Skip to comments.Freeper Reading Club Discussion: "From Here To Eternity"
Posted on 01/12/2003 2:39:55 PM PST by PJ-Comix
The Freeper Reading Club now stands at 131 members which makes it (I believe) the LARGEST Reading Club on the Internet. Actually it may be the LARGEST Reading Club anywhere.
Anyway, I hope that most of our 131 members read the current assignment, From Here To Eternity by James Jones. This is perhaps the GREATEST novel ever written. I think it qualifies for THE Great American Novel. Many of you might not know this but most of the characters in this book (and in James Jones' other novels) were based on REAL people. The minor character of Slade (the Army Air Corps soldier) was based on James Jones himself (Jones transferred from the Air Corps to the regular infantry while stationed in Hawaii.)
I'll post more about all this as the discussion continues so post away your comments about this book. Oh, and if anybody else wants to join the Freeper Reading Club, Freepmail me and I'll put you on the Ping LIst.
One thing about the book that didn't ring true to me, being that James Jones based this on actual events, was the apparently common practice of befriending homosexuals in town to "scam them" or "string them along" for money, free drinks, etc. In the book, there were a lot of soldiers doing this and during one investigation, two entire truckloads of soldiers who were thought to be fraternizing with homosexuals were brought in for questioning and the soldiers treated the whole thing like a joke.
I can tell you that when I was in the service, nothing of the sort was tolerated. If a Marine "got a boyfriend off base" even as a ruse to rip the homosexual off, he would be quickly turned in by his fellow Marines and run right out of the Corps.
I'll have a lot more to say about this book as the thread progresses (don't want to shoot my whole wad at once).
Hang on P-J! The 'perhaps' should have been the word capitalized.
Actually someone else just joined so you make it 131.
Maybe it was the time and place. Remember, back then a soldier's pay was really horrible so it isn't unreasonable for the soldiers to scam the homos for money. In the book, they tried to get money from them WITHOUT going all the way. Since this part of the book was highly detailed, I am sure that Jones himself was pulling just such a scam while in the military. Also Jones almost ALWAYS based events in his novels to things he has seen or participated in. I did a thorough research of his Go To The Widowmaker and the closeness of the facts to the events in the books was astonishing. Almost a perfect match.
Oh, and from reading this book and others by Jones, I am sure he was an alcoholic. However, since this did not seem to affect his writing (although it did cause an early death), I don't hold this against him.
p.s. A starting point for research on whether there were big homo investigations in Hawaii circa 1941 is to check out the FBI's Freedom of Information files.
So what's your nominee?
Not really. Limit access to women by a large group of soldiers and you expect them to behave like Boy Scouts? This part of the book was neither surprising nor disappointing. Just realistic.
As far as his writing style: This book actually began as a series of stories by Jones about pre-War army life in Hawaii. Also, fortunately, Jones kept extensive notes while in the Army. Since the character of Slade is based on Jones, you might notice that Slade also carried around a notepad and pencil although this was not a common practice in the army.
Then there are a number of British and French novels, plus Italian Eco's "Name of the Rose" and "Foucault's Pendelum". But everyone has their own opinion.
He would get aggitated if one talked of Sgt Warden as a hero; he felt that it was B/S to publically elevate any 1st SGT who 'allegedly' had an affair with an officer's wife [much less his commander].
Jack Malloy is my favorite character in the book. He is his own man and extremely intelligent but in the military environment, he just doesn't fit in. Ironically, many of the characters in the book who were perceived by the officers as "screw-ups" would have made the best soldiers in wartime. This is something that SSgt Warden seemed to realize. His relationship with Prewitt is interesting. One one hand, Warden respected Prewitt as a potentially great soldier but on the other hand, hated him for who he was and happily went along with Captain Holmes efforts to break him.
During my time in Marine boot camp, I served briefly on guard duty for the brig (they called it "Correctional Platoon"). The conditions there are much as described in the book. Those men go through hell. I remember how they had to wake up and completely disassemble their "racks" (bunk beds) and stack the rails up against the wall. At the end of the workday (usually digging ditches or doing other scut work), they would have to reassemble them. Sometimes the Sgt. on duty would take a handful of bolts and throw them across the room after they left for the day, adding to the confusion that evening when the poor guys had to put their racks back together again.
Nothing much different than locker room type talk there.
Interesting that he would make Slade an over enthusiastic and naive sounding soljier, when he is doing a self portrait.
Most likely having a little fun there. However, Jones was originally in the Air Corps in Hawaii and hated it which is reflected by what Slade was saying on the same topic. Also, Jones became friends with several friends in the Infantry and became enthusiastic about that unit...just like Slade. BTW, there are characters based on Jones in his other novels. In Go To The Widowmaker the main character was DIRECTLY based on him.
How about that! I just yesterday picked up a copy of "Name Of The Rose" while I took my family to Higgins Armory in Worcester (a museum of medieval armor). It was in the gift store. It looked very interesting and similar to a medieval novel I read last year ("Pillars Of The Earth" by Ken Follett). I've been wanting to read Eco for years but never got around to it.
I am sure Mallow was based on a real person (as most of Jones' characters are). There was just too much detail about the IWW (Wobblies) for Jones not to know such a person. Also since Jones was only in his 20s when he wrote FHTE I don't think he would have known enough about the Wobblies on his own to completely invent such a character. Most likely, Jones did meet an ex-Wobbly much like Jack Malloy. I would also like to know which real-life person Jones based Sgt. Warden on.
BTW, Robert E. Lee Prewitt was based on an Army buddy of Jones' named Robert Stewart.
Wobblies were kind of a home grown socialists in contrast to the bolsheviks/communists. They were probably more akin to Anarchists. However, Big Bill Haywood did flee to Russia in 1921 when he was out of jail on bail and died there in 1928.
Jones was never very political. Most likely he did meet a former Wobbly in the army and used him as a character in the book.
The wife of Captain Holmes (Karen) definitely gave as good as she got. Apparently she chewed up a lot of men and spit them out way before SSgt Warden came on the scene. BTW, the notion of an enlisted man having an affair with his CO's wife is preposterous in today's military. I just see no way that this could happen (obviously conditions were different in 1941). The separation between officers and enlisted are obviously much greater today than it was back then. When I was in the service in the early 1980s, there were very strict rules about fraternization not just between officers and enlisted, but also between NCO's and "non-rates." When I made Sergeant, it was made quite clear to me that I was not to hang out with privates and lance corporals after duty.
Lorene, the prostitute girlfriend of Prewitt, was another strong character. She had a plan to make as much money as she could in the whorehouse and then she was to go back to the United States (remember, Hawaii hadn't yet achieved statehood at that time) and take care of her family.
Mrs. Kipfer, the "owner" of the whorehouse is another strong character who doesn't seem to put up with much. (The "Mrs." in her name does make me curious and it is never explained in the book.)
During the 1920s and 1930s, there were a lot of socialists in the United States. Remember, at the time, this was before the Soviet Union was our enemy and just after the 1917 Revolution in which socialism was still perceived to be a "noble experiment" and not yet proven to be the failure we all know it is today.
Huey Long, who served as governor of Louisiana and also U.S. senator was a radical socialist who was becoming wildly popular throughout the country. He wanted to become president of the United States and abolish capitalism and confiscate the wealth of the nation's rich and redistribute it. He even wrote a book about it called My First Days In The White House. We're talking about a guy who thought FDR was a radical conservative and a puppet of Wall Street! Had he not been shot, who knows what might have happened.
Huey Long was assassinated in 1935 while he was running for president for the 1936 campaign. The United States came perilously close to being a socialist country during that time.
Get a bunch of guys together in one place and that's pretty much the way they talk about them. But on the bright side, about 90% of it is braggadocio.
Actually I think there was a much greater separation back then. At that time a lot of the officers were from the elite class of America or what today might be termed Yuppies. I don't think as many of those type of folks are in the military now. Patton and MacArthur were examples of this elite class in the military.
Well...yes and mostly no. Long was probably more along the lines of a fascist (although I think he was just an opportunist). After Long's death, his "cause" was taken up by Gerald L.K. Smith, definitely a fascist. Anyway, for more on the FASCINATING material on the subject of Huey Long, I would recommend T. Harry Williams' Huey Long, probably the most interesting book about a politician ever written. He sort of innovated the interview type of biography where much of the book was based on people who knew Long.
There are many letters that Jones wrote to his brother back in the states that is a rich sort of material about Jones in Hawaii.
He looked at his watch and as the second hand touched the top stepped up and raised the bugle to the megaphone, and the nervousness dropped from him like a discarded blouse, and he was suddenly alone, gone away from the rest of them.
The first note was clear and absolutely certain. There was no question or stumbling in this bugle. It swept across the quadrangle positively, held just a fraction longer than most buglers hold it. Held long like the length of time, stretching away from weary day to weary day. Held long like thirty years. The second note was short, almost too abrupt. Cut short and soon gone, like the minutes with a whore. Short like a ten minute break is short. And then the last note of the first phrase rose triumphantly from the slightly broken rhythm, triumphantly high on an untouchable level of pride above the humiliations, the degradations.
He played it all that way, with a paused then hurried rhythm that no metronome could follow. There was no placid regimented tempo to Taps. The notes rose high in the air and hung above the quadrangle. They vibrated there, caressingly, filled with an infinite sadness, an endless patience, a pointless pride, the requiem and epitaph of the common soldier, who smelled like a common soldier, as a woman had once told him. They hovered like halos over the heads of sleeping men in the darkened barracks, turning all the grossness to the beauty that is the beauty of sympathy and understanding. Here we are, they said, you made us, now see us, dont close your eyes and shudder at it; this beauty, and this sorrow, of things as they are. This is the true song, the song of the ruck, not of battle heroes; the song of the Stockade prisoners itchily stinking sweating under coats of grey rock dust; the song of the mucky KPs, of the men without women who collect the bloody menstrual rags of the officers' wives, who come to scour the Officer's Club--after the parties are over. This is the song of the scum, the Aqua-Velva drinkers, the shamelessness who greedily drain the half filled glasses, some of them lipstick smeared, that the partyers can afford to leave unfinished.
This is the song of the men who have no place, played by a man who has never had a place, and can therefore play it. Listen to it. You know this song, remember? This is the song you close your ears to every night, so you can sleep. This is the song you drink five martinis every evening not to hear. This is the song of the Great Loneliness, that creeps in the desert wind and dehydrates the soul. This is the song you'll listen to on the day you die. When you lay there in bed and sweat it out, you know that all the doctors and nurses and weeping friends don't mean a thing and cant help you any, cant save you one small bitter taste of it, because you are the one thats dying and not them; when you wait for it to come and know the sleep will not evade it and martinis will not put it off and conversation will not circumvent it and hobbies will not help you to escape it; then you will hear this song and remembering, recognize it. This song is Reality. Remember? Surely you remember?"Day is done... Gone the sun... From-the-lake From-the-hill From-the-sky Rest in peace Sol jer brave God is nigh..."
And as the last note quivered to prideful silence, and the bugler swung the megaphone for the traditional repeat, figures appeared in the lighted sallyport from inside of Choy's. "I told you it was Prewitt," a voice carried faintly across the quadrangle in the tone of a man who has won a bet. And then the repeat rose to join her quivering tearful sister. The clear proud notes reverberating back and forth across the silent quad. Men had come from the Dayrooms to the porches to listen in the darkness, feeling the sudden choking kinship bred of fear that supersedes all personal tastes. They stood in the darkness of the porches, listening, feeling suddenly very near the man beside them, who also was a soldier, who also must die.
The other major character that surprised me was Sgt. Warden. He had his own ways of doing things, but his goal was to have the best company at the base. Which it appeared he achieved. Overall, I did find the book interesting, and if it is an accurate picture of pre-WWII military life, anyone who was in before WWII started deserves any medal they may have received, and possibly a couple of more.
Prewitt and Warden banter back and forth good-naturedly, finishing Warden's bottle together and then sit in the middle of the road "to get hit by a truck." But they are picked up by Lt. Culpepper's driver who is obviously disgusted at the "mutual backslapping society" as they both call each other "the best f'ing soljer in the Compny..."
But even in his drunken state, Warden knows that Prewitt is doomed to soon to end up in the stockade for one reason or another, and he feels very badly about it.
I wonder if there are more college papers on the subject of James Jones? I sure would like to read them.
Back to FHTE. After reading the thread, I think most people missed the relationship between Prewitt and Warden. Warden sees himself in Prewitt. Prewitt is Warden and while the top kick sees the soldier in Prewitt that he can become, he also sees the independent streak in Prewitt that was somewhat extinguished in Warden. Prewitt, though he needs the "sea daddy", the mentor, that Warden can be, resents Warden looking out for him.
What are my favorites parts in the novel? The stockade experience and how Prewitt realizes that nearly anyone placed in that type of authority can become a Fatso Judson. When the one buck sargent that fought Prewitt kills himself. He is one that went all the way with the homosexuals. After being beaten by a little man - Prewitt - he doubts himself and his manhood and believing himself to be a fag, kills himself. Jones description of this one act that can never be taken back or corrected is awesome. It is somewhat ironic, that the actor that portrayed Prewitt in the movie - Montgomery Clift - was an homosexual. I know it is off track, but one part in the movie I loved is when Frank Sinatra takes a chair and hits Fatso Judson (Ernest Borgnine) upside the head with it. One of the great American novels and a fantastic movie.
Check out my Fiction As History link in Reply #43. The reason why this description was so great was that Jones' own father committed suicide. You will also see how Jones' family in the Midwest used to be in the upper crust of his town but eventually were lowered by economic conditions to a hard scrabble life.
James Jones is my favorite author and I have read nearly everything from him.
So you must have read Go To The Widowmaker. I quickly realized that the main character was DIRECTLY based on Jones himself and did a lot of personal research on that book. I found out that every character I researched was based on a real person and that the incidents were true. I think I'll have to read Jones' Merry Month Of May about the student/worker strike in Paris (he used to live there) in 1968.
BTW, Jones was a visiting professor down here in South Florida around 1974-1975 at Florida International University. He was perfectly content to stay on since he liked it here but FIU stupidly refused him a minor salary increase. This is the same FIU that freely spends money to give students free massages and pizzas (I plead guilty to grabbing a few slices myself the other day). The point is FIU was incredibly short-sighted by refusing the minor salary increase and allowing American's GREATEST novelist to slip away.
You can find it HERE.
If you like scuba or skin diving you might want to also check out his Go To The Widowmaker. It is considered the best book about skin diving ever written. Many folks who skindive but aren't really into literature have told me about this book, not even realizing who the author is. They just like the book.
Go To The Widowmaker is an good read, but Some Came Running, his second novel I believe, is actually better and right on par with FHTE. Thanks for the link.