Here begins the slow build-up of emotional tension which will have as its climax the battle at the bridge. Since the physical action over the next few chapters is restricted — the guerillas are simply manning their posts, waiting to see if anything happens — Hemingway takes the opportunity to refresh the reader's memory on several points.
First, he lets the reader see again how sloppily the war is being handled. Rafael deserts his post to chase a couple of rabbits, thereby letting the cavalryman slip through. Jordan finds that the machine gun has been sent to them with no instructions as to how to fire it or place it properly.
Later, the problem of Pablo is brought up again. Agustin tries to convince Jordan that Pablo is still a very smart guerilla leader. Jordan is already aware of this, but his personal dislike for Pablo has made him deny the man the credit he deserves for having successfully evaded capture for so long.
Then, Hemingway re-establishes the character of Anselmo. When Agustin says that they (the Loyalists) will have to kill many people after they have won the war, Anselmo disagrees. His conscience bothers him terribly about the killing he has done and will have to do. All he wants to do is win the war and then to govern justly and educate those who have fought against them so that they will see their error.
In Chapters 24 through 26, the tension continues to build, now based on the theme of irony. Agustin has told Jordan that El Sordo's band is much better than Pablo's but, almost immediately, they realize that El Sordo has been attacked and surrounded by the cavalry. The irony is continued in Jordan's thoughts about the soldier whom he has killed. Though he has thought, in the previous chapter, that he has grown to like the killing, he now admits to himself that of the twenty men he has killed only two of them were really fascists.
The reader also finds Jordan once again engaged in a struggle with his conscience. He questions again his political beliefs, acknowledging the fact that he has never believed in the purely materialistic conception of society held by the communists. He tells himself that he believes in "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity," and in "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Though neither communism nor fascism offers these things, the main problem is to get rid of the present enemies of the people. Later, one can decide what not to believe in.
Chapter 27 involves the young and innocent Joaquin. He has been taught the stock communist phrases of La Pasionaria, he has believed them, and now he bravely tries to keep up the spirits of his comrades by repeating them. He refuses to believe that the peasant generals have been trained in Russia and that others like himself have been sent to the safety of Russia to study. But he adds, in his naively conventional concern for the Cause, that he hopes they study well and come back to help the people. At the end, though, he stops quoting the communist slogans and starts saying Hail Marys.
Hemingway has here another opportunity to show that the unwillingness to die for a Cause is not confined to the Loyalists. He does so by having the fascist captain unable to convince his men that the guerillas are dead and that they should go and investigate. The same scene indicates that the Loyalists are not alone in the idiotic manner in which they are running the war.
Irony, too, is present in this chapter. First, there is Joaquin's relapse into religion. Then there is El Sordo and his men, dying on the top of a useless "chancre of a hill." Finally, there is the irony that neither Lieutenant Berrendo and his men nor the guerillas really want to fight or die.
Hemingway, with characteristic irony, continues the religious theme which has been reintroduced in the previous chapter. As Lieutenant Berrendo rides down the hill in one direction, he is praying for the souls of the dead; as Anselmo walks down the hill in another direction, he too is praying — for the first time since the beginning of the movement.
Jordan's desire to remain alive continues to grow. Aware of this, he tries very hard to be sure that his message to Golz does not sound as if he wants the attack called off for personal reasons. He has little hope, though, that the offensive will be canceled. It is quite possible that the attack is not meant to succeed; it may be simply a holding action, or a diversionary movement to draw enemy troops away from another front. If this is the case, then the fact that the fascists are prepared for the attack will not make any difference to Golz.
In Chapter 30, Jordan's thoughts bring forth additional information for the reader. The courageous character of his grandfather is revealed, and we learn that his father had committed suicide — a shameful act of cowardice in Jordan's mind. Hemingway has shown in others of his works besides For Whom the Bell Tolls that his attitude toward suicide was the same as that of Robert Jordan. It was an ironic fate, indeed, that caused Hemingway, presumably, to take his own life.
In Chapter 31, though we have already been told that Maria is a "nice girl," we are now given additional specific details of her background. Her father was the mayor of the town, and her mother, though not a Republican, was loyal to her husband. Both died bravely, killed by a Falangist firing squad.
But the revelation of Maria's background is not the primary purpose of this chapter. Now, the intensity of a person's hopes and daydreams increases in proportion to the seriousness of his situation. The problem of the bridge has grown more and more hopeless up to this point, and Jordan's dream of taking Maria to Madrid is indicative of how little expectation he has of surviving the coming battle. Maria willingly joins Jordan in his dream, but there is desire on her part to "get everything said before it is too late." Jordan is also aware, from what Maria has said, that even Pilar has sought refuge, in reverie during the day.
Chapter 32, though very brief, is overflowing with significance — not that this quality is unusual in Hemingway's writing. And most of this significance is intensified by the contrast between it and the chapters immediately preceding. At the same time that Jordan and Maria are wishfully making plans for a future which they do not really believe they will live to see, other Loyalists are having a happy, sophisticated party in Madrid. This ironic juxtaposition of events is one of Hemingway's favorite tricks. In fact, he specifically mentions this type of irony in one of his short stories by referring to the lines from
W. H. Auden's poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts," which read, ". . . even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course / Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot / Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree."
The fact that the party is being held at all, much less in the besieged capital city, indicates the lack of concern for the war effort on the part of the foreign interventionists. The military leaders are irritated to learn that the coming offensive is no longer a secret — another reflection on the haphazard way the war is being run — but they are not surprised and they do nothing about the leakage of information.
The irony is continued when the rumor that the fascists are fighting among themselves is circulated. The fighting referred to is, of course, the battle in which El Sordo's band was wiped out. The final touch, though the reader cannot fully appreciate the irony at this point, comes when the general says that they can expect a message from Jordan during the night. Jordan has, indeed, sent a message, but the irony is not complete until the reader has discovered the fate of that message.