Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although the novel has multiple meanings, most bearing upon psychological motivation, one stands out above the others—the relation of madness and sanity. This theme is indicated by the title and present throughout the novel. Jones accepts war as a defensive necessity, hence as a historical institution. This attitude is essentially commonsensical and matter-of-fact; it is entirely different from that of Mailer. It is a truism that war and the army as an institution are highly problematic in democratic societies. John Keegan has observed how much of British and American war literature is critical of the army as such, of its disciplined hierarchy and authoritarian chain of command. Many have observed that civilians from a democratic society do not easily adapt to the military—commentators on this problematic relationship go at least as far back as Alexis de Tocqueville, who entitled one of the chapters in his Democracy in America (1835-1840) “Causes Which Render Democratic Armies Weaker than Other Armies at the Outset of a Campaign, and More Formidable in Protracted Warfare.” Jones, however, was tempted at one point by a permanent career in the military. In his World War II trilogy, the institution of the army is not put into doubt, and The Thin Red Line correctly emphasizes many aspects of the war in the Pacific that have been forgotten: the Japanese policy of selling ground dearly and their use of suicide crews, their preference for dying...

(The entire section is 509 words.)