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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813

The Thin Red Line by James Jones is a World War II story that follows the soldiers of the C-for-Charlie company as they battle the Japanese on the island of Guadalcanal. What is interesting is that there is not a single point of view in the story, but rather the novel switches focus between characters, and so the entire group is the protagonist. Therefore, we the readers get a glimpse into the soldiers' psyches as they engage in battle.

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The title is not explained until the epigraph:

There’s only a thin red line between the sane and the mad.

This old Midwestern saying, while not mentioned until the epigraph, explains the madness that haunts soldiers in war time. Throughout the novel, the members of C-for-Charlie company walk this line.

C-for-Charlie company is unified in the following quote:

C-for-Charlie scrubbed the sweat from its dripping eyebrows, picked its wet shirts loose from its armpits, cursed quietly, looked at its watches, and waited impatiently.

As the soldiers arrive on Guadalcanal, Jones introduces C-for-Charlie as a unified group, before exploring the differences in characters. After establishing in the above quote that they are all impatient and all sweaty, Jones introduces individuals:

Mazzi hugged himself tighter and worked his eyebrows up and down convulsively, a gesture of nervous release which gave his face an expression of pugnacious indignation. . . .

Young Sergeant McCron, the notorious motherhen, went along personally checking each item of equipment of each man in his squad of nearly all draftees as if his sanity, and his life, depended on it. . . .

Doll had always remained pretty much in the background; but lately, in the past six months, something had been slowly happening to him, and he had been changing and coming forward more. It did not make him more likeable.

Now, after his subdued remark about the planes, he put back on his lip-lifting supercilious smile. Very consciously he lifted an eyebrow. "Well, I reckon if I'm goin'a get me that pistol, I better get with it," he smiled at them.

The above quotes are all from the same section of the novel, and show how the different characters spend the time while waiting for their company's turn to go ashore. They try to deal with their anxiousness in different ways, whether by busying themselves with checking equipment, putting on a face, or simply holding themselves tightly.

Many of the memorable quotes of the novel examine existence, as the soldiers face the prospect of death.

When compared to the fact that he might very well be dead by this time tomorrow, whether he was courageous or not today was pointless, empty. When compared to the fact that he might be dead tomorrow, everything was pointless. Life was pointless. Whether he looked at a tree or not was pointless. It just didn't make any difference. It was pointless to the tree, it was pointless to every man in his outfit, pointless to everybody in the whole world. Who cared? It was not pointless only to him; and when he was dead, when he ceased to exist, it would be...

(The entire section contains 813 words.)

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