The story “The Old Man at the Bridge” by Ernest Hemingway features only two characters, the narrator and the old man. Both of them are key to the narrative and its message. They are flat characters; they do not change as a result of the action.
The unnamed narrator is an active character in the short story. Because the text was inspired by Hemingway’s real life experience in Spain as a war correspondent, we can assume the narrator is a fictional persona of the author. All that the text reveals about the narrator’s outer characterization is that his job was to “to cross the bridge, explore the bridgehead beyond and find out to what point the enemy had advanced” (ll. 9-11), which implies that he was a scout (an individual sent first to investigate a territory).
The narrator’s inner characterization is constructed through dialogue, actions, and the way he depicts the events.
The way the narrator depicts the war setting and the old man suggests that he pities the situation of the Spanish and that he is against fascists and war in general: “…how long now it would be before we would see the enemy, and listening all the while for the first noises that would signal that ever mysterious event called contact, and the old man still sat there.” (ll. 26-29); “There was nothing to do about him. It was Easter Sunday and the Fascists were advancing toward the Ebro.” (ll. 71-72)
The old man
The old man is the second character in the short story, who is presented from the narrator’s perspective. According to his outer characterization, he comes from a town called San Carlos (l. 14), he is “seventy-six years old” (l. 42), he has no family, and he used to take care of animals.
His physical portrait is conveyed on several occasions, and helps suggest the idea of helplessness: “An old man with steel rimmed spectacles and very dusty clothes sat by the side of the road.” (ll. 1-2); “...I looked at his black dusty clothes and his gray dusty face and his steel rimmed spectacles…” (ll. 21-22)
The old man’s inner characterization is conveyed through dialogue and his actions.
The fact that the man walked 12 kilometers from his town and got tired and decided to stop at the bridge suggest not only physical but also psychological exhaustion. He is a man who had to leave his town and who realized he has nowhere to go. This idea is further emphasized by his reluctance to go to Barcelona: