The Thin Red Line Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The true protagonist of The Thin Red Line is not a single individual but an entire group, C-for-Charlie Company. No one character provides a point of view that unifies the narrative; instead, a sixty-man group, its fortunes and misfortunes, provides the dominant focus. In keeping with this, James Jones provides a list of all the members of the company at the beginning of the book. Although each is referred to at least once in the course of the novel, some individuals are more important than others, and Jones skillfully follows the action from the points of view of a variety of members of the company. At the novel’s beginning, C-for-Charlie is about to go into combat for the first time. The battle for Guadalcanal was one of the bloodiest campaigns in the entire battle with Japan, and the reader enters this combat sharing the fears and anticipations of the soldiers. By novel’s end, the company has participated in two major engagements of the protracted battle, the Japanese are finally defeated, and the United States Army, and C-for-Charlie with it, prepares to move on to the next island held by the Japanese, New Georgia. At this point, C-for-Charlie is almost entirely different from the company described at the beginning of the novel. There has been great attrition among its members, the commanding captain has changed twice, the lieutenant colonel commanding the battalion has been promoted and transferred, and those who happen to remain in the...

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The Thin Red Line Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Aldrich, Nelson W., ed. Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews. 3d ser. New York: Viking Press, 1967. Jones talks about his methods of composition and defends his novels and his own brand of realistic writing against critical attacks. He also believes that an academic education can hurt a writer. Although he was living in Europe at the time of the interview, he considers himself to be an American.

Carter, Steven R. James Jones: An American Literary Orientalist Master. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998. A deeply probing study of Jones’s spiritual evolution and philosophy and his concern with individual salvation and growth. Includes bibliography.

Giles, James R. James Jones. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Examines each of Jones’s novels in detail and gives a brief biography of the novelist. Sees a central division between the he-man and the sophisticate in Jones’s life and art. Contains an excellent bibliography.

Hassan, Ihab. Radical Innocence. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961. Describes the hero of From Here to Eternity, Pruitt, as a passive sufferer and compares his alienation to that of the Negro. Hassan likes the novel but not the subliterary psychology in which Jones indulges.

Jones, Peter G. War and the Novelist. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1976. Praises James Jones’s From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line highly, describing them as accurate portrayals of Army life and combat and as possessing psychological insights.

Morris, Willie. James Jones: A Friendship. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. The friendship between these two writers occurred late in Jones’s life. They both lived on Long Island and were drawn into conversations about life and art. Jones reveals much about his early military career.