James Jones Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207091-Jones.jpg James Jones Published by Salem Press, Inc.

James Ramon Jones was an instantaneous success with the publication of his first novel, From Here to Eternity, which received wide acclaim as one of the best fictional treatments of World War II, even though it deals chiefly with the peacetime U.S. Army just prior to Pearl Harbor. Jones had served in the Army since shortly after his high school graduation in 1939. Jones was the son of a small-town Indiana dentist and his wife. The Great Depression had strained their resources, and they were unable to send their second son to college; the only alternative seemed to be the Army. Jones was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941. He remained in Hawaii until late in 1942, when he was shipped to Guadalcanal. Wounded in January of 1943, he was sent to hospitals in California, Tennessee, and Kentucky before being discharged in July, 1944.

While still in the Army, Jones had met Lowney Handy, whose husband, Harry, managed an oil firm in Jones’s hometown of Robinson, Illinois. The Handys encouraged young writers; they virtually adopted Jones, both of whose parents had died while he was in the Army, and gave him financial help and a place to live while he struggled to become a writer. The famous editor Maxwell Perkins was impressed by Jones’s first novel, but it was never published. After Perkins’s death, his firm did publish the hugely successful From Here to Eternity, as well as Jones’s next three novels.

From Here to Eternity is a thoroughly naturalistic novel about the wild, difficult, and dangerous life led by the enlisted men in the Army who were stationed in Hawaii just prior to American involvement in World War II. The men about whom Jones wrote were men of principle trying to survive in an organization run by men without principle.

From Here to Eternity was originally projected as the introductory section of a long novel about the war. Yet it was itself a very long novel, and other interests distracted Jones from his purpose temporarily. Under the influence of Lowney Handy, with whom he founded a writers’ colony with some of the proceeds of the sale of his first novel, he turned his attention to his more recent experiences. He wrote next a sprawling novel about servicemen returned to a small midwestern town after the war, Some Came Running; the book sold well, and like its predecessor it was made into a major motion picture, but the new novel was attacked by most reviewers and critics. They disliked its heavy-drinking characters, who seemed obsessed by sex; they rejected the...

(The entire section is 1068 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born in Robinson, Illinois, on November 6, 1921, James Jones grew up in a proud and socially prominent family. When he was a junior at Robinson High School, however, the family’s position abruptly deteriorated, largely because of the Samuel Insull stock scandal. Even though his father, Ramon, was never professionally successful and became an alcoholic before ultimately committing suicide, Jones was fond of him. In sharp contrast, he felt contemptuous of, and rejected by, his mother, Ada Blessing Jones.

After he graduated from high school in 1939, Jones, on the advice of his father, joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Hawaii, where he transferred to the infantry. His Army career was not distinguished; he once summarized his record of two promotions and subsequent reductions back to the lowest enlisted grade: “Apted Cpl 13 May 42 Red to Pvt 3 Dec 43, Apt Sgt 1 Mar 44 Red to Pvt 20 May 44.” Still, in more than one way, Jones’s military experience was crucial in his development as an artist. Primarily, he developed a complex love-hate relationship with the Army that later gave his military fiction a unique tension. Moreover, he was present at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, and witnessed the birth of a new and terrifying world when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Later, Jones saw combat on Guadalcanal, the brutality of which inspired his concept of “the animal nature of man.”

After being wounded at Guadalcanal in 1943, Jones was sent back to the United States and, on July 6, 1944, received his military discharge. Greatly shaken both by the combat horror he had experienced and by the continuing dissolution of his family, Jones met Lowney Handy of Marshall, Illinois, in late 1943 or early 1944, and began one of the strangest, and ultimately most publicized, apprenticeships in the history of American letters. A 1953 Newsweek essay described Handy as “a more dynamic version of Sinclair Lewis’s...

(The entire section is 801 words.)