By James Jones
Originally published on Advocate.com June 21 2011 6:00 AM ET
With From Here to Eternity, his classic 1951 novel set on an Army base in Hawaii in the days leading up to the bombing on Pearl Harbor, serviceman-turned-writer James Jones depicted military life as realistically as the era would allow. In his original manuscript Jones wrote honestly about the sort of sexual favors young privates would offer wealthy gay men for money. Though Jones protested, his publishers at Scribner forced the writer to delete much of the profanity as well as the more sexually provocative passages. Regardless, the novel became a best seller and garnered critical acclaim, which included winning the National Book Award for fiction in 1952. In 1953 the novel was adapted into a blockbuster motion picture that starred Montgomery Clift as Prewitt and Frank Sinatra as Maggio and won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The following excerpt from chapter 26 appeared in the expurgated 1951 novel but now, thanks to Jones’s daughter, novelist Kaylie Jones, this and other censored passages have been restored with their intended explicit language and content intact in the recently published eBook From Here to Eternity: The Restored Edition. .
“Lissen,” he said. He stabbed his finger at the big white bulk of Tommy. “You’re queer as a three dollar bill. How did you get to be queer? What made you queer, anyway?”
Tommy’s dark eyes that behind the deep purple circles never seemed to focus on anything at all, were on him now and focused, and they became brighter and brighter as he watched them.
“I’ve always been that way,” Tommy said. “I was born that way.”
“Like to talk about it, don’t you?” Prew grinned. He felt the silence of both Hal and Maggio behind him and knew that they were watching him.
“No,” Tommy said. “I hate to talk about it. It was a tragedy, being born that way.” He was smiling now and breathing fast, smiling painfully the way a broken dog does when you pat him.
“Balls,” Prew said. “Nobody’s born that way. When was the first time you went down on anybody?”
“When I was ten,” Tommy said, talking swiftly now, almost joyously. “I was going to a military school in New York, my parents were divorced and my mother sent me there, a bunch of upperclassmen got,—oh a whole bunch of them, there must have been twelve at least,” Tommy’s eyes were brighter and his voice was going faster, hardly space between the words to breathe, “—they got me out and tied me up, and beat me, they made me go down on all twelve of them, one right after another, and they beat me till I did it.”
Prew watched him talking, his big body jerking nervously in the chair, as if under a whip.
“I don’t believe that,” Prew snarled. “I bet that wasn’t the first time. Because lissen, they could of killed me and I wouldn’t of ever done it. If they did it, they did it because you wanted them to do it. No matter how much you tried to fight. You wanted to be beaten, and you wanted to be evil.”
Hal moved from beside Maggio and stepped toward the other two. “That’s a lie,” he said.
“It’s true,” Tommy whispered. “It wasn’t the first time. But it was the first important time. I did want it. Do you hate me?”
“No,” Prew said, contemptuously. “Why should I hate you?”
“But you do. You’re contemptuous of me. Aren’t you? Aren’t you? You think I’m evil.”
“No. You’re the one that thinks you’re evil. That’s what I think. I don’t think you’re evil. I think you like to do anything you think is evil, the eviller the better, and the better you will like it. Maybe it’s because you can show how much you hate the church.”
“That’s a lie.” Tommy was sitting pushed way back in the chair. “I am evil, and I know it. You don’t have to make it easy for me. You don’t have to protect me.”
“Hell, buddy, I wouldn’t make it easy for you. You don’t mean nothing to me.” “I know I’m evil,” Tommy said. “I know I’m evil.” “Who made you believe that?” Prew said.
“Who taught you that? Your mother?” “No,” Tommy said. “No, no, no. My mother was a saint. ‘You don’t understand. My mother was a saint.’”
“Shut up, Tommy,” Hal said narrowly. Prew swung on him. “If you guys like being queer, why don’t you be queer with each other? Instead of all a time trying to cut each other’s throat? If you believed that crap about true love you been putting out, why do you get your feelings hurt so easy? Somebody’s always hurtin’ your feelings. Why do you always pick up somebody who ain’t queer? Because if you’re with another queer, you don’t feel evil enough, that’s why.”
“Stop!” Hal said. “This quivering hulk of jelly can say whatever he wants to say. But I am none of these things. I stand as a rebel against society. I hate its falseness and I’ll never knuckle down to it. It takes courage to stand by what you believe.”
“I don’t like it very much myself,” Prew grinned. He could feel the warmness and the fumes, rising in his head, the urge, urge, urge, the smash, smash, smash, six o’clock, six o’clock, six o’clock. “It’s never done much for me, society. What has it given me? It ain’t done near as much for me as it has done for you. Look at this place, look at it.
“But I don’t hate it like you hate it. You hate it because you hate yourself. You ain’t rebelling against society, you’re rebelling against yourself. You ain’t rebelling against anything, you’re just rebelling.”
He stabbed at the tall man with his finger.
“And that’s why you’re like a priest. You got a gospel to preach. The true gospel. The only gospel. That’s all you got, a gospel. Don’t you know life don’t fit no gospels? Life makes gospels—afterwards. Gospels don’t make life. But you, you and all the fucking priests, you gunna make life fit your gospel. And nobody else’s. You wont even admit anything exists but what you say.”
He paused. The brightly lighted revelation was surging up now again, in his mind. He could see it. But how to say it? How to express? How to mold it and make it plain? Life was enough, in itself. All men should see life in itself was enough, was all, because it was there. Why did you climb the mountain, Mr Mallory? Because it was there. Life was there, it had been put there, for a purpose. That was enough. That was everything.
“If that’s courage,” he concluded lamely, subduedly, “maybe you got it, buddy. If that’s courage."