James Jones: The Limits of Eternity by Film International Contributing Editor Tony Williams
James Jones: The Limits of Eternity is the first major study of the entirety of Jones’s published fiction. Rather than claiming him as a war novelist due to his well-known war trilogy From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, and Whistle, this study aims to claim Jones as a major 20th-century American Writer. His novels and sort stories in one way or another deal with the masculine dilemma in American society, the repressive Cold War mechanism active in Some Came Running that causes psychological damage to all its victims whether they have returned from the battlefield or not. Jones’s novella The Pistol, which followed Some Came Running and preceded The Thin Red Line, interrogates the American paranoid male’s necessity for a talisman for protection against an unseen enemy, while Go to the Widow Maker is a neglected work dealing with male insecurity and the need for a healthy relationship between male and female without any destructive illusions. Jones’s minor novels The Merry Month of May and A Touch of Danger operate in similar ways. They unveil destructive psychological mechanisms existing within the American unconscious that have been implanted by unhealthy modes of social structures. As an examination of the American reaction to the May ’68 events in Paris, Jones not only insightfully understands the ephemeral nature of that period but reveals the destructive nature of various American attitudes in these chamber-drama versions of Henry James’s Innocents Abroad and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. A Touch of Danger not only continues Jones’s attack on unhealthy American psychology but also political involvement in the international drug trade well before the appearance of Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia. Jones also engaged in his own version of New Journalism indebted to no predecessor as seen in Viet Journal where he examined the latter stages of American involvement from his own literary and personal perspective, while WWII operates as his version of a full-length documentary essay where he interrogates the myth of the “greatest conflict” and reveals some devastating facts that American society still refuses to accept today. Jones’s posthumously published Whistle (1978) not only completes his war trilogy, but also operates as a critique of American post-war society by totally demolishing the myth of “the greatest generation” and the supposedly positive image of the homefront that concealed a characteristically greedy and materialist society out to profit both from the war and the psychological damage affecting returning veterans, such as Witt, whose dilemma has more than one parallel with Clint Eastwood’s later Flags of Our Fathers.
The motivation behind James Jones: The Limits of Eternity is to claim Jones as a great American novelist criticizing his twentieth century world in a similar way to how Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe examined their nineteenth century era.
Tony Williams is Professor/Area Head of Film Studies in the Department of English at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a Contributing Editor at Film International.