Jordan is a dynamiter who has been sent to the area to blow up a bridge. Among the guerrillas is a young woman, Maria, who becomes attracted to him.
While the men who make up much of the freedom fighters speak of war, a man named Pablo appears to be in charge. However, it is his wife, Pilar who is the real force behind the group. Pilar is Spanish for pillar, is a symbol of the rock steadfastness of the group. During the early action in the story, it is seen that Pablo's resolve for fighting has changed and he often resorts to drinking.
Amidst the talk of killing and the Republican offensive against the Fascists, we follow the activities of Robert and Marie. This mixture of love and war is another significant juxtaposition of the author. With the tender moments of these two characters, it is as though this might be what the guerrillas are fighting for. The government's totalarianism attitude cannot tell them what to do and that gypsies like Rafael, foreigners like the American Robert Jordan, and women like Pilar and Marie can all work and live together as equals.
Hemingway has a master's gift for dialogue. We don't just read the words he pens. It is as if we have been transported to the Spanish mountainside and are listening to the scenes such as Pilar and Pablo discussing a matador that Pablo was proud of seeing and Pilar envisioning the matador as the matador gazes at the crowd in the rink before he kills the bull.
Hemingway was a reporter in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, his characters are honest in their actions and loyal to one another and Spain.
The story mixes historical fact and speculative fiction in a most entertaining manner that readers will enjoy and feel they have read something of literary significance.