lukas, January 28, 2014 (view all comments by lukas)
Like most people, I saw Terrence Malick's excellent film version before reading the book. Malick uses the basic structure and setting, but adds his own lyrical/transcendental touch to it, as if a copy of Emerson were left on top of Jones's novel and they bled together. Based on Jones's own experiences in WW2, "The Thin Red Line" is a tough, gritty, powerful, and sometimes vulgar account of men fighting in Guadalcanal. Aside from the combat, he also deals with the tensions and relationships in the company. I feel this a much more successful of a WW2 novel than Mailer's overpraised "The Naked and the Dead." Jones's other major novel was "From Here to Eternity."
PhineasGage, May 1, 2009 (view all comments by PhineasGage)
A simple explication of James Jones’ book, The Thin Red Line, would be a novel of World War II in the pacific theater and the American men who experienced it. It is evident however, that Jones intended to leave the reader with more than just a fading memory of a war story. He intricately takes the reader into the lives of C-for-Charlie Company and their struggle to survive against the Japanese on Guadalcanal. The reader comes face to face with each of their encounters and witnesses each soldier’s reaction to the gruesome realities of war. In this novel, Jones gives a more honest perspective of war than seen in the movies and novels driven by the entertainment industry. As a veteran of this battle himself, James Jones is able to bring his own personal experiences into his writing. This fact is important to note before beginning the novel, as it allows the reader to trust its contents more completely. This is especially relevant for a book in this genre, as society’s view of war is often misconstrued by Hollywood movies and the media. Jones thus provides the reader with a more accurate look into World War II and the soldiers who lived and died in it.
The novel begins on a large military sea vessel, where the characters are introduced and the reader is given insight as to what each of the men were like before the war. The soldiers of C-for-Charlie Company then embark on a series of attacks on Guadalcanal where the rest of the novel takes place. When all of the fighting is over, the men pack up, and board a new ship destined for a new island and the same old fighting. Jones masterfully shifts between several characters throughout, allowing the reader to view the development of each soldier and how he reacts to the combat. While the novel is written in 3rd person omniscient, by following individual soldiers one at a time, the reader becomes better acquainted with each character and their outlook on the war. This technique allows the reader to take in more than one perspective and thus have a greater understanding of the events that take place. Some of the men come to excel as soldiers of war, while others fail as cowards. This is the case for Cpl. Fife, a clerk, who explains after a Japanese air raid that "when he laughed and joked after a raid, it was plain to him that his laughter was more shaky and less sincere than the other's laughter" (92).. It is comments like this, that make each of Jones’s characters so relatable. They depict real people who were thrown onto an island and ordered to kill. They have fear, anger, loneliness, cowardice, and bravery. These characters are not just war heroes who sacrificed their lives, but everyday men who lived and died in unimaginable circumstances.
While the C-for-Charlie Company endured the physical battles together, every character fights his own war from within. Each soldier strives to come to his own conclusions of war, its purpose, or the role they play in it. The theme of the book is the range in these differing notions and ideas. This is best summed up in the last lines of the novel where Jones writes “One day one of their number would write a book about all this, but none of them would believe it, because none of them would remember it that way.” (510) Jones knows firsthand the gruesome horrors of war, and describes it in graphic detail, but also demonstrates the necessity and inevitability of it. Each soldier comes to terms with the war in his own way, and each undergoes a profound change. In the end, the characters are not the same people as they were in the beginning. Jones proves to the reader that while war is a horrible and disgusting aspect of humanity, it is nevertheless there and very real. Jones does not attempt to glorify war, nor does he disgrace the men who have fought in them. He simply presents an honest depiction of war and leaves it up to the reader to decide.
James Jones’s novel, The Thin Red Line throws the reader right into the dirt, sweat and blood of war. His descriptions of battles are so exhilarating and heart pounding that the reader fears to go on, and yet begs for more. Jones provides numerous characters for the reader to fall in love with (or hate) and thus opens the novel up to a myriad of different readers and personalities. The novel flawlessly moves between each mans inner dialogue allowing the reader to view the war from multiple perspectives. This is a novel of war, of fast-paced, fearsome, grotesque, real war, and is a masterpiece deserving of appreciation by all.
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