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ICSE Class 10 Poems and Short Stories Old Man at the Bridge (Ernest Miller Hemingway)

Old Man at the Bridge Synopsis and Important Questions


‘Old Man at the Bridge’ elaborates the power of narrative art. Here, the author Ernest Hemingway portrays a remarkable story with hidden symbolisation regarding the tragedy of war. Hemingway uses the brilliant art of story narration and captures the true picture of war without a single shot being fired or a drop of blood being spilled.

Impeccable use of symbolism is another highlight in this story. Hemingway has symbolised every important thing reflecting the irony of war situations in the narration.

When wars are fought, there is a set of people who have absolutely nothing to do with it.

These are people who do not support any contender or side and will gain nothing from the war but lose. They will only face the ill-effects of the war by either losing a loved one or sacrificing their dwelling place.

This story is about an old man who has nothing to do with the war being fought, but he has to sacrifice his home and the safety of his animals who happen to be the only family he has. The narrator has generalised the story and titled it ‘Old Man at the Bridge’ without the use of the definite article. This symbolism refers to everyone who are victims of war.

The narrator encounters the old man on an Easter Sunday at the pontoon bridge across Ebro River during the Spanish Civil War.

The bridge in the story symbolises a point uncertainty and danger. It is like a point from where it is not possible to return. If the old man crosses the bridge, then he will be safe and live, but he will sacrifice everything he has including his animals. Whereas if he stays, he will share the same fate as his animals and end up losing his life.

The narrator saw a tired old man sitting by the side at the bridge. The narrator was responsible for crossing the bridge and checking how far the enemies had approached. When he saw the old man sitting for a while, he went up to him and asked him to move and cross the bridge as the place had to be evacuated soon. In conversation with the old man, the narrator came to know that he was 76 years old and had been on foot for 12 kilometres. The old man also informed him that he was from San Carlos and he had lived there all his life. He had no children but animals whom he had been taking care of. He was concerned about the safety of his animals; therefore, he was the last one to leave the place. After walking such a far distance, he was tired and hence was incapable of moving ahead. A constant worry about his animal’s safety had also affected his will to move any further.

He had a cat, two goats and four pairs of pigeons. He could not bring them along because of the artillery. These animals were the only family the old man had.

The narrator asked him which politics he was supporting, but the old man replied that he had nothing to do with any politics and was only worried about his animals’ safety.

The old man kept expressing his concern regarding his animals again and again. The narrator informed him that it was not safe to be sitting at the bridge as the enemies were approaching. He suggested that he walk a few miles more and get into a truck which was headed towards Barcelona. The old man expressed his gratitude to the narrator but did not start moving as he knew nobody in that area.

Each of these animals that the old man possessed represents something with regard to the war situation.

The old man was sure that the cat will be alright as the cat is an independent animal. It can survive on its own without any support. It symbolises the young people in society who do not suffer much in such tough situations and can restart their lives.

He also had four pairs of pigeons in a dove cage which he unlocked before leaving. They will fly if situations get difficult just like refugees who resort to a safer place in war conditions to protect themselves. The pigeons, like doves, symbolise peace and harmony. They do not stay in war zones but fly away.

However, the two goats were the main reason of concern for the old man. Goats are sacrificial animals who bear the cost in such a difficult situation. The fate of the goats is sealed and they are bound to die just like the old man in this scenario. The goats symbolise people who face the hardships of war.

The narrator has not only described the helpless condition of the old man but also illustrated that the animals also bear the cost of war and get killed.

The old man had nobody other than the animals to take care of. His family was just these animals in his native town. As a result he has a lot of compassion and concern for them. He repeatedly kept on mentioning them with a heavy heart.

The narrator tries to assure him of their safety, but the old man has given up on destiny. He barely has any will to survive. On being persuaded by the narrator to move, the old man is reluctant to leave the bridge and sits down again.

His words “I was taking care of animals” convey that his animals were the sole purpose of his life, and without them, he was aimless. The narrator is concerned about the old man; therefore, he tries to make him cross the bridge. He has become like a friend for the old man with whom the old man is sharing his worries. Perhaps it was after a really long time that someone was interested in him. The narrator felt sorry for the old man, and therefore, he tried a few attempts to safeguard him. However, the fate of the old man was dark as the sky that evening was overcast with clouds. He has surrendered to his destiny and has chosen to sit at the bridge waiting for his inevitable doom. This reflects a theme of depression, resignation and impending death that comes along with war.