Hailed as one of the major novelists of his generation, James Jones is perhaps best known for his World War II trilogy, which includes FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1951), THE THIN RED LINE (1962), and WHISTLE (1978). His penetrating portrayal of the effects of war on the individual soldier, as well as the realistic images of the horrors of battle, won Jones both critical and popular acclaim. Yet the devastation of war is not the only theme these works have in common. Jones’ ideas about reincarnation, karma, and spiritual evolution are fundamental concepts underlying the trilogy, as well as his lessor known novels and short stories.
In JAMES JONES: AN AMERICAN LITERARY ORIENTALIST MASTER, the first book-length analysis of the relationship between Jones’ spiritual beliefs and his fiction, Steven R. Carter demonstrates that Jones was influenced by transcendentalism, theosophy, and Oriental religions. As he traces the thread of Jones’ American Orientalist philosophy, Carter places Jones in the company of such Eastern-influenced writers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Jack Kerouac, Ursula Le Guin, Allen Ginsberg, and others. Carter’s extensive research in American literature, as well as his personal interviews and correspondence with Jones, equip him to offer a unique perspective on Jones’ life and work.
Beginning with an evaluation of Jones’ own spiritual evolution, Carter explores Jones’ early fascination with the transcendentalist ideas of Emerson, the works of Plato, and the system of theosophy formulated by Madame Blavatsky. He also chronicles Jones’ tumultuous relationship with Lowney Handy, the founder of the Handy Writers’ Colony, who further influenced Jones’ beliefs. Offering a lucid analysis of books such as SOME CAME RUNNING (1957), GO TO THE WIDOW-MAKER (1967), THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY (1971), and the novels in the trilogy, Carter shows how the concepts of individual, social, and karmic responsibility shape Jones’ fiction; the ways in which Jones portrays the male/female relationship within the context of spiritual evolution; and the ways in which individual characters experience salvation and growth.
Although readership of Jones’ novels has declined in recent years, the release of the film versions of THE THIN RED LINE (1964, 1998) and Kaylie Jones’s A SOLDIER’S DAUGHTER NEVER CRIES (1990) will doubtless spark a resurgence of interest in Jones’ career. Steven Carter’s masterful study is sure to strengthen this renewed interest and contribute to a deeper appreciation of James Jones as one of America’s most accomplished writers.