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The story is staged in the 1930s when the writer was employed as a war journalist. In fact, this story was an actual news report that Hemingway was to send to his employers. In the end, he decided to publish this as a short story.
The setting of the story is a bridge in wartime Spain with an elderly stranger. It is poignant in its simplicity and pungent in its impact. The Spanish Civil War proved to be a precursor to the eventual Second World War.
The scenes of horror and suffering witnessed during the war has been depicted through various modes and means and this story sketches a stimulating narration that points to the victims of wars that have no involvement or stake in them, the commoners or ordinary people.
A Solitary Man
Amidst the chaos and confusion, there was solitary man perched on the roadside near the bridge seemingly tired and beaten. He was quite old and wore metal-rimmed spectacles.
The narrator was gleaning information of the advancing enemy when he turned his glance at the old man. Intrigued by his motionless behavior the narrator enquired about his state. The man gently answered that he had walked 12 miles from his place in San Carlos.
He is seventy-six years old and too fatigued to move any further. The narrator senses the desperation in his tone which is governed by the fact that the old man is fretting the safety of his pets that he had to leave in the hurry to escape the enemy.
He recounts that he has a family of eight pigeons, two goats, and one cat. He had no other relatives. He tells that the cat would be wily enough to find an escape before the enemy arrived but the fate of goats and pigeons seemed really uncertain.
The narrator tries to calm the old man by saying that the animals could be ok and that he should not worry about them. Instead, he should get on a truck heading for Barcelona and reach the safer spot before the enemy soldiers infiltrate that place.
He asks him about the birdcage and if the old and was able to unlock it before leaving. The stranger responds in the affirmative. But he still remained anxious about the pair of goats.
He reassures the stranger again about the animals and advises him to get up and hitch a ride to a safe place or secure hideout.
Old Man Tries to Get Up
Listening to his comforting words, the old man tries his best to get up and stride away but falls back on his haunches, too tired to walk any further.
The story ends with the narrator’s thoughts that focus on the inevitable fate of the old man as much as the old man’s thoughts are centered on the fate of his animals.
The death seems to be in store for both and the only saving grace is the dark cover of the clouds that seemed to have halted the progress of the Fascist soldiers.
The enemy planes could not circle the skies in such weather and it may give enough time for the cat and the pigeons to escape even though the man seemed destined to a painful end.
The tale vividly narrates the scenes of war from the perspective of a non-combatant or a civilian who is far removed from the politics of the war.
It also touches on themes of home, family, and destiny. It highlights the vulnerability of a man to his circumstance and fate and his dedication to his roots i.e. home and family. Love for animals and places of living are also beautifully embellished within minimal words.