rim of a wheel;
plodded - walk doggedly, work slowly but steadily:
artillery - a branch of an army using large guns for fighting:
forks - divided into two;
Tortosa - a city in Spain;
Barcelona - a city in Spain;
unquiet - noise, disturbance;
urged - advise strongly;
swayed - moving gently to and fro;
Easter Sunday - Sunday when christ rose on the third day of his crucifixion:
fascists - a system of dictatorship;
overcast - covered with clouds;
Ebro - the name of a river.

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