James Jones and Joseph Heller : an essay in contrasts
This dissertation has two purposes. One is to discuss the ideas of James Jones and Joseph Heller on the interrelation of the individual and society. Both of these writers locate their characters within the context of larger orders and institutions, and deal with the question of how an individual can and should balance his personal interests against his interests as a member of a social organization. The dissertation's second focus is on technique: Jones' and Heller's fictional focus and creative relationship with characters and the reader. This contrast is traced through modes of narration, organization, characterization, and plotting. Chapter I establishes the basic contrasts: between Jones' acceptance of military life, in his Army trilogy of From Here to Eternity, The Thin Red Line, and Whistle, and his willingness to portray this as comprehensible; and Heller's treatment of the military as absurd in Catch-22. Chapter II discusses the substance of Jones' fiction. It locates Jones, through his anti-aestheticism, sensationalist focus on the sordid, and treatment of men as social animals, individuals within a collective, as a contemporary follower of the Naturalist tradition. The discussion traces Jones' links to other writers, among them Stendhal, Conrad, Crane, and London. Chapter III deals with Jones' style. It follows Jones' transition from a consciously eccentric idiom, marked by deliberately violent metaphors and idiosyncratic punctuation, toward a goal of colloquiality. Chapter IV covers the Absurdist rhetoric of Heller's Catch-22, discussing the rhetorical devices which create the novel's tone of confusion and absurdity and the realistic detail and humor which sustain its narrative. Chapter V traces through Heller's novels the development of their author's understanding of the idea of society. In Catch-22, Heller rejects outright the idea that "society" exists; in Something Happened he demonstrates again the absurdity of conforming to what one believes are social bonds. In Good As Gold his protagonist discovers that to be true to one's own family and background is also to be true to oneself. Chapter VI contrasts Heller's means of characterization, which define characters for the reader through biography and physical description, with Jones' preference for using dramatization to present a character for the reader's assessment. Chapter VII deals with plotting, comparing Heller's view of the novel as a working-out of preconceived ideas with Jones' treatment of the novel as an exploration of characters' interaction.