Text by Michael Mullen, Professor of English, Vincennes (IN) University
Some reviewers of The Pistol expresses fear that since Jones had proven to critics that he could write clear and uncluttered prose if he chose to, he would fee free in his next book to write the kind of novel he wanted to write, and maybe create another book like Some Came Running. Jones did write the kind of book he wanted, but it was not a monster. It was The Thin Red Line and would be regarded by some as Jones's greatest achievement, and is thought by many to be the best combat novel ever written.
Published in September of 1962, The Thin Red Line was the second book in Jones's war trilogy which began with From Here to Eternity. Jones had intended the major characters in Eternity--Prewitt, Warden, and Stark--to appear in the remaining books of the trilogy, but he soon discovered the problem with this:
Unfortunately the dramatic structure--I might even say, the spiritual content--of the first book demanded that Prewitt be killed in the end of it. The import of the book would have been emasculated in Prewitt did not die. I had to kill the poor guy off. I had no choice.
Jones solved the problem by deciding to change the names of the characters in each book of the trilogy. "It seems like an easy solution now," Jones later wrote, "But it was not at the time." He gave the reincarnated characters names similar to the names they had in Eternity, so that in Thin Red Line Prewitt becomes Witt, Warden becomes Welsh, and Stark becomes Storm.
The Thin Red Line begins with the unloading of men from transports at Guadalcanal and ends with men waiting to be loaded on to ships to be moved to an unknown destination. What happens in between is the clean-up campaign of the island by the C-for-Charley Company, the closest thing in the novel to a hero. Men transfer in and out of the company, and men are killed, but the company remains, and endures.
Reviewers responded very favorably to the novel:
"A work of almost 500 pages, it is written precisely and well. And in it is some of the most shattering prose on men in combat since Hemingway was the acknowledged champ." --William Hogan in the San Francisco Chronicle
"...[Jones} proves his talent and his integrity once again with The Thin Red Line." --Maxwell Geismar in The New York Times Book Review
"...a powerful, moving novel that probes the heart of man's most heartless activity--war." --Clay Gowran in the Chicago Sunday Tribune
Seldom again would Jones enjoy such strong praise from reviewers.