(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The novel opens with Prewitt’s transfer from the Bugle Corps to G Company. Angry because he has been replaced as the number-one bugler, Prewitt requests a transfer, showing a rebellious pride which is to drive his action throughout the novel. The army private, however, has the misfortune of transferring into a company commanded by Captain Dana “Dynamite” Holmes, the regimental boxing coach.

Boxing plays an important part in the novel. Prewitt had been a boxer at one time—and a good one. One day, however, while sparring with a fellow enlisted man, he accidentally hit the man too hard, and, as a result of the injury, the man went into a coma. The fighter lived, but he lost his sight. This incident had a powerful impact on Prewitt, mainly because of a deathbed request by his mother, who asked him to “promise me you wont never hurt nobody unless its absolute a must, unless you jist have to do it.” Prewitt believed that by blinding his sparring partner, he had broken a deathbed promise—the most sacred of all promises. Prewitt does not tell anyone in the company why he will not box; he simply refuses the request to try out for the team. This stubbornness rankles Captain Holmes; to have his company win the regimental boxing championship would improve his chance of being promoted to major. Prewitt, a fine boxer, would almost assure G Company of the championship. The commander tries a form of bribery (all the company boxers get relieved from regular...

(The entire section is 571 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Robert E. Lee Prewitt, born in Kentucky and raised in the Great Depression as a hobo and on railcars, is a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in Hawaii in the Bugler Corps. After being passed over as first bugler despite his skill and experience—he has played a taps at Arlington National Cemetery—Prewitt decides to transfer to G Company. The transfer will cause him to lose his rank of sergeant and become a private, but he feels compelled to go through with it.

The head of G Company is Captain Holmes, who is also the head of the boxing team. He wants Prewitt, a talented welterweight boxer, to fight on the team. Prewitt refuses. He has given up boxing after accidentally blinding a sparring mate, thereby breaking a deathbed promise to his mother: He vowed never to hurt another person unless absolutely necessary. Holmes insists Prewitt fight. Prewitt continues to refuse. As a result, the members of the boxing team give him “the treatment,” harsh physical discipline, in the hope of compelling him to fight.

Captain Holmes relies on First Sergeant Warden to run Company G for him, Holmes being more interested in making sure the regiment has a good boxing team than in company discipline and morale. Holmes’s marriage to his wife Karen has become a sham. They have one son, but they are unable to have any more children. Holmes acquired a sexually transmitted disease, which he passed on to his wife, destroying her womb and requiring a hysterectomy. She no longer has much to do with her husband.

As Prewitt enters G Company, Warden begins an affair with Karen Holmes, the captain’s wife. Karen has been the subject of rumors on the base: She has had an affair with at least one soldier, and it is popularly believed that she has had many such relationships. Warden is warned to stay away from Karen by Mess Sergeant Stark, who has had a relationship with the captain’s wife himself and who is the source of many of the rumors about her.

Prewitt begins his stint as a private. He becomes friends with Maggio, an Italian from New York City. Prewitt and other privates write a blues song for the common soldier called the “Re-enlistment Blues.” He also makes a trip to the brothels with Maggio. There, he meets a prostitute named Lorene; he later discovers that her real name is Alma Schmidt. They fall for each other immediately and...

(The entire section is 965 words.)