Study Guide

From Here to Eternity Quotes

  • Courage

    PREWITT: Look, I told Holmes and I'm telling you... I ain't fighting. I quit fighting! You guys want to put the screws on, go right ahead. I can take anything you can dish out.

    Prewitt actually expresses his courage by not fighting instead of fighting. Sometimes it's more courageous to resist.

    MAGGIO: I just hate to see a good guy get it in the gut.

    BUCKLEY: You better get used to it, kid.

    The "good guy" in question is Prewitt. Buckley's cynical (though not necessarily inaccurate) opinion suggests that courage and virtue aren't typically honored in the world.

    PREWITT: A man don't go his own way, he's nothing.

    WARDEN: Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

    Warden's actually a capable soldier and fighter, but at this stage of the movie he's become a lackey to the unscrupulous Captain Holmes. His arc as a character involves shaking this lack of independence off.

    LORENE: What's "The Treatment"?

    PREWITT: Some of the guys putting me over the jumps because I won't fight.

    LORENE: Fight?

    PREWITT: Yeah. On the boxing team. I don't want to box. I don't even want to think about it. I don't want to think about it. And they make me think about it. Every day.

    Prewitt's avoiding boxing for principled reasons—he accidentally blinded a friend in the ring and lost his taste for fighting. So, this is another thing he's continually reminded of by "The Treatment."

    HOLMES: What's the matter with you, Prewitt? You know better than to talk back to a non-commissioned officer.

    PREWITT: Yes, sir. But I have never liked being spit at, not even by a non-commissioned officer.

    HOLMES: You owe Sergeant Galovitch an apology.

    PREWITT: I don't think so. Sergeant Galovitch owes me an apology.

    Prewitt's speaking truth to power here. Unfortunately, Holmes isn't nearly as principled or courageous as Prewitt—being the man who's orchestrating his persecution in the first place.

  • Duty

    WARDEN: He'd strangle in his own spit if he didn't have me around to swab out his throat for him.

    Sgt. Warden is referring to Captain Holmes: it's a (gross) colorful metaphor. As the movie goes on, Warden becomes less of a spit-swabber for Holmes and seems to identify his duty more with being a good soldier than with kowtowing to superiors who are violating army regulations.

    MAZZIOLO: Maybe he won't get it. All he did was to get drunk. It's a soldier's nature. It's almost a sacred duty once in a while.

    Mazziolo's talking about duty in another sense here. He's saying that the soldiers need to "let off steam" sometimes. It's a necessary pressure-valve for their real duty: defending the country.

    LEVA: I can't issue live ammunition without a signed order.

    HENDERSON: The captain ain't here, jerk!

    LEVA: Sorry, no orders, no ammo.

    This is an example of a soldier misinterpreting his duty as merely following orders. It's a state of emergency—the Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor!—but he's still sticking to the orders he was given before that emergency broke out. Warden ends up forcing him to move aside so he can get at the ammo.

    LEVA: Army regulations state that I can't—

    WARDEN: Are you blind? Give me the key!

    LEVA: I got to obey orders, Top.

    WARDEN: I'll see you get a medal!

    Warden understands that his real duty goes beyond just following orders—if he's doing something to defend the soldiers and the island itself, the higher-ups presumably aren't going to mind.

    ALMA: They'll find out you killed that soldier.

    PREWITT: Once I report into the company they'll take care of me. I'll be all right once I get back.

    ALMA: But you'll never make it! There's patrols all over.

    PREWITT: I'll make it. I know a shortcut.

    Despite being injured in a knife fight and going AWOL, Prewitt's devotion to the army outweighs his personal problems and injuries. Plus, he's concerned for the other soldiers, even if they helped abuse him.

    ALMA: What do you want to go back for?

    PREWITT: What do I want to go back for? I'm a soldier.

    Prewitt's reason might not be incredibly deep, but it gets right to his sense of identity. He can't betray his own identity—and when it's time to be a soldier and fight, he needs to be there.

    WARDEN: Sir, this man was a good soldier. He loved the Army more than any soldier I ever knew. I would like to make a formal request that this body be buried in the Army's permanent cemetery at Schofield Barracks.

    Here Warden comes full circle. Originally he mistook his duty for just going with the flow and following along with Captain Holmes' unjust treatment of Prewitt. But now he realizes that Prewitt himself was a dutiful soldier, since he was being true to the principles that are supposed to govern military life.

  • Love

    WARDEN: You think I'd be here if I thought it was a mistake? Taking a chance on twenty years in Leavenworth for making dates with the company commander's wife? And her acting like—like Lady Astor's horse, and all because I got here on time!

    KAREN: Well, on the other hand, I've got a bathing suit under my dress…

    WARDEN: Me too!

    In the army, adultery with an officer's wife is actually an offense that can get you imprisoned. So, Warden's risk in even meeting Karen Holmes is pretty significant. Also, John Jacob Astor was a famous American tycoon, and acting like "Lady Astor's horse" means being stuck-up.

    KAREN: Why don't you tell the truth, you just don't want the responsibility. You're probably not even in love with me.

    WARDEN: You're crazy! I wish I didn't love ya; maybe I could enjoy life again.

    Here, love isn't actually making anyone feel good—they're both feeling pretty bad because it's only causing them complications (the risk of a prison sentence for Warden, and the difficulties of a divorce and remarriage for Karen).

    ALMA: I do mean it when I say I need you, 'cause I'm lonely. You think I'm lying, don't you?

    PREWITT: Nobody lies about being lonely.

    Alma isn't in love with Prewitt—but she likes him and doesn't want to be alone. Prewitt points out that no one would ever lie about being lonely, because it's sort of embarrassing and sad… and what would be the point of making that up?

    WARDEN: I've never been so miserable in my life as I have since I met you.

    KAREN: Neither have I.

    WARDEN: I wouldn't trade a minute of it.

    KAREN: Neither would I.

    Love in Warden and Karen's case is an acute mixture of joy and anxious misery. Their whole future is painfully uncertain, but their present is secretly enjoyable.

    PREWITT: A man loves a thing, that don't mean it's gotta love him back.

    This is Prewitt's attitude towards the army in a nutshell. He loves the army because he's a born soldier. Even if it treats him terribly, it's the place where his life's been able to make sense.

  • Marriage

    HOLMES: How long will it be, I wonder, before I'm allowed to live that down? How many times must I say it was an accident?

    KAREN: Please, Dana.

    HOLMES: I'm going to bed.

    KAREN: Please get out of my bedroom.

    Captain Holmes and Karen have a clearly terrible marriage. Holmes tries to dismiss the stillborn birth he caused by leaving for an adulterous affair and then getting drunk and passing out while Karen was in the midst of a major problem with her pregnancy. Effectively, he also caused her to lose the ability to have children. Still, here, he's being casual about it—it wasn't an "accident," but the result of his extreme irresponsibility and callous disregard.

    WARDEN: No— it's just that I hate to see a beautiful woman goin' all to waste.

    KAREN: Waste, did you say? Now that's a subject I might tell you something about. I know several kinds of waste, Sergeant. You're probably not even remotely aware of some of them. Would you like to hear? For instance, what about the house without a child? There's one sort for you.

    Warden was trying to hit on Karen—but he accidentally got her to talk about the greatest source of pain in her life, her horrible marriage. (She implies what happened with the stillbirth and Holmes' role in it.) His relationship with Karen is never a shallow affair—from the beginning, it starts to go deep, dealing with the worst crises in their lives.

    KAREN: Come back here, Sergeant. I'll tell you the story; you can take it back to the barracks with you. I'd only been married to Dana two years when I found out he was cheating. And by that time I was pregnant. I thought I had something to hope for. I was almost happy the night the pains began. I remember Dana was going to an officers' conference. I told him to get home early, to bring the doctor with him. And maybe he would have… if his "conference" hadn't been with a hat-check girl! He was drunk when he came in at 5 A.M. I was lying on the floor. I begged him to go for the doctor, but he fell on the couch and passed out. The baby was born about an hour later. Of course, it was dead. It was a boy. But they worked me over at the hospital, they fixed me up fine, they even took my appendix out – they threw that in free.

    WARDEN: Karen…

    KAREN: And one more thing: no more children.

    Warden's been acting like a jerk, pressuring Karen to talk about her other affairs. He's being pretty insecure. She explains that she's not just having affairs with random people for no reason—it's because her marriage is dead on the inside, and neither she nor her husband are in love with each other anymore. They both have a license to see other people.

    ALMA: Sit down and—and get comfortable. I'll make you a martini and see what's to cook for dinner.

    PREWITT: Hey, this is like being married, ain't it?

    ALMA: It's better.

    Why is it better? Maybe because it's not like Captain Holmes and Karen's marriage, which is a nightmare. It's just a light, easygoing thing—they're hanging out.

    KAREN: Once commissioned, you go to the States.

    WARDEN: An officer.

    KAREN: Yes. Then I could divorce Dana and marry you.

    WARDEN: An officer! I've always hated officers.

    Karen wants to leave her lousy marriage and enter a beautiful new one with Warden. But even though Warden loves her, he wants to be true to his own sense of himself. He can't become an officer because he prefers being at the ground level, down with the other grunts. This throws a wrench in Karen's plans.

    HOLMES: I ask you once more: I want to know who he is and where you met him.

    KAREN: I'm not going to tell you.

    HOLMES: One thing I know: I know he's a civilian. You'd be too discreet to pick an Army man.

    KAREN: I wonder which is hurt more, your pride or your curiosity.

    Karen's comment strongly suggests what they both know: Holmes and Karen don't love each other, so it's only Holmes' pride that might be hurt. His real emotions aren't invested—he's just annoyed at the fact that a lower-ranking soldier might be cuckolding him.

  • Society and Class

    PREWITT: I'm a thirty-year man, in for the whole ride.

    LORENE: I suppose it's different when a fellow makes a career out of it.

    PREWITT: Nothing wrong with a soldier that isn't wrong with everyone else.

    Prewitt wants to be a lifetime soldier, which further dashes Lorene's expectations of making a "proper" life with him. She wants to climb further up the social scale, while Prewitt doesn't mind being where he is.

    LORENE: I enlisted too. Came out here on my own to get away from my hometown in Oregon.

    PREWITT: How come?

    LORENE: I had a boy friend. I was a waitress. He was from the richest family in town. He just married the girl suitable for his position. After three years of going around with me. It's a pretty story, isn't it? Maybe they could make a movie of it.

    PREWITT: They did. Ten thousand of them.

    Lorene was passed over for another girl because of her social status. This is probably a big motivating factor in her desire to live a "proper" life. She wants to remedy the problem that hurt her so much. Prewitt points out how common and tragically typical that sort of situation is.

    PREWITT: Why's it funny if a guy wants to marry you?

    ALMA: Because I'm a girl you met at the New Congress Club! And that's about two steps up from the pavement.

    PREW: Okay—I'm a private no class dogface. The way most civilians look at it, that's two steps up from nothing.

    Prewitt suggests that they both have the same amount of social status—which means they'd be good together. However, Alma doesn't see things that way, as demonstrated in the next quote.

    ALMA: I—I won't marry you because I don't want to be the wife of a soldier.

    PREWITT: Well, that… would be about the best I could ever do for you.

    ALMA: Because nobody's going to stop me from my plan. Nobody, nothing. Because I want to be proper!

    PREWITT: Proper.

    Alma wants to lead a pleasant, financially-secure, and successful life. It doesn't have much to do with love, which seems to be Prewitt's main motivation in pursuing his relationship with Alma even though he can't give her this "proper" life.

    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.

    Alma's main goal is safety, security. Now, she has to scrounge for her living as a "hostess" at the New Congress Club (in the book, she's a prostitute). Financial security is so important to her because it's one thing she's lacked her whole life—even her love for that other guy back in Oregon couldn't give her the security she desired. Plus, it'll help her take care of her mother too. So, it's a wholly practical and understandable plan, in a way, however much it might displease Prewitt.

    KAREN: Once commissioned you go to the States.

    WARDEN: An officer.

    KAREN: Yes. Then I could divorce Dana and marry you.

    WARDEN: An officer! I've always hated officers.

    Warden doesn't like officers because (in part) they're in a class that's supposedly superior to him. He likes being a person with a lower rank who yet remains more competent than his supposed superiors.

  • Warfare

    HOLMES: You might as well say stop war because one man got killed.

    This is Holmes' callous remark after Prewitt tells him that he quit boxing because he accidentally blinded his friend in the ring. Obviously, they're two completely different situations: boxing is recreational and worth quitting once someone dies. But war is often a struggle for survival, and Prewitt tries to play his part when war with Japan finally breaks out.

    ANDERSON: Sounds like they're dynamiting down at Wheeler Field.

    BUCKLEY: Mighty ambitious. Sunday morning before—"

    This is how the Pearl Harbor attack breaks out. The soldiers are caught totally off guard and misinterpret what's happening, assuming some innocuous military exercise rather than a sneak attack.

    RADIO ANNOUNCER'S VOICE: ...This is a real attack, not a maneuver. The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. Please keep in your homes. Do not go on the streets. This is a real attack. Japanese planes are bombing our naval and army installations.

    The announcer is warning the people in Honolulu not to go outside. Even though the Japanese were specifically attacking a military installation, avoiding civilian casualties wasn't exactly high on their list of priorities.

    WARDEN: You'll get plenty of chances to be heroes with Japs in your lap before tonight.

    The term "Jap" is a highly unpleasant slur, but was used constantly during World War II to refer to the Japanese. Unfortunately, it's a common tactic throughout history to call your opponents names during wars.

    PREWITT: Who do they think they're fighting? They're picking trouble with the best Army in the world.

    Prewitt's pride in the military remains unabated. Even though the army's personally treated him really badly, when wartime comes, Prewitt is completely willing to leave his AWOL status (after the knife fight) and try to join in. It's a testament to his deep and abiding loyalty.

    WARDEN: Sir, this man was a good soldier. He loved the Army more than any soldier I ever knew. I would like to make a formal request that this body be buried in the Army's permanent cemetery at Schofield Barracks.

    Warden pays tribute to Prewitt's service. By trying to rejoin his troops after killing Judson in a knife fight, being wounded, and going AWOL, Prewitt demonstrates how absolute his love for the army really is—he sacrificed his life for it, inadvertently.