Treasure Trove A Collection of ICSE Short Stories Workbook Answers Chapter 2 Notes Old Man at the Bridge – ICSE Class 10, 9 English


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About the Author

Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway is seen as one of the great American 20th century novelists, and is known for works like A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea.

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), was born in Oak Park, Illinois and started his career as a writer in a newspaper office in Kansas City at the age of seventeen. After the United States entered the First World War, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. Sewing at the front, he was wounded, was decorated by the Italian Government, and spent considerable time in hospitals. After his return to the United States, he became a reporter for Canadian and American newspapers and was soon TT’’” back to Europe to cover such events as the Greek Revolution. During the twenties, Hemingway became a member of the group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which he described in his first important work, The Sun Also Rises (1926). Equally successful was A Farewell to Anns (1929), the study of an American ambulance officer’s disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter. Hemingway used his experiences as a reporter during the civil war in Spain as the background for his most ambitious novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Among his later works, the most outstanding is the short novel, The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman’s journey, his long and lonely struggle With a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat. Hemingway – himself a great sportsman – liked to portray soldiers, hunters, bullfighters – tough, at times primitive people whose courage and honesty are set against the brutal ways of modern society, and who in this confrontation lose hope and faith. His straightforward prose, his spare dialogue, and his.predilection for understatement are particularly effective in his short stories, some of which are collected in Men Without Women (1927) and The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (1938). Early on the morning of July 2, 1961, Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in his Ketchum home.

Hemingway left behind an impressive body of work and an iconic style that still influences writers today. His personality and constant pursuit of adventure loomed almost as large as his creative talent.

When asked by George Plimpton about the function of his art, Hemingway proved once again to be a master of the “one true sentence”: “From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.”

About the Story 

Ernest Hemingway’s economical short story “Old Man at the Bridge” first appeared in Ken Magazine (Volume 1, Number 4, May 19, 1938) prior to its later publication in the book The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories, also published in 1938. The Fifth Column is Hemingway’s only full-length play and also includes all of his previously published short stories.

At just two pages in length, “The Old Man at the Bridge” is one of Hemingway’s shortest tales. It is based upon an Easter Sunday stopover at the Ebro River during his coverage of the Spanish Civil War in April 1938. Although employed by the North American Newspaper Association (NANA), Hemingway apparently decided to submit it to Ken Magazine as a short story instead of using it as a news article.


In the middle of a military action, an army scout encounters an old man at a bridge where people are crossing to escape the war zone. The scout engages the old man in conversation and by the end of it, he realizes the old man is not going to move and will probably die at the bridge.


‘Old Man at the Bridge’ demonstrates the power of narrative art. It takes a small, ordinary detail in a situation and by the art of story-telling transforms it into a powerful story about the tragedy of war. The old man becomes a symbol of the countless civilian victims of war— those “without politics.” The old man is going to die at the bridge— displaced, disoriented, alone. He’s not a cat, nor a dove, but a goat—who was “only taking care of animals.”

Another theme in Hemingway’s The Old Man at the Bridge is sense of duty. The old man, whom the soldier meets at the bridge, feels it is his duty to act as a shepherd, and watch over his flock. The old man believes that he must watch over the four doves, the cat, and the two goats in San Carlos.

The young soldier feels that it is his duty to carry out the orders of the evacuation to ensure overall success in the war. Although he encounters the old man at the bridge and feels some empathy for him, the soldier does nothing to aid the old man. The old man is tired and old, yet the soldier does nothing for him, opting to adhere to his sense of duty to the military and obey his orders.

The old man places the needs of other living things over his own well being and the need to save himself. Though, he does leave the living things behind, it is due to the fact of old age and the forced evacuation. He would have taken care of them otherwise. The old man represents nature and morality. His duty is to care for nature.

The soldier places the need of the man made and unnatural as his priority. He offers a kind ear to the old man but does nothing physically to change the old man’s situation.

While the soldier has orders, he could have take a moral point of view in the old man’s dilemma. The young soldier represents man’s neglect 01 nature and tendency toward war or violence.

Highlights of Speech/or Summary

The narrator, who says that his mission is to cross the bridge and find out how far the enemy has advanced, does so and finds the old man who was sitting by the bridge when he crossed toward the enemy still sitting there when he crosses back. He begins conversing with the old man and elicits the information that his hometown is San Carlos; he was the last person to leave the town, as he was anxious on behalf of some animals he had charge of.

The narrator, while nervously awaiting the advent of the Fascist army and the ensuing battle between the armies, asks the old man about the animals. The old man says he had charge of two goats, a cat, and four pairs of pigeons. He says a major told him to evacuate the town and the animals because of artillery fire. He says he has no family.

The old man expresses concern about the fate of his animals. He says that the cat would be all right because cats can look after themselves, but he was not sure about what would happen to the other animals.

The narrator, more concerned for the old man’s safety than that of the animals, inquires what the old man’s politics are, and the old man replies that he has none. He told the soldier that he was an old man of 76, had walked 12 kilometers and was too tired to go any further. The narrator tells him to walk up the road and catch a ride on a truck to Barcelona.

The old man thanks him, but continues to express concern over the fate of the animals he left behind. The narrator reassures him, saying that the animals would be fine. He says that the doves would fly away, but the old man continues to worry about the goats. The narrator advised him not to think about the animals, and that he should get up and walk to the trucks.

The old man tried to get up and walk, but was too tired and sank back down. In the end, the narrator who was reluctant to listen to the old man’s story in the beginning, felt pity for him. He thought that the old man’s only luck was that the cats could look after themselves and that the day was overcast so the Fascists were unable to launch their planes.


Old Man : The central character is the 76 yr. old man, a war refugee who has been up rooted and displaced by the war. The old man is “without politics,” who was only taking care of his animals, but who has had his world destroyed. He is disoriented, confused and disconnected. He has retreated into his isolated world in which he can only cling to his obsessive thoughts about his animals, and is too tired to go any further. He will die at the bridge—another nameless innocent victim of war.

He loves his animals and continues to worry about them. He feels it is his duty to act as a shepherd, and watch over his flock. The old man believes that he must watch over the four doves, the cat, and the two goats in San Carlos. He was not that worried about his cat because he believed that cats could look after themselves. But he was constantly worried about the other animals. Since he was forced to leave and the other people were evacuating the city, he too had to leave the city. He walked twelve Kilometers and stopped just before the bridge which carried them to the other side of the river which was considered as the safe area. But the old man refused to cross the bridge claiming to be tired. Crossing the bridge promised a physically unharmed life . But it failed to give psychological happiness to everyone. Those who were with their families crossed because they had hope to keep their families safe and to live with them. But the old man was deprived of any hope. He lost his hope at the very moment he left his animals. Therefore we can say that he psychologically and symbolically died at the moment he left his animals. That is because he lost his hope and his whole reason for existence. The old man is associated with his goats. The others can take care of themselves. “But the others(the goats). It’s better not to think about the others.” The old man is a goat figure as he is unable to escape, an innocent victim of the civil war.

The Scout is the narrator who creates the story of the old man at the bridge. Through his telling of the story, he gradually articulates who the old man is and what he represents. The Scout at the beginning is the impersonal narrator who sees the old man and decides to engage him in conversation. By asking the old man questions about himself, the Scout gradually understands the situation of the old man. At the beginning he thinks the old man is just resting so he encourages him to move on. In the course of his conversation he realizes the old man is disoriented, displaced and that he will not be able to move on, but that he will likely die at the bridge. The scout who begins as a detached observer comes to the painful realization that “there was nothing to do about him.” And he ends with the bitterly ironic observation about Easter Sunday and the old man’s luck, which is no luck. The old man will soon cross that final bridge. The scout engages the old man in conversation and by the end of it, he realizes the old man is not going to move and will probably die at the bridge. ‘There was nothing to do about him.’ The fatalism of the old man and the narrators despair are conveyed through the conversation of the scout and the old man.


The story is about the old man , sitting on the bridge, unable to walk to safety as he is too tired, waiting for his inevitable death. Hence the title ‘Old Man On The Bridge’ is very apt. The old man is sitting on the bridge which represents uncertainty and dangers. He has left his home and animals and is worried about their fate where as the nameless soldier is worried about his safety. The old man is a goat figure as he is unable to escape, an innocent victim of the civil war.


The place is a war zone at a pontoon bridge across the Ebro river during the Spanish Civil War. The time is Easter Sunday 1938. The setting is a spot in the countryside during

the Spanish Civil War. An old man with spectacles sits exhausted by the side of the road near a pontoon bridge that crosses a river. Peasant refugees and Republican soldiers laden with munitions and supplies flee the advancing Fascist army.


Basically, his style is simple, direct, and unadorned, probably as a result of his early newspaper training. He avoids the adjective whenever possible, but because he is a master at transmitting emotion without the flowery prose of his Victorian novelist predecessors, the effect is far more telling. Hemingway has often been described as a master of dialog, and most readers agree, upon being first introduced to his writing, that “this is the way these characters would really talk.”He is able to capture the complexity of human interaction through subtlety of dialogue and implication as well as direct discourse and calculated emphasis and repetition. He is a master in the art of economy of words and understatement as evident in the story.


  1. The 3 symbolic animals, which have a long history of conveying symbolic meaning.
  2. The cat—It is said that a cat has nine lives. It is a survivor.
  3. Pigeons, which become doves in the second mentioning. Birds can fly away from the war; doves are associated with peace, which in this context is ironic. The doves will fly away.
  4. The goats are the animals who can’t escape. They are sacrificial animals. Scape goats who are innocent victims. In the course of the story, the old man is associated with his goats. The others can take care of themselves. “But the others(the goats). It’s better not to think about the others.” The old man is a goat figure as he is unable to escape, an innocent victim of the civil war.
  5. Easter Sunday. This is an ironic contrast. The day of the celebration of the resurrection will be the day another innocent victim is crucified.
  6. The 4 repetitions of the old man’s words: “I was taking care of animals.” His last repetitions: “I was only taking care of animals,” “I was only taking care of animals” becomes the eloquent symbolic expression of all those voiceless innocent men, women and children who are the victims of wars they neither support nor understand. Without politics, only living in their everyday world and taking care of animals, a world which is destroyed by forces beyond their ability to comprehend.

Critical Appreciation

“Old Man at the Bridge” was inspired by Hemingway’s travels as a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In fact, the story was originally composed as a news dispatch from the Amposta Bridge over the Ebro River on Easter Sunday in 1938 as the Fascists were set to overrun the region. Hemingway was writing for the North American Newspaper Association but decided to submit this snippet of writing as a short story to a magazine instead of as a journalistic article, which accounts, to a certain extent, for its short length.

For all of its unorthodox origins, the story deals with familiar Hemingway themes of depression, resignation, and impending death. The old man is the heroic fatalist or fatalistic hero of the story, resigned to his fate as a casualty of the war. He is too old and tired to move, and the narrator reflects that he is sure to be killed once the Fascists advance to the bridge across the Ebro. His life is prolonged by the fact that the day is overcast and the Fascists cannot launch their planes, and his mind is eased by the fact that cats can look after themselves, but aside from that, the narrator says that nothing can be done for him and his death seems certain.

The narrator of the story seems more affected by the inevitability of the man’s probable fate than by the old man. Just as the old man worries about the goats he left behind, the narrator worries about the old man he will have to leave behind, but is obviously not able to stop thinking about him.

There is irony inherent in the situation. The animals for which the old man is so concerned have a greater chance of survival than their caretaker during the next crucial twenty-four hours. Unable to walk and barely able to stand, the old man’s luck has run out, and he, too, seems resigned to his fate at the bridge.

Nevertheless, one lingering rhetorical question occurs as the story ends and the narrator bemoans the old man’s impending death. Why doesn’t the narrator help the old man at least part of the way to the trucks bound for Barcelona? Surely everyone, including the narrator and the old man, is going in the same direction. Surely it would not be a great imposition for the narrator to help a 76-year-old man who had already walked 12 kilometers along at least part of the way to safety. Are the old man’s fatalism and the narrator’s despair justified? Since this story began as a news dispatch recounting an encounter Hemingway actually had, this question takes on more than academic significance.

A first person narrator tells the story through careful description, reportage of dialogue and insightful commentary about the old man. The narrator makes the reader see the old man. His engagement with him suddenly brings the old man into focus, he emerges out of the faceless, voiceless crowd. The Narrator’s consciousness of the approaching enemy “contact” is used to create the dramatic tension between the immobility of the old man and the coming destruction as he constantly observes the movement of carts across – the bridge while talking. The narrator’s conversation allows the old man to have a voice. As he speaks to the scout, we along with the scout, gradually understand his plight and what the war has done to him. The voiceless victims speak through the old man. The narrator captures the helplessness of the old man as a innocent victim of war in the dialogues he exchanges with the old man who has had to leave his home and animals behind due to the war and now faces inevitable death as he is too tired to walk any further to seek safe haven. The first person narrative enables the reader to identify and understand the plight of the victims of war ,their feelings of being under threat of death and their helplessness to avert the danger.

The story abounds in symbols and metaphors. There is one symbol of hope in the story. At the beginning of the narrator’s conversation with the old man, the birds the old man was looking after were referred to as “pigeons,” but by the end of the story, they become “doves,” symbols of peace in wartime. The narrator makes this switch as he asks, “Did you leave the dove cage unlocked?” It is unclear whether this is a slip of the tongue, because the narrator is clearly distracted by the impending arrival of the enemy, or if Hemingway is attempting to give the image of the birds flying away an even more positive tint by referring to them as symbols of peace. They maybe the symbols of refugees fleeing the war. The cat symbolises independence as it does not need anyone to survive. The goat is a symbol of sacrificial animal and represents the old man who is reconciled to his impending death. The bridge represents the uncertainty of death.

The story adopts a conversational form between the narrator and the old man who had to evacuate his hometown during the Spanish civil war. The problems of war as faced by the victims are conveyed in the form of dialogues. The conversation moves the story forward culminating in its logical conclusion and at the same time reveals the theme and characteristic traits of the characters.

As Hemingway observes the movement of vehicles and civilians fleeing across the pontoon bridge from an anticipated enemy attack, he notices a solitary old man sitting at the edge of the structure. Upon questioning him, Hemingway determines that the old man has just walked the twelve kilometers from his home village of San Carlos, but fatigue forces him to halt at the bridge, for he can go no further. The last man to leave the village, the old man’s duty is to take care of the animals left behind. It is obvious that he takes his obligation seriously, for he worries more about the cat, two goats, and eight pigeons that were under his care than for his own safety. Sadly, he explains, he was forced to leave them behind. The cat will be able to take care of itself, he adds, but the goats and pigeons will have to fend for themselves. The correspondent suggests that the displaced man cross the bridge to the next crossroads, where he can catch a truck toward Barcelona, but the man explains that “I know no one in that direction.” Although the correspondent is curious, he is not particularly helpful, and when the old man is unable to proceed, the journalist decides that “there was nothing to do about him.” The enemy would cross the bridge soon, and death appears imminent for the old man.

This is the type of story in which the conflict is not between the principal characters but between much larger forces whose struggle affects the lives of the little people unavoidably involved. On the one side of the great conflict is the army of the Loyalists. They are fighting to preserve the legally elected Spanish government. On the other side is the army of the Fascists under the leadership of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who eventually won the rebellion because they were supported by the Fascist governments of Germany and Italy. The little people, such as the weary old man at the bridge, are forced to scramble to keep from getting crushed between the opposing juggernauts. The old man symbolizes the Spanish people in general. He is not concerned about the greater issues involved in the conflict. He isn’t capable of understanding them. The Spanish Civil War was considered to be a prelude to World War II, which covered the entire globe and resulted in the deaths of some seventy million people, half of whom were civilians. The old man is only concerned about a few animals—a cat, two goats, and eight pigeons— which he had to leave behind when he fled the advancing Fascists. The narrator presents this slice-of-life as a picture of the face of war. The advancing Fascist army might be said to symbolize the great conflict which seems to be threatening much of the entire world. Hemingway’s story was published in 1938. Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939. America was drawn into the international conflict when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941.

Hemingway was trying to capture the aspects of war that people often forget. In Old Man at the Bridge he reminds us human life is not the only life disrupted by war. Hemingway states that “cats can take care of themselves”, however the cats have still been disrupted from their normal activities and in fact may find it difficult to survive even if they make it through the actual fighting. Of course the goats will be dead, either killed for food or by some random piece of shrap metal. Hemingway wasn’t just showing the disruption to animals though, he made a point to state the old man hasn’t any political side. The old man is just someone trying to live his life to the best of his ability but because the war has reached the old man, he will lose many of the years he had left. The old man has seen what the ravishes of war can do to people. In this short story Hemingway has captured many parts of war and its disruption to both people and animals.


  1. Steel rimmed spectacles: glasses with a round metal frame.
  2. Pontoon bridge: temporary floating platform made of pieces of metal.
  3. Bridgehead: strong position that the army had conquered, from which it could control or attack the enemy.
  4. Ebro Delta: the Ebro river is the longest
  5. Staggered: walked with unsteady steps
  6. Plodded: walked slowly.
  7. Artillery: heavy guns moved on wheels
  8. Mysterious: strange
  9. Blankly: disinterestedly.
  10. Cage: a structure made of wires in which animals are kept.
  11.  Fascists: a person who supports an extreme right wing political system.

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