The Old man at the Bridge
By Earnest Hemmingway
A word about Hemingway .. This unassuming story teller is adored worldwide for his simple, free-flowing stories based on the most simple and mundane characters. This American literary icon’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea” has been translated into almost all the languages, and read by millions across countries and cultures.
Ernest Miller Hemingway (July 21, 1899 – July 2, 1961) won the Nobel Prize for literature. He was an avid traveler, an adventurist, and a non-conformist in his writing style. Many writers of the twentieth century were profoundly influenced by him. For Americans, he was a house-hold name, a thoroughly affable man with a very unpretentious personality. Among his famous books are, A Farewell to Arms, An Indian Camp, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old man and the Sea, The Sun also Rises.
Background –The Old Man at the Bridge baffles the reader by its very small length, but it also grips the reader’s mind with its underlying humanism. Hemingway was a war correspondent in Spain during the Spanish Civil War when he ran into a lonely tired old man sitting beside a road. The story leaves the reader guessing as to what happened next for this helpless soul.
The text.. An old man in his mid-seventies sat lonely beside a dust track. His clothes were soiled and his face had a coat of dust too. The author was assigned the job of spotting the advancing army, whose arrival was very much due. The author’s eyes fell on this old tired man who sat still, as people, caravans, carts and trucks crossed the Ebro River using a pontoon bridge. The author became curious to know who the man was and why he sat there motionless and apparently purposeless. When asked, the old man said he was from San Carlos, and he had been ordered out of his home by the army. He said he had no mind, nor energy to go anywhere else. He had no acquaintances to seek shelter from in that hour of distress.
The author became more curious about the man, who, obviously evoked sympathy and pity. When asked about his profession, he said he kept animals. The author assumed that he was perhaps a herdsman. When probed further, he disclosed that he had left behind his family members — “two goats and a cat and four pairs of pigeons.”
The author was taken aback by the old man’s love for his pets, his simplicity and honesty. Concern for the pets was palpable in the face of the old man. But, he was powerless. Artillery bombardment of his village was looming. He was too frail to do anything for the pets. The animals had no chance against the invading forces.
The author told him that the parrots could save their lives by flying away when the guns begin to pound the village. The cat could scramble to safety, but the goats stood little chance of surviving. The old man was resigned to the idea of leaving the goats to die. He was a pragmatic person.
By this time the author was overwhelmed by the plight of the old man and his animals. He offered help to the old man to walk away from that danger zone, but the latter was too frail. He just slumped on the dust track.
The author told the old man to climb a truck and flee the area, but the old man was too drained to venture further. He was unaware of the nearby areas.
The Fascists were galloping forward towards Ebro at an alarming pace. Fortunately, the clouded sky preempted any air strike. The author had to abandon the old man in that place. He needed huge good luck to survive the enemy onslaught.
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