Study Guide

From Here to Eternity Lorene (Donna Reed)

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Lorene (Donna Reed)

Not Really Working at a Brothel, Exactly

Alma Burke (Donna Reed)—who goes by the assumed name "Lorene" for most of the movie—is a hooker with a heart of gold. Sort of. She isn't really a hooker, because the ratings systems of the 1950s weren't cool with that. And she doesn't really have a heart of gold… she's more of just a ruthless pragmatist.

Let's call her a hostess with a heart of sterling silver.

Alma works as a hostess at The New Congress Club. As soon as Robert E. Lee Prewitt sees her, he's all about it, turning down various other hostesses who want to hang out with him at this not-really-a-brothel.

Yet, when "Lorene" starts hanging out and flirting with other dudes, Prewitt throws a little hissy fit. But Lorene's genuinely interested in him, too, and they end up sharing a martini upstairs. The relationship is pleasant and easy—and starts to get more serious when Prewitt tells her about how the other guys are giving him "The Treatment." She empathizes.

A Proper Lady

Later, as they hang out more, things start to get complicated. Prewitt wants to marry Lorene, who reveals that she's really named Alma (Mrs. Kipfer, the club owner, picked the name Lorene for her from a French perfume ad). But she doesn't want to: Prewitt, being but a humble private, can't give her the financial security she so deeply desires. In the past, when she lived in her home state of Oregon, a boyfriend she thought was in love with her ditched Alma, leaving her for a richer girl with more status. This steeled Alma's resolve to live the good, or "proper" life. She tells Prewitt:

ALMA: In a year I'll have enough money saved. I'm going back to my hometown in Oregon. I'll build a house for mother and myself. Join the country club and take up golf. I'll meet the proper man with the proper position. I'll make a proper wife who can run a proper home, raise proper children. I'll be happy because when you're proper, you're safe.

But since Alma's lonely, she still wants Prewitt to be her boyfriend on a more temporary basis. He goes along with it. But when Prewitt gets badly injured in a knife fight, killing his opponent (Sgt. Judson), he goes AWOL and runs to Alma. She takes care of him as he tries to recover from his injuries, demonstrating that she really does like him, despite her greater social aspirations.

But this pleasant idyll is interrupted when the Japanese surprise attack Pearl Harbor. Despite Alma's protests, Prewitt leaves to rejoin his unit. At this point, having spent so much time with Prewitt and having seen his personal courage, she really is in love with him. She begs him not to go and says she'll marry him. The relationship has deepened to the point that she's willing to sacrifice the financial support she's always dreamed about for love. Unfortunately, he leaves, and his own comrades end up shooting him. He dies.

Alma catches a boat out of Hawaii and ends up chatting with Karen Holmes. She tells Karen a made-up story about how Prewitt died—saying that he was her fiancé and a bomber pilot. She's imagining that she already had the proper life she always dreamed about—a bittersweet illusion.

But when she tells Karen Prewitt's name, it sparks a look of recognition in her eyes. Warden's already told Karen all about Prewitt—and she knows the true story. But she keeps quiet, leaving Alma with her dreams—which is all she has in the end, although there's a chance she might somehow manage to find a "proper" life back on the mainland.

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