“From Here to Eternity” is a 1951. novel by American author James Jones. The novel was Jones’ biggest success and won the National Book Award in 1952. It was later named one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library Board. The book was made into a successful Academy Award winning movie starring Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed and Montgomery Clift.
The novel tells the story of a former boxer named Robert Prewitt who is a soldier on the Hawaiian Scofield Barracks base and is sent to military prison for a crime he did not commit. While in the prison, he sees how poorly the guards treat the inmates and leaves a changed man who no longer wants to be a soldier. Prewitt falls in love with a prostitute named Alma but must say goodbye to her as she is leaving to return to her hometown and try and gain some respectability.
Meanwhile, another soldier named Warden falls in love with his platoon leaders wife, Karen and the two begin a passionate affair.
After deserting the army, Prewitt is found and shot dead and this changes Warden who decides that he wants to become a full time soldier. Karen leaves Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attacks and the two must say goodbye to one another. As Karen is leaving she bumps into Alma who is pretending that Prewitt was her wealthy fiance who was killed in the attacks.
The novel begins in February of nineteen forty-one. A man named Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt who is described as being, “a very neat and deceptively slim young man” begins working at his new post at G Company, an infantry unit of the United States army posted at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Prewitt or, Prew, as he is commonly called, is a long time soldier. A career soldier with six years of service behind him. What is referred to in the book as a “thirty year man”. He is also a top notch bugle player and a one time boxer.
His last unit before G Company was a bugle unit called Bugle Corps. Prew was transferred from this unit with a lowering in rank after he complained that a friend (or even possible romantic partner) of the Chief Bugler was made First Bugler over him.
Prew describes G Company as such:
“In the earthen square in the center of the quad a machine gun company went listlessly through the motions of it’s Loading Drill. Behind him in the high-ceiling squad room was the muffled curtain of sound that comes from men just waking and beginning to move around, testing cautiously the flooring of this world they had last night forsaken”.
G Company’s chief and commanding officer is a man named Captain Dana Holmes, also known as “Dynamite”. Holmes is a tough man who is mostly concerned with garnering a promotion and does not do his job as effectively as he could.
Holmes chose Prew for his unit specifically because of his former boxing career and his history as a welterweight boxer. Holmes is a regimental boxing coach. Prew thinks that winning a boxing championship would help his chance of getting a promotion and begins to go about building a respectable team. Years earlier, Prew stopped boxing and completely swore it off after accidentally blinding his friend and sparring partner. Part of his want to transfer from his recent regiment was to get away from the boxing in that area.
To the men he is asking to join his team, he offers the incentive of promotions. But Prew himself goes with his instinct to never box again and refuses to compete for the team. This results in him being subjected to, “The treatment” from his Sargent and the others in his team.
“The Treatment”, as he calls it, is a hazing ritual that occurs daily in which Prew is called out for drills and punishments and all undesired work with the object of “breaking” him so that he will mentally fall apart. However, Prew stands up to the abuse well and refuses to change his mind.
Also in the barracks, First Sergeant Milt Warden is Holmes’ right-hand man. Despite him being only the second in command and not a commissioned officer, Warden does much of Holmes’ work while the Captain is pursing either career advancement or local women.
Warden is well-liked within the unit. He is known to be both a hard worker and an understanding listener. Warden respects and likes Prew as well and even stays out after hours drinking with the man, after ward making sure that he got home safely.
Holmes has a wife named Karen, whom Warden is aware has slept with some of the men in the unit behind his commander’s back.
Warden begins an affair with Karen and discovers that she only began cheating on her husband after he had an affair years earlier and unknowingly gave her gonorrhea.
After she was diagnosed, Karen had to have a hysterectomy in order to rid herself of the disease. Bitter over the loss of her future childbearing, Karen began seeing other men behind her husband’s back.
After this admission, Warden falls deeply in love with Karen and she begins to realize that she loves him as well. They meet in secret despite the risk to Warden’s career if the scandal were to come out.
Holmes, however, does realize that his wife is probably having an affair, although he does not figure out that it is with Warden.
Karen begs Warden to take the training courses that would give him the proper schooling to become a commissioned officer so that she would be able to divorce her husband and marry him. But Warden does not want to become and officer and isn’t sure how he feels about any of the officers that he has met.
As time passes, the strain of hiding their affair begins to dampen their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Prew makes friends with a new recruit called Private Angelo Maggio. Maggio has a bad temper and often does things that get the two of them into trouble with the higher ups.
Jones describes Maggio’s respect for Prew as such:
“The rainy season’s course of indoor lectures had given Maggio an admiration for Prew as a soldier. His feverish quick moving eyes had not missed Prew’s competence with the rifle, BAR, and MG and with all their nomenclatures, all old stuff from his previous enlistment. But his admiration for Prew as a soldier had jumped a hundred percent when he found out Prew had been a fighter in the twenty-seventh and refused to fight for Holmes. He could not understand it, but with his ingrained championing of the underdog, learned at Gimbel’s and not lessened by the army, he admired it”.
After going out drinking late one night, the two return to the base and are stopped by the military police. Maggio drunkenly decides to fight them and loses. He is sentenced to a spell in the stockade, which is what the military prison is called.
While patronizing a local brothel, Prew meets a beautiful prostitute named Lorene. Lorene tells him that she is saving her money in order to return to her home town in Oregon and buy a house, establishing herself on the respectable side of a city. She plans to eventually marry a man who is so respectable that no one will ever remember that she had once been a prostitute.
Prew visits her several times and learns that her real name is Alma Schmidt. The two begin to fall in love but she outright refuses to marry him as he does not meet her standards of respectability.
Soon, the G Company has their first big boxing match. Just before it is to happen, Prew gets into a brawl with a Private First Class named Issac Bloom who is going to be participating in the fight. Prew beats the man so badly that the rest of the men become concerned if Bloom can even participate in the fight. However, he does and manages to knockout his opponent very quickly.
Prew’s platoon guide, Sargent Galovitch later attacks him with a knife but Prew manages to disarm the man and knock him out. The fight calls the attention of the higher up officers and, since Prew refuses to testify that Galovitch attacked him while armed, he is sentenced to three months in the stockade prison.
While he is imprisoned, it is discovered that Bloom was a closeted homosexual and the man commits suicide in shame. At this point in the novel, we are taken with Prew on his time in the stockade and witness the horrors of military prison first hand.
Prew sees other prisoners being beaten and horribly abused daily by the Staff Sergeant named Judson. Judson is the stockade’s second in command and is often referred to as “Fatso” by the inmates.
In the stockade, Prew sees Maggio again and the two resume their friendship. Maggio is being kept in the barracks with the harder and more volatile inmates.
He has been abused and beaten repeatedly by the guards as well as undergoing long periods of solitary confinement and this has changed Maggio into a harder, more emotionless man.
In order to help his friend, Prew decides that he must be transferred to the problem barracks. He intentionally breaks the rules, committing an infraction so that he will be beaten and sent into solitary confinement or, “The Black Hole” as the inmates call it. The Hole is a dark cell where prisoners are given only minimal rations of bread and water per day so that they will survive. When Prew is released from The Hole, he is put into the problem barracks and begins to make friends with the other prisoners who are already there.
Meanwhile, Maggio begins planning to get out of the prison, and indeed, the army, by pretending to have gone insane. After putting on his show of insanity, he is beaten repeatedly again by the guards and in particular, Judson, who believes that he is faking and is set on getting him to admit to it. Maggio stays strong through the beatings, and Judson does not get a confession out of him. Maggio does manage to get a message to his friends in the problem barracks that he is alive.
A short time later, Judson gives in, and Maggio is given a dishonorable discharge from the army for insanity and mental illness. Prew never sees his friend again after this.
Judson begins interrogating one of the other problem prisoners, Blues Berry for another infraction and the sadistic man culminates in beating Berry to death right in front of his other inmates, including Prew. Viewing this moves Prew to vow to kill Judson after he is released.
Prew is released soon after this and returns to G Company, finding it much changed. Holmes has finally been promoted as he wanted and has left the company and Galovitch was greatly brought down in rank after the knife attack.
A few days after returning, Prew goes back into town, finds Judson, challenges him to a fight and kills him with a knife. During the fight, Prew incurs many injuries himself.
He escapes the town and goes AWOL, dragging himself to Alma’s house to recover. He does recover with her help and stays there well after ward, although his relationship with the prostitute has changed and they no longer feel that they are in love with one another.
Prew has changed his mind about being a career soldier. The time in prison has changed him greatly. He no longer wants to be in the army but he lacks motivation to do anything else. A soldier for so long, he doesn’t know what else he would do with his life if not that.
“A soldier”, Alma said inarticulately, “A soldier!” Through the fast drying tears on her face she began to laugh at him wildly, “A soldier”, she said, helplessly. “A Regular. From the Regular Army. A thirty year man”.
“Sure” he (Prew) said, grinning uncertainly like a man who does not get the joke, “a thirty year man”, then he grinned genuinely, “with only twenty four years to go”. On top of this, Alma has finally saved up enough money and is making plans to return to Oregon and leave him behind.
Prew fears being caught and thrown into prison for killing Judson although he does not regret what he did. But after managing to get a note to Warden and meeting with him secretly, Prew is informed that he has not been a suspect in the murder at all.
The only reason that he is being sought is for going AWOL. Warden warns Prew that he might have to spend some time in the stockade for desertion and Prew returns to hiding at Alma’s to avoid this. It is during his time in hiding that the Japanese, suddenly and without any warning, attack Pearl Harbor on December seventh, nineteen forty-one.
The attack is shocking and throws Prew for a loop although most of the damage is confined to the harbor and Hickam Field and does not affect the Schofield Barracks or his friends. However, this sudden attack makes Prew realize that he must return to the army and say goodbye to Alma forever.
The goodbye is touching but when Prew leaves he is stopped by military police. They ask for his identification but he has none to offer and they decide to arrest him. Desperate to stay out of the horrific stockade, Prew makes a snap decision and bolts while he is being arrested. He is shot by the officers and dies.
“He lay, feeling sweaty, and made himself look at it. At it’s being over. Looked at it in the face, feeling sweaty. I’m scared. If you could just say something. Just a word. If you could just even move a little. If you could just do anything, besides just lay and look at them, look at it. Christ, but the world was a lonesome place. But then, as if in a way he was seeing double, he realized that it wasn’t really going to end after all, that it would never end…there was always an endless chain of new decidings. It was right after all. That made him feel good. The being right”. Warden is sent to collect his personal remains and identify the body.
After this, Warden is promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Reserve Corps and finally becomes a commissioned officer. This means that he will be sent to the front lines during the rapidly escalating battles of World War II and that he must say goodbye to Karen who is returning to the mainland United States.
To Warden, Karen says:
“I’ve hated you”, she said, “I’ve hated you bitterly, at times. All love has hate in it. Because you are tied to anyone you love, and it takes way part of your freedom and you resent it, you can’t help it. And while you are resenting the loss of your own freedom, you are trying to force the other to give up to you every last little bit of his own. Love can’t help but make hate. As long as we’re living on this earth, love with always have hate in it. Maybe that’s the reason we’re on this earth, to learn to love without hating”.
Admitting finally that they love and will always love each other, they are sad to leave each other, but as their relationship had been cooling off for some time, they are not regretful and happy to have been in each others lives for the short time that they were.
Karen boards a ship leaving Hawaii. While aboard she meets a beautiful, elegantly dressed girl who tells her that she is a former executive secretary but that her fiance was killed by a bomber attack in Hickam Field. She tells Karen that her fiance was named Robert E. Lee Prewitt and that he was from “an old Virginia family” and won the Silver Star posthumously for his bravery and service to his country.
Knowing that Prew was killed as a deserter, Karen realizes that the girl the Alma and that she has concocted this story in order to return to her home in Oregon.
Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt – A career soldier or “thirty year man” as it is referred to in the novel. Prewitt has six years of service in the army already under his belt at the young age of twenty three. Prew grew up in a poor family in Kentucky who fell apart at the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. After which, Prew became a homeless teenager. He enlisted in the US Army at the age of seventeen. Prew began boxing and worked his way up to a professional welterweight status within the army squadron. He also became a well renowned bugle player.
At the beginning of the novel, Prew is happy with being a soldier but after his stint in the stockade he finds that he is no longer satisfied and wishes to do something else with his life. However, he realizes that he has no idea what to do if he is not a soldier. He deserts the army, something that a career soldier would usually never even think of, and is shot when trying to return to the base later on.
First Sergeant Milton Warden – The Sergeant Holmes’ uncommissioned assistant. Warden is ten years older than Prew and has been a soldier longer. He has already served in several different countries by the start of the novel and is an efficient and professional assistant. He takes care of the everyday operations of G Company in a way that Holmes – who would rather spend time womanizing and trying to get promoted – does not.
Warden is said to be a good leader and a good listener. He is tough but fair with the men. Eventually, however, he falls in love with Holmes’ wife, Karen and has a lengthy affair with her.
At the end of the novel, Prew’s death changes Warden and he decides to become a commissioned officer and a Second Lieutenant in the Reserve Corps.
Alma Schmidt/Lorene – A prostitute whom Prew falls in love with. Alma poses as ‘Lorene’ in order to appear more worldly and dignified. She originally came to Hawaii from Oregon after the rich man that she was dating spurned her and married someone of a distinctly higher social class. Alma plans to make enough money in Hawaii to return to Oregon a rich woman and establish herself as being higher on the social ladder. She intends to marry a man with a good reputation and set up her life so that no one in her new life would ever guess that she was a former prostitute.
Alma falls in love with Prew as well but refuses to marry him because she feels that a soldier is not dignified enough for her plan. At the end of the novel she uses Prew’s untimely death to pretend that he was her fiance that died during the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Karen Holmes – Captain Holmes very beautiful wife. Karen has had many affairs with the men in G Company and it is an open secret within the squadron. She began having affairs when she discovered that her husband was doing so as well after she was diagnosed with gonorrhea. As a result of the treatment for the disease, she had to have a hysterectomy.
Karen resented her husband so much for this that she began cheating on him.
Karen has an affair with Warden and falls in love with him, however, as with both of the romances in the novel, the affair eventually fizzles out into a friendship.
James Jones Biography
James Jones was born in Robinson, Illinois on November 6th, 1921, the son of Ramon and Ada Jones. Not much is known about Jones’ childhood before he enlisted in the army at the age of seventeen in 1939. Jones served in the 25th Infantry Division of the 25th Infantry Regiment during the second World War.
Jones served in the Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii, a location that would later be the setting for his most popular novel, “From Here to Eternity”. James was present in Hawaii for the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.
During his time serving at Guadalcanal, James was injured and discharged from the army in July of 1944. He had made it to the rank of a Corporal and won the most coveted award in the United States military, the Purple Heart.
After returning from war, Jones began his writing career with an autobiographical account of his experiences in during World War II. The novel was titled, “They Shall Inherit the Laughter” but was never published and was rejected by several major publishing houses.
After scrapping this work, Jones began working on “From Here to Eternity”, his most well-known work. After publishing this novel in 1951, Jones won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1952.
“Eternity” was then adapted into a film of the same name in 1953 that saw immense success and is still a classic to this day.
Jones published his second novel, “Some Came Running” following the success of “Eternity” in 1957 however this novel was not so well received. Critics attacked Jones stylistic choice of misspelled words and punctuation errors that he used to mimic the simpler mind of the main character.
Despite the bad response from critics, “Some Came Running” was adapted into a movie starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine which was nominated for several Academy Awards.
Jones went on to publish eight more novels in his lifetime and two posthumously, including his popular novel, “The Thin Red Line” in 1962.
Jones fathered two children in his lifetime, a daughter named Kaylie and a son named Jaime. Kaylie later went on to become a writer herself and published, “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” which was a memoir of Jones’ time in Paris in the 1960s.
The novel was made into a movie in 1998 which sparked somewhat of a revival in interest for her father’s work.
In 1978, Jones died of congestive heart failure while writing his last novel, “Whistle” which was published after his death.