There is a rather large cast of characters in this book, almost all members of C for Charley Company of 1st Battalion, 27th Inf Reg.
, 25th Infantry Division Jones takes them across the Pacific in a troop ship and lands them on the beach at Guadalcanal The island had already been attacked by the U.
S Marines, and C Company was among the forces reinforcing the original assault waves They all experience the shock of being moved into completely unfamiliar and hostile surroundings Jones bored into their thoughts and fears, and produced a work which debunked the traditional hero war novel The soldiers of this Company find out that they are in a world in which everyone is powerless about their fate You may or may not survive today, or any other days Heroics have no meaning One of the better known passages from the book has a soldier realizing that his actions, whether heroic or not had no point The world around him wouldn t change a bit, whether he lived or not There is a palpable scent of helplessness that permeates the pages I read this book twice The first time was not long after it was initially published It was getting great reviews as the follow on to Jones From Here to Eternity and it was a war novel, so I wanted to read it It was interesting and I kind of liked it, although, being in high school, I didn t quite get it I reread it a number of years later, probably influenced in my decision by the buzz surrounding the movie The book made much of an impression on me the second time.
The 1998 movie is, in my opinion, one of the best films ever I know, there was an earlier film in the 1960 s, the less said the better about it I think the great Terrence Malick film is polarizing you may love it or hate it Generally, I think it got great reviews Some people are put off by the constant voice overs Again, I found this also improved with repeated exposure, like the book I wasn t quite crazy about the voice overs on my first viewing, but, on a recent showing, found them to be perfect mood setters, in line with Malick s style I think it is also exceptionally effective in his The New World This was his first feature in twenty years, and it has also been criticized by Malick s deviation of parts of the story from the book Among other things, the book has no narrator, and there is no opening sequence where an AWOL Private Witt is cavorting on an Eden with Melanesian islanders This book, however, almost defies any attempt to make into a movie, and I think it was a good choice by the movie studio to allow a director with Malick s stature to freely use his own interpretation of the book.
Jones does an effective job of separating the realities of those suffering an ordeal, having their personal outlooks on life changed forever while living under seemingly impossible risky and dirty conditions, knowing that the world they are operating in is indifferent to their well being Some people get killed, some survive Everyone goes nuts in some way Sgt McCron takes this to the extreme by going completely insane, even exposing himself to hostile fire and thereby, by not being shot, proving the concept that life and death are random in this place When this unit finishes its assignment, it will re fit and reinforce before moving on to the next place it is sent without the ability of anyone in it to exert control over the matter.
A true masterpiece and one of my favorite novels Although it has all the realistic, gritty detailing that any novel recounting World War 2 Guadalcanal should have, it is so much The reader will indeed learn which gun is which and which rank is which They will understand what needs to happen to take a hill They will know what a crowded ship full of men will smell like They will come to understand the practical intricacies of making war But, as anyone who viewed the recent version of the film will know, the story is not one based on narrative but one based on a specific philosophy we are all, as humans, forever destined to never truly understand one another, we are forever destined to never truly achieve the kind of empathetic meeting of heart mind soul that we may yearn for a yearning we may not understand or even recognize War is, if it is anything, an insane metaphor for that lack of understanding, that true lack of connection, and to be a part of that metaphor is to be, in a way, as insane.
This is a novel of many voices, each individualized and each specifically unique and amusingly detailed And yet there is a similarity to the themes that emerge from the thoughts of each of the characters, whether they are trying to understand their brothers, their girls back home, their commanders, their enemy, their next target, or the war itself the feeling of distance It is a melancholy and confusing feeling Each one blunders through his life in his own way, barely grasping what is happening around him, barely grasping what is happening inside himself as well The novel is epic in its depiction of war, but it is intimate in its depiction of the levels of mystery within each of us and between us as well.
It is surprisingly funny at times James Jones has a mordant voice and he knows the ridiculousness of men, how amusing our little concerns and irritations and idiosyncrasies can be when depicted at times gently but often pointedly He also knows that throwing dozens upon dozens of characters in the narrative will confuse and annoy the lazy reader but how else to illustrate the confusion of wartime The coming and going of bodies, of places, of times that all blur together Jones himself was a WW2 veteran, and so the details are impressively laid out but what is even impressive is the poetic, sorrowful mourning that is suffused throughout the novel, one that builds and builds and builds It is hard to imagine the number of his fellows he saw slain, and how it impacted him But beyond that, to see the melancholy within the man, not just the soldier, not just the circumstance He is the rare author I would love to have known, and yet the idea of his experience and his sadness is so intimidating, it makes me feel like less of a grown man when thinking of the person who could write all of this down What have I done in my life in comparison It is interesting to compare the film with the novel The theme of the distance between humans is there, as is the idea of many narrative voices recounting many different things but all ending in despair over our lack of ability to truly understand ourselves, the world, each other But Malick widens the melancholy even further by including his usual theme of man s distance from nature as well It works beautifully Two character differences stand out Pvt Witt and Cpl Fife In the film, Pvt Witt is played by James Caviezel as a beatific savior of men, spiritually connected to nature and prone to daring displays of bravery In the novel, Witt is a spiteful hick, also prone to daring displays of bravery, but also an unrepentant racist towards all non whites, and is filled to the brim with petty contempt towards all forms of authority I like both portraits, but the novel s Witt seems so much human, so much real You don t have to be a saint or even particularly likeable to be brave, to save lives, to accomplish daring deeds, to be loveable He is a hero, ignorant redneck and all, precisely because he is not particularly heroic in thought only in deed He comes through, again and again.
In the film, Cpl Fife is reduced to a couple cameos by Adrien Brody, standing distraught by a soldier s corpse or looking terrified during a river crossing In the novel, he is so much a dissection of the falseness of the concept of cowardice during war He is full of fear, he calls himself a coward, each path he chooses is one that has self protection at its core and yet his depiction is entirely sympathetic and rational what sane man isn t a coward when it comes to the insanity of war Who wants it, who wants to be in it It is not something to run to, it is something to run from Fife is the secret hero of The Thin Red Line, the rational man not understanding the irrational world around him, and rejecting any attempt to bend him to that irrational world s rules I can see how that character would not translate successfully to audiences yearning for heroes, and so Fife in his entirety barely makes it to the screen.
The book s great success may not just be in its depiction of the distance between humans, but in the illustration of war as the ultimate insanity As we all know, World War 2 was the Good War, the one in which we all should be proud, the one with truly golden heroes and truly evil villains, the one we all are glad was fought and would have fought in if we could We had the right reasons after all at least that is my own perspective But a good war is still war, and war entails the deaths of the young, the destruction of lives and of love, of cities and of countryside, of innocence, of tradition, of everything So why do we love it so
I saw the 1998 movie version of this book in theaters when it came out I remember that I was completely mesmerized and transported by it It was a movie about war unlike any I d ever seen before it was mostly quiet and internal Walking out of the theater, I found out I was pretty much alone in my enjoyment of it people all around me said it was slow, boring, pointless I mention this because I think the movie version prepared me for the book, which is probably just as divisive.
The story floats among a wide cast of characters as they arrive on Guadalcanal A special note at the beginning of the book points out that the terrain and battles contained in the book are fictitious, but that Jones placed the imaginary battles on Guadalcanal because of the emotion the island evoked You meet Pfc Doll, Cpl Fife, Sgt Welsh just about everyone has a simple, one syllable name which is also a word Band, Queen, Tall, Bell, Dale, Witt, Field, Cash, Beck At the beginning, they re green recruits who miss the relative comforts of army life in a non combat zone and one where it s not constantly raining , apprehensive about what lies ahead Shortly, as they re thrust into the thick of fighting, they become battle tested veterans How they react to their experiences is varied, and we are privy to each man s thoughts, reactions and self assessments The inability to ever really know what s going on in someone else s head is a theme visited frequently You often see things from than one point of view what caused someone to act like they did, or what they were trying to convey, and how it was viewed by someone else.
I think that you have to just surrender yourself to the experience of the book Jones terrain may be fictional, but he is absolutely certain about how it looks and feels He transports you to the humid, muddy island, its jungles and rocky hills The progress made toward the next target is often slow, then suddenly shots are fired and you re thrown into confusion People act heroically for the wrong reasons, cowardly for the right ones, and the reverse of both of those as well The soldiers are frustratingly human, and occasionally disturbingly inhuman If you re looking for Band of Brothers, this isn t the war experience you want to read about The men of C for Charlie company aren t members of Tom Brokaw s Greatest Generation, they re just scared young men wondering how they can keep their fear from showing They fight because there s no way to get out of it The book explores the idea that a war is fought by an army, but the army is made up of individuals who are each fighting their own war They all have go through the same things, and yet no one experiences them the same way Through a number of different characters, Jones repeats the idea that many people were going to live through this war than got killed in it, and you realize its value as a mantra when you re in a life and death situation that often seems to be a lottery.
Recommended for fans of Catch 22 and or The Things They Carried, anyone looking for an antidote to the romanticizing of war, people who know better than to get too attached to characters in a war zone.
Quote It was easy to see, when you looked at it from one point of view, that all prisoners were not locked up behind bars in a stone quadrangle Your government could just as easily imprison you on, say, a jungled island in the South Seas until you had done to its satisfaction what your government had sent you there to do.