Unlocking the Mystery: What Do Bells Symbolize in Literature?

Bells have been a prominent symbol in literature for centuries. The sound of bells ringing has been used to elicit a range of emotions, from a sense of joy and celebration to feelings of mourning and tragedy. The sound has played an important part in conveying themes and highlighting key moments in literature, making it an integral part of storytelling.

Bells have a unique ability to capture our attention, both audibly and visually. In literature, the ringing of a bell can signify the beginning or the end of an event or a significant change in a character’s life. The sound of bells can also evoke memories from the past or give a sense of foreboding for what’s about to come. This versatility and symbolic nature of bells have made them an important literary device in storytelling, often used to add depth and meaning to the narrative.

Not limited to just fiction, bells have also played an important role in historical literature and religious texts. In these works, bells are used to convey a sense of spirituality and divine intervention. They remind us of ancient traditions and rituals, acting as a cultural symbol of the past and present. As such, the significance of bells in literature goes beyond just the narrative and serves as a representation of a community’s culture and values.

The significance of bells in novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

“Bells” play an important role in the novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway. In this novel, bells are symbolic of many things such as hope, warning, death, mourning, and fear. Hemingway’s use of bells as a symbol helps to create a powerful and emotional impact on the reader.

  • Hope – In the novel, bells are used to symbolize hope. The church bells ringing in the distance symbolize that there is still hope for the people despite the war that is raging around them.
  • Warning – Bells are also used as a warning in the novel. For example, when the enemy is approaching the camp, bells are rung as a signal for the camp to evacuate and move to safety.
  • Death – Bells are a common symbol of death, and in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” they are used to signify the death of characters such as Pablo’s father and the gypsy.

Moreover, the title of the novel itself is a reference to a poem by John Donne, a seventeenth-century poet, which explores the interconnectedness of humanity. Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” The novel explores this interconnectedness of humanity and how the death of any individual affects everyone around them. The ringing of the bells in the novel can be seen as a reminder of this interconnectedness.

The role of bells in the plot

There are several key moments in the novel where bells play a pivotal role in the plot. One of the most significant instances is when Robert Jordan and his guerilla team blow up a bridge, and Jordan is injured. After he is shot, he hears bells ringing in the distance, which he believes are the enemy’s reinforcements. This serves as a sign that Jordan’s time is running out, and he must finish his mission quickly. The bells ringing create a sense of urgency and danger, heightening the tension of the scene.

Bells as a motif

Bell SymbolismExample
HopeThe church bells ringing in the distance.
WarningThe bells ringing as a signal to evacuate the camp.
DeathThe bells ringing after the death of Pablo’s father.
MourningThe bells ringing during the death of the gypsy.
FearThe bells ringing after Jordan is injured.

Bells are a recurring motif in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and Hemingway uses them to create a sense of atmosphere and symbolism. The sound of bells is used to build tension, evoke emotion, and create meaning. By using bells as a motif, Hemingway adds depth and complexity to the novel, making it a rich and powerful read.

Bell symbolism in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells”

The poem “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe is known for its vivid imagery and use of symbolism, particularly in the way that it portrays the sound of different types of bells. Throughout the poem, Poe uses the sound of bells to represent various emotions and events, from joy and celebration to sadness and mourning.

The Number 2 in “The Bells”

  • The repetition of the number 2 is a significant aspect of the symbolism in “The Bells.” The poem consists of four stanzas, each of which describes a different type of bell: silver, golden, brazen, and iron.
  • The second stanza, which describes the golden bells, prominently features the number 2. The stanza begins with the repeated refrain “How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,” which appears twice in each line, creating a musical and rhythmic effect.
  • The repetition of the word “tinkle” and the use of the number 2 emphasizes the lighthearted and joyful sound of the golden bells, and reinforces the idea of their delicate and graceful nature.
  • In contrast to the golden bells, the third stanza, which describes the brazen bells, features a more forceful and chaotic sound, with the repeated refrain of “How they clang, and clash, and roar!” reflecting the harsh and discordant noise of the bells.
  • By juxtaposing the gentle, tinkling sound of the golden bells with the loud, clanging sound of the brazen bells, Poe reinforces the idea of the cyclical nature of life and the inevitability of change and transformation.


By using the symbolism of bells to represent different emotions and events, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” creates a rich and multi-layered portrait of the human experience. The repetition of the number 2 in the second stanza adds to the musicality of the poem, and reinforces the themes of joy and celebration that are associated with the sound of the golden bells.

Symbolism in “The Bells”Meaning
Silver BellsJoy and celebration
Golden BellsDelicacy and grace
Brazen BellsChaos and discord
Iron BellsMourning and death

Overall, the poem is a powerful reminder of the importance of sound and music in our lives, and the profound impact that they can have on our emotions and experiences.

Bells as a representation of warning or danger in literature

Bells have long been associated with danger and warning in literature, often used as a literary device to forewarn characters and readers of impending doom. Here are some examples of how bells have been used in this manner:

  • The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe – This poem is a prime example of how bells can be used as a representation of warning. The poem describes various types of bells, each of which represents a different stage of life. The final section, however, is the most ominous, as the bells represent death: “And this monotonous chant sublime / Heard from the bells within the time / Brings to the soul a thought of crime.”
  • The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo – In this classic novel, the bells of the cathedral are a constant reminder of danger. When the hunchback, Quasimodo, is being pursued, he seeks refuge in the bell tower. The bells become his allies, and he uses them to warn others of the approaching danger: “What could he do with happiness? Nothing. What could he do with despair? ring the bells.”
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe – In this famous short story, the sound of a heartbeat drives the narrator to madness. The heart, however, is not a literal one, but rather the sound of a bell that the victim wears. The bell becomes a symbol of the victim’s impending doom and the narrator’s guilt: “I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly – more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased.”

Bells have also been used in literature in a more literal sense, to warn characters of danger. For example, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, the tolling of a church bell warns Pip of an impending attack by a convict. In this way, bells become a critical lifeline for characters in dangerous situations.

Overall, bells serve as a powerful symbol of danger and warning in literature, reminding us of the fragility of life and the inevitability of our mortality.

The religious connotations of bells in literature

In literature, bells have been used as a symbol of religious significance. Bells are seen as sacred objects in many religions and cultures and have been used to call people to prayer, signify important religious events, and ward off evil spirits.

  • In Christianity, bells have been used to signify important events like Christmas and Easter. They are also used to call people to worship and represent the voice of God. The inscription on the Liberty Bell, “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof,” is a reference to the Book of Leviticus, which states that a trumpet should be blown throughout the land on the tenth day of the seventh month to mark the Jubilee year.
  • In Buddhism, the sound of bells is believed to help in focusing the mind during meditation and to represent the teachings of the Buddha. The sound of a bell is said to purify the mind and create a sense of calm and peace.
  • In Hinduism, bells are used in temples to invite the attention of the gods and goddesses. It is said that the sound of bells dispels negative energy and helps in creating a positive environment.

Bells have also been used in literature to represent the divine or supernatural. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells,” he uses the sound of bells to create an eerie and foreboding atmosphere. The bells in the poem represent different stages of life and death and the ringing of the bells is a symbol of the inevitability of death.

Bells can also be seen as a symbol of warning or impending danger. In many cultures, bells are rung during times of war or to signal an emergency. This use of bells is seen in William Faulkner’s novel “The Sound and the Fury,” where the sound of a bell is used to signify the end of the world.

Religion/CultureSymbolism of Bells
ChristianityVoice of God, signify important events, call people to worship
BuddhismPurify the mind, create calm and peace
HinduismInvite attention of the gods and goddesses, dispel negative energy

In conclusion, bells have played an important role in literature as a symbol of religious significance. Whether representing the divine, warning of danger or representing important events, the sound of bells creates a powerful and evocative image that has captured the imagination of writers for centuries.

The use of bells to signify the passage of time in literature

Throughout literature, bells have been used to symbolize the passage of time. Bells can be heard from a distance and can evoke a sense of nostalgia and reflection on the past. The sound of bells can also represent the end of one era and the beginning of another, marking a significant moment in time.

  • In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the ringing of the bells symbolizes the beginning of the French Revolution and the end of the aristocratic era.
  • In Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, the ringing of the bells signals the end of the protagonist’s mission and ultimately, his life.
  • In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, the striking of the clock’s bells symbolize the inevitability of death and the passage of time.

Bells can also serve as a reminder of the ticking clock, highlighting the limited time we have in our lives. They can represent the urgency to make the most of our time and to not waste the precious moments we have.

Moreover, the use of bells in literature can also represent the presence of a higher power or divine force. In religious texts, bells are often rung as a call to worship or as a way to signal the presence of God or angels.

Literary WorkBell Symbolism
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles DickensThe revolution and the end of aristocratic era
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest HemingwayThe end of the protagonist’s mission and life
The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan PoeThe inevitability of death and the passage of time

Overall, the use of bells as a literary symbol captures the essence of time, mortality and the presence of a higher power. It serves as a reminder to cherish our time and make the most of every moment, instead of being consumed by the constraints of time.

Symbolism of Bells in William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

Bells play an important role in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” serving as a symbol of both power and control. Here are a few examples:

  • Prospero’s control over Ariel: In Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero tells Ariel to “go make thyself like a nymph o’ th’ sea” and to ring a bell when he is finished. This bell serves as a signal for Prospero to summon Ariel back.
  • Alonso’s guilt: In Act 5, Scene 1, Alonso hears a “strange hollow and confused sound,” which he believes to be the tolling of a funeral bell. This bell symbolizes his guilt over what he has done to Prospero and his family.
  • The final scene: In the play’s final scene, Prospero breaks his staff and throws his book into the sea, symbolizing his relinquishment of his magical powers. He then calls for Ariel to “set Caliban and his companions free” and promises to “bury the great sea-serpent” (referring to the shipwreck that started the play) with his “music.” This music is represented by a “solemn air and the best comforter, To an unsettled fancy, cure thy brains.” The sound of bells then fills the stage, symbolizing the restoration of order and the “marriage” of Ferdinand and Miranda.

Overall, bells in “The Tempest” represent control, guilt, and the restoration of order. They are a powerful symbol that reinforces the play’s themes and helps to create a sense of atmosphere and tension.

The cultural significance of bells in Native American literature: The number 7

In Native American literature, the number 7 holds immense significance. Bells with 7 distinct tones have been used in various ceremonies to signify the seven directions: north, south, east, west, above, below, and center. These seven directions correspond with the seven colors of the rainbow, seven stages of life, and seven sacred herbs, among other important symbols to Native American culture.

The creation story in various Native American cultures also often centers around the number 7. For instance, in the Hopi creation story, there were seven worlds, and each world was destroyed before the creation of the next. This creation story symbolizes the cyclical nature of life and death, and the importance of each stage in the process. Other Native American cultures, such as the Navajo, have myths that center around the number 7 as the foundation of the universe, representing the cardinal directions, the colors of the rainbow, and the days of the week.

  • The number 7 in Native American culture represents:
  • Seven directions
  • Seven colors of the rainbow
  • Seven stages of life
  • Seven sacred herbs
  • Seven worlds in the creation story
  • The foundation of the universe
  • Days of the week

In addition to the symbolic significance of the number 7, the seven-toned bell is also used in Native American literature to represent the harmony and balance of life. Each tone of the bell corresponds with one of the seven directions, and when the bell is rung, it is believed to bring these seven directions into harmony, creating a sense of balance and unity. This is an important theme in Native American literature, as many stories focus on the need for balance between the physical and spiritual worlds, as well as between different forces or elements.

Symbolism of the number 7 in Native American cultureExamples in Native American literature
Representation of the seven directionsThe use of seven-toned bells in ceremonies to signify the seven directions.
Symbol of the cyclical nature of life and deathThe Hopi creation story of the seven worlds, where each world is destroyed before the creation of the next.
Representation of harmony and balanceThe use of the seven-toned bell to create balance and unity in ceremonies.

In conclusion, the number 7 in Native American literature symbolizes the interconnectedness and balance of all things. The use of bells with seven distinct tones and the mythological stories of the seven worlds serve as important reminders of the cyclical nature of life and the need for harmony and balance in all aspects of existence.

The Association of Bells with Death and Mourning in Literature

Throughout literature, bells have been used to symbolize death and mourning, often tolling solemnly to announce the passing of a loved one. This association with death is rooted in the historical use of bells to mark funeral processions and ring out during times of tragedy and mourning. Here, we explore the significance of bells in literature and their portrayal as a symbol of death and mourning.

  • The tolling of funeral bells: One of the most well-known associations of bells with death is the tolling of funeral bells. In literature, this somber sound is often used to signal the death of a character, particularly in Gothic and Victorian novels. For example, in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” the tolling of a giant ebony clock marks the arrival of death at a masquerade ball.
  • Bells as reminders of mortality: Bells can also be symbolic reminders of mortality, serving as a reminder of the fragility of life. In Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the sound of the bell tolling serves as a reminder to the protagonist, Robert Jordan, of his own impending death. The book’s title is also a reference to a meditation by John Donne, wherein he writes that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
  • Bells as a call to mourn: In addition to signaling the passing of an individual, bells can also be a call to mourn. In Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” the death of a young revolutionist named Gavroche is followed by the tolling of a bell, which is described as “breaking forth into a long peel which lasted for half an hour while all the peals of the faubourg re-echoed and replied in the different quarters of Paris.”

Finally, it is worth noting the specific symbolism of the number of chimes in bell tolling. In some traditions, the number of chimes corresponds to the age of the deceased, while in others the number of chimes signifies the station of the deceased in life (such as a king or noble). This numerical symbolism serves to further emphasize the solemnity of the occasion and the significance of the individual’s passing.

Number of ChimesSymbolism
OneBegins the tolling of the bell
ThreeA holy trinity
SevenThe seven days of creation
EightThe number of completion and eternity
TwelveThe twelve apostles

In conclusion, bells have long been associated with death and mourning in literature, serving as a powerful symbol of the fragility of life and the solemnity of loss. From the tolling of funeral bells to the reminders of mortality, their significance in literature is a testament to the lasting impact of these somber sounds.

Bell imagery in Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”

Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is a powerful poem that showcases the complex relationship between a daughter and her father. Throughout the poem, there are several instances of bell imagery that add layers of meaning and symbolism to the literary work. One such instance is the recurring mention of the number 9.

The number 9 appears several times in the poem, beginning in the second stanza with the line, “I have always been scared of you, / Even when I was two.” The number 9 is significant because it is the age at which Plath’s father died. This indicates that the speaker has been plagued by her father’s memory, even though he has been gone for many years.

  • The number 9 is also alluded to when Plath writes, “You died before I had time—” The word “time” goes on to spell out the number 9 when counted in the alphabet (T=20, I=9, M=13, and E=5).
  • This use of the word “time” as a hidden reference to the number 9 adds another layer to the poem’s already intricate meaning. It suggests that the speaker is fixated on her father’s death and the time that she lost with him.
  • The number 9 also appears in the seventh stanza when the speaker says, “If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two— / The vampire who said he was you.” The word “two” is a homophone for “to,” and the ninth letter of the alphabet is “I.” This could be a reference to the speaker’s desire to kill herself in order to be reunited with her father.

The use of the number 9 in “Daddy” adds depth to the poem’s already complex themes of loss, grief, and the complicated relationship between daughter and father. By using this number as a symbol, Plath creates a sense of unity and continuity throughout the poem. It also makes the reader reflect on the ways in which different symbols can be used to convey complex emotions within literature.

BellsDeath; passing of time; spiritual awakening; warnings
Number 9Loss; grief; fixation on time and death; desire for unity

The bell imagery in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” is an essential component of the poem’s rich symbolism. The use of the number 9 adds a layer of complexity to the themes of loss and grief, suggesting that the speaker is fixated on her father’s death and the time that she lost with him. This type of symbolic representation is just one example of how authors use literary devices to convey complex emotions and ideas within their works.

The use of bells to evoke nostalgia in literature

When a bell tolls, it can transport the reader on a journey through time. Bells symbolize both the passing of time and a connection to history. This is why they are often used in literature to evoke nostalgia. Here, we explore the various ways in which authors have used bells to evoke nostalgia.

The number 10

  • In “The Fellowship of the Ring,” J.R.R. Tolkien uses the sound of ten bells tolling to evoke nostalgia for the peaceful days of the Shire. The bells remind the hobbits of home, and their absence makes them long for it.
  • The sound of ten bells is also used in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. They signify the passing of time and the many changes that have occurred in the life of Esmeralda.
  • Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” uses ten bells to symbolize the end of an era. The novel is set during the French Revolution, and the ten bells tolling marks the end of the old regime and the beginning of a new one.

Context Matters

The use of bells to evoke nostalgia in literature is not always straightforward. The context in which they are used can greatly affect their meaning. For example, the sound of church bells ringing on a Sunday morning might evoke feelings of comfort and community for one person, while for another person it might be a painful reminder of a strict religious upbringing.

Similarly, the ringing of bells at a funeral might evoke feelings of sadness and loss, but the ringing of bells at a wedding might evoke feelings of joy and celebration.

Furthermore, the physical appearance of the bell itself can also affect its symbolism. A large, ornate bell might symbolize grandeur and importance, while a small, humble bell might symbolize simplicity and humility.

Examples of Bells in Literature

Here are a few more examples of bells used in literature to evoke nostalgia:

The Great GatsbyF. Scott FitzgeraldThe ringing of the telephone in the early hours of the morning is compared to the tolling of a distant bell, signaling the end of an era.
To Kill a MockingbirdHarper LeeThe sound of the school bell ringing signifies both the end of a long day and the end of Scout’s childhood.
The Sound and the FuryWilliam FaulknerThe ringing of the watchman’s bell in the opening scene signifies the passing of time and the decay of the Compson family.

Bells are a powerful symbol in literature, evoking feelings of nostalgia and reminding readers of the passage of time. Whether in the form of church bells tolling on a Sunday morning, or the sound of ten bells ringing in a bustling city, their unmistakable sound has the power to transport readers to different times and places.

What Do Bells Symbolize in Literature FAQs

1. What do bells represent in literature?

Bells are often used in literature as a symbol of warning, a call to action, and to signify important events.

2. What emotions do bells convey in literature?

Bells can convey a range of emotions in literature, depending on the context in which they’re used. They may suggest joy, celebration, sadness, warning, or fear.

3. How are bells typically used in literature?

Bells are often used in literature to create an atmosphere of suspense, to signal important plot points, and to emphasize the theme of a story.

4. What are examples of famous literary works that use bells as a symbol?

Some of the most famous literary works that use bells as a symbol include “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway, and “The Chimes” by Charles Dickens.

5. What do funeral bells symbolize in literature?

Funeral bells are often used to symbolize death and the passing of a loved one. They may also represent the idea of mortality and the fleeting nature of life.

6. What do church bells symbolize in literature?

Church bells are often used to symbolize religious themes and the idea of spirituality. They may represent the call to worship or the idea of redemption.

7. How do bells relate to themes of time and history in literature?

Bells are often used in literature to emphasize the theme of time and history. They may represent the passage of time, or the idea of a historical event that has left an indelible mark on the world.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for reading about what bells symbolize in literature. Whether they signify warning, joy, or sadness, bells are a powerful symbol that can evoke a wide range of emotions in the reader. We hope you’ll visit again soon to learn more about the symbols and themes that make literature so rich and fascinating!