Old Man at the Bridge Summary by Earnest Hemmingway

Treasure Trove Poems and Short Stories Workbook Answers

Old Man at the Bridge Summary by Earnest Hemmingway

Old Man at the Bridge Summary About the Author

Ernest Hemingway( 21 July 1899 – 2 July 1961), started his career as a journalist at the age of seventeen. During the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. After being wounded and spending much time in hospitals, he returned back, and devoted himself to fiction writing. His first important work being ‘The Sun Also Rises’ (1926). Then equally successful was, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ (1929).

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His other famous novels being ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ (1940) and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ (1952). He received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for the latter. In this work, Hemingway usually portrays people like soldiers, hunters etc. whose courage and honesty are set against the hardships of the modem society. His fiction mostly contains gloominess and pessimism .

Old Man at the Bridge Summary

The plot of the story is set at a pontoon bridge near the Ebro Delta, on an Easter Sunday, during the Spanish Civil War. The enemy attack is anticipated. The area is being evacuated. All civilians are crossing the bridge to save themselves. The narrator, who was a young army officer, had the duty to watch the advancement of the enemy, notices an old man, the protagonist of the story, sitting by the side of the road. He wore steel framed spectacles and very dusty clothes.

The officer is constantly keeping a watch across the bridge. He observes that the people and the cart on the bridge were reducing. He finally approaches the old man and questions him. The old man tells him that he had just travelled two kilometers from his village of San Carlos and cannot walk further as he is extremely tired. He adds that he was the last man to leave the village. There his duty was to take care of his animals which consisted of a cat, two goats and four pairs of pigeons. They were his family and he was very anxious about them. He says that the cat will be fine because cats can look after themselves, but he doesn’t know what will happen to the other animals.

The narrator who was nervously awaiting the advent of the enemy is concerned about the old man’s safety and tells him to walk up the road and catch a ride on a truck to Barcelona. But the old man states that he is seventy six years old, had already travelled much and will not be able to go any further. All the more, the safety of his animals was disturbing him.

But the narrator assures him that his animals will be fine. The pigeons will fly away, but the old man still worries about the goats. The narrator consoles him saying it is better not to think about it. The old man takes an effort to get up and walk but he is too exhausted and is unable to proceed. The story ends with the narrator thinking that the old man’s only luck is that the cats can look after themselves and that the day is overcast so the fascists aren’t able to launch the planes

Old Man at the Bridge Summary Word Meanings:

1. Steel rimmed : Steel framed
2. Pontoon bridge : Bridge made of flat bottomed boats
3. Staggered : Moved unsteadily
4. Plodded : Walked slowly and usually heavily
5. Shepherd : A person who tends sheep
6. Artillery : A part of an army that uses large guns
7. Politics : Political view
8. Forks : A place where something (like a road or river) divides into two.
9. Urged : Persuaded
10. Swayed : To swing slowly
11. Easter Sunday : The Sunday on which the Christians celebrate the return of Jesus Christ to life following his death
12. Fascists : BeLievers of fascism which is an ideology that supports dictatorship.
13. Overcast : Darkened by clouds

Old Man at the Bridge Summary Questions and Answers

Question 1.
Answer the following question with reference to Ernest Hemmingway’s short story, ‘The Old Man at the Bridge’.Explain why the narrator takes so much time to converse with the old man. Use details from the story to support your answer.
In the story, the two main characters, i.e., the old man and the narrator, are faced with the reality in which they find themselves powerless. The old man is not only physically weak to save his life by escaping from the approaching army but also emotionally drained to continue on at the cost of leaving his hometown and his family which constituted of few animals. He is 76 years old, has already come 12 kms and can go no further. He sits in the dust on the side of the road while rest of the people go right past him.

The officer is constantly looking across the bridge. The vacation is almost complete. Therefore, the old man cannot be allowed to stay any longer. It is his duty to make everyone clear the area and reach a safer place. So, he tries to convince the old man about the safety of his animals. The officer too must be worried about his own safety. He consoles the old man saying, “Why, they’ll probably come through it all right.” But when the old man is still scared about his pigeons he tells him, “Yes, certainly they’ll fly. But the others, it’s better not to think about the others.”

Question 2.
Answer the following question with reference to Ernest Hemmingway’s short story, ‘The Old Man at the Bridge’. What statements from the story suggest that the old man is about to give up on life? Quote specific statement to support your answer.
The old man mentioned in the story, is sitting by the side of the dusty road. The lines which show this are, “But the old man sat there without moving. He was too tired to go any farther.”

He watched the people crossing the bridge with soldiers helping them, but he does not even ask for any help. When the narrator asks him about his politics, he said he was without politics, but he also mentions, ‘I am seventy – six years old. I have come twelve kilometers now and I think now I can go no further.”

These lines show that he was giving up his efforts to carry on and save himself from the enemy attack. When the narrator tells him that he could go to Barcelona. He says, “I know no one in that direction”, which again highlights that he had no interest in starting life afresh in a new surrounding. “I was only taking care of animals”, confirm his helplessness and failure.

Question 3.
Answer the following question with reference to Ernest Hemmingway’s short story, ‘The Old Man at the Bridge’. How does Hemingway show that war disrupts the lives of ordinary people? Is this portrayal realistic? Explain why you think so.
The short story, ‘Old Man at the Bridge’, is about a conversation between a soldier and an old man who had to leave his hometown during the Spanish Civil War. The story conveys the subsequent problems of helpless victims especially old people. The story is based upon an Easter Sunday stopover at the Ebro River. The old man was a reflection of a war victim. We are informed that the old man’s family consisted of only animals and he was 76 years old. He travelled twelve kilometers and could not travel further.

The war has affected his mind and living. He had to leave his native place where he lived comfortably and harmlessly with his animals. He further says, that he was without politics ‘yet his life gets destroyed due to politics and the war’.

The poet mentions that it was Easter Sunday, which portrays an iconic contrast as the day of the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus will be the day another innocent victim who will be crucified and would be sacrificed to the monster of war.The prominent reason the narrator seems to be talking to the old man at such length is that, he is concerned about his safety, but he wants to build some extent of mutual trust and understanding before advising him to flee. Undoubtedly, the racist soldiers would shoot him if he stayed there.

Thus in this story, Hemmingway shows that though there are wars, they are presented as a glorious and majestic. The basic fact is hidden. So many people who do not even participate in the war become the worst victims. No one speaks about them, the tragedy they face. They become homeless and foodless. The old man is a symbol of such victims. A 76 years old man, has to escape and suffer for no reason during the war.

After the war people will talk about heroism and victory, this old man will find no place in their memory or talks. Hemmingway finds this a disturbing fact and has tried to portray the uglier side of war, the destruction and distress caused by it. Whichever party wins, the common man is the guaranteed loser.

Old Man at the Bridge Summary Extract Based Questions

Question 1.
Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.

“There were not so many carts now and very few people on foot, but the old man was still there.”
(i) Who is the speaker in the above extract? Where is he? What is his job?
(ii) Where are the carts and people going? Why? Where was the old man?
(iii) Why doesn’t the old man move? What was he wearing?
(iv) What made of the old man smile?
(v) Describe the scene at the pontoon bridge?
(i) The narrator, who is an army officer, is the speaker. He is on a pontoon bridge in an African looking country of the Ebro Delta. His duty is to cross the bridge and check how far the enemy had advanced.

(ii) The carts and the people are crossing the bridge to get to a safer place from the advancing enemy force. The old man sat by the side of the road, near the bridge.

(iii) The old man doesn’t move because he is very tired to go any further as he had already walked twelve kilometres. He was wearing steel rimmed spectacles, and very dusty clothes.

(iv) On being asked by the narrator, where did he come from, the old man replied, “San Carlos”. The mention of gave him pleasure and made him smile.

(v) The narrator describes that several trucks, carts, men, women and children were crossing the pontoon bridge. The soldiers helped by pushing against the spokes of the wheels of the staggering mule-carts. The trucks headed while the peasants followed on foot in the ankle deep dust. A solitary old man sat by the side of the road. The narrator kept a check on the advancement of the enemy.

Question 2.
Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow.
“Yes” he said, “I stayed you see, taking care of animals.”
(i) Who is ‘he’ referred here? Where did he stay? Which animals is he talking about?
(ii) Why did he leave his animals? Why was he worried now?
(iii) Which animal was he less worried? Why? What was his age? How did the doves have a chance to survive?
(iv) What did the narrator find strange when the old man tells what he did in San Carlos?
(v) Which signals is the narrator waiting for?
(i) ‘He’ is referred to the old man. He stayed at his home town ‘San Carlos’. He is talking about the animals he took care of i.e., two goats, a cat and four pairs of pigeons.

(ii) He was forced to leave his town and animals due to heavy firing from the enemy. It was not safe to stay there. The old man had no other family except his animals. He loved and cared for them. He was worried to leave them behind in danger.

(iii) The old man was less worried about his cat because according to him, a cat could look out for itself. He was seventy six years of age. The doves had a chance to survive because the old man had left their cage open and they could fly off.

(iv) The narrator finds it strange to know that the old man was taking care of his animals in San Carlos as the old man did not at all look like a shepherd or a herdsman.

(v) The narrator is waiting for the signals that would be given when there would be a ‘contact1 by the enemy. So, he was attentive to the first noises that would be heard on the arrival of the enemy.

Question 3.
Read the extract given below and answer the questions that follow:
“This is not a good place to stop.”
(i) What advice does the speaker give to the old man? Why?
(ii) Does he accept the advice? Is he able to follow it?
(iii) What good luck does the old man have?
(iv) What conflict does the story depict?
(v) What irony does the day highlight?
(i) The speaker advised the old man not to stop there as the enemy could reach any time. He suggested him to walk, up to the trucks up the road where it forked for Tortosa.

(ii) Yes, he says he would wait for sometime and then go, but when he got up on his feet, he swayed unsteadily and sat down backwards in the dust.

(iii) The good luck that the old man had, was firstly, that his cats knew how to look after themselves and secondly, the sky was overcast so the enemy planes could not fly up.

(iv) The story ‘Old Man at the bridge’, does not talk about any conflict between the principal characters but it throws a light on the dispute between bigger forces and how it affects the peaceful life of the ordinary people. On one side is the army of the loyalists, while on the other side is the fascists. The old man’s only concern is his animals which he had to leave behind when he fled the advancing fascists.

(v) The action of the story is set on an Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day after he was crucified. It is also known as the resurrection of Jesus. Thus, Easer is celebrated to welcome the rebirth of Jesus. But ironically for the old man, this day would be a welcome of his inevitable death and destruction of all his belongings.

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