Places: Guard of Honor

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1948

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Three days during World War II

Places DiscussedOcanara Army Air Base

Ocanara Guard of HonorArmy Air Base. Sprawling makeshift military facility in Florida comprising landing strips and hastily built temporary structures–a military base similar to many that sprang up in the United States–especially in the South–during World War II. The makeshift nature of the base’s buildings represents perfectly the character of the Army Air Force personnel stationed there. Most of the men and women at Ocanara are not military professionals; rather, they have been moved by patriotism or shame into joining the service. Although the majority of these ex-civilians perform tasks at the base that are similar to what they did in civilian life, most of them would rather be somewhere else–perhaps in combat, probably not. The base is claustrophobic: men and women work together, socialize, and sometimes sleep together. The setting clearly represents a microcosm, not only of the 1940’s South, but of American culture of that era.

The moral perspectives of the novel’s characters constitute a full range of choices and positions. Hence, just as there exist contrasting qualities among the physical characteristics of the air base and the nearby town, Ocanara, the characters’ multiple points of view create a good deal of tension among base personnel. Questions of morality surface in the forms of discussions, arguments, and debate concerning not only military dereliction of duty but marital fidelity and sexual conduct–and, what is most important, racial prejudice.

Among people on the base, the line between personal and professional relations is vague. And tensions that exist or develop between officers and enlisted personnel, between career men and temporary soldiers, between men and women and, what becomes most critical, between African Americans (a significant minority on the base) and whites are exacerbated by the base’s close working and living quarters and the oppressive heat.

Officers Club

Officers Club. Base facility for commissioned officers that is the scene of a clash between angry black airmen and military police in which racial tensions on the base come to the surface. The club is an effective embodiment of the ways in which reality intrudes on illusion, pretense, and dreams in Guard of Honor. In keeping with the racial segregation that pervaded the U.S. armed forces, entry into the club is restricted to white officers; however, the building itself is merely a dreary, cheap, concrete-block structure. Appropriately, it is painted white. The club is near lakes (which are really ponds) bearing names that allude to dream worlds and myths: Oberon and Thisbe. A swimming pool planned for the club was never built. The unfinished club is a kind of physical aborting.

Oleander Towers Hotel

Oleander Towers Hotel. Hostelry that represents not only the dashed hopes of the town of Ocanara but the confusion and instability–social and moral–of the air base personnel. Once expressive of Ocanara’s hopes for tourism, the hotel is now quarters for male officers from the air base. Like the base’s Officers’ Club, the hotel is stunted, even distorted; a fire has destroyed some of the building’s original structure. Its grounds are overgrown. A hodgepodge of architectural styles, the hotel is, in a word, shabby.

Lake Lalage

Lake Lalage. Florida lake near the base’s airstrip that is representative of the geography of central Florida, which has numerous lakes. The lake also serves as an emblem of military incompetence; Army Air Force commanders were warned that Ocanara was no place for parachute jumping because of its many lakes. The largest of the base’s lakes, Lalage is the scene of the novel’s critical moment: the drowning of seven paratroopers during a demonstration jump in a celebration staged for General Ira Beal. Ironically, the tragedy also is the occasion of the heroism of several black army engineers who try to save the drowning paratroopers.

BibliographyBracher, Frederick. The Novels of James Gould Cozzens. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959. Points out that the flashback-filled opening episode introduces the themes of possession, power delegation, racial antagonisms, and personal and psychological tangles. Identifies Cozzens’ skillful patterning of apparently random incidents and defines the novel’s underlying message that inevitable concessions to circumstance should not invalidate an individual’s moral, honorable ideals.Bruccoli, Matthew J. James Gould Cozzens: A Life Apart. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovan-ovich, 1983. In one chapter, the author narrates Cozzens’ military career and identifies military personnel used as models for characters in Guard of Honor. Another chapter discusses the novel’s composition and contents and explains its popular and critical reception.Dillard, R. H. W. “Guard of Honor: Providential Luck in a Hard-Luck World.” In James Gould Cozzens: New Acquist of True Experience, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. Sees Guard of Honor as a novel of freedom and values though in a context of seeming enclosure, restriction, and ruin.Michel, Pierre. James Gould Cozzens. Boston: Twayne, 1974. Analyzes Cozzens’ conclusions in Guard of Honor that war, like life, disrupts harmonies, that heroism is limited, that reality countermands principles, and that duty requires responsbile compromising, even the bending of rules. The center of the novel’s intricate narrative is an observant, contemplative consciousness.Mooney, Harry John, Jr. James Gould Cozzens: Novelist of Intellect. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963. Asserts that in Guard of Honor, Cozzens uses intelligent narrative points of view, pauses to dissect motives and principles, traces causes and effects, and dramatizes the acceptable consequences of intellectual limitations.
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