No Time for Sergeants Not So Funny Today

Cover of No Time for SergeantsMac Hyman’s No Time for Sergeants is a strictly-for-laughs novel about life in the military.

Will Stockdale’s father is opposed to his son being drafted, but Will never makes a fuss about anything.

From what Will tells, readers learn he’s an amiable, Georgia redneck, dumber than a box of wet rocks and totally innocent of how the world works.

(Andy Griffith played Pvt. Will Stockdale in the TV, Broadway, and film versions of the novel, which gives you an idea of the character’s personality. You can see Griffith as Will in the  black-and-white film version  at free movies.)

Bused off to camp to be sorted for duty, Will meets Ben Whitledge, a little guy with big dreams and military knowledge straight from the silver screen.

With the best of intentions, Will and Ben make total fools of the military — and never realize what they’ve done.

Hyman drew on his Air Force experience to create his picture of military life. Readers in 1954 would have understood the military processes that baffle Will and laughed at his ignorance. Readers in today’s post-conscription era will probably be little wiser than Will.

Today’s readers probably won’t laugh as heartily as 1950’s readers either. We’ve seen too many reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies to be delighted by redneck jokes.

In short, No Time for Sergeants is past its sell-by date.

No Time for Sergeants
By Mac Hyman
Random House, 1954
214 pages
#6 on the 1954 bestseller list
My grade C-

                    2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Melville Goodwin U.S.A. Struggles for Post-War Power

In Melville Goodwin, USA , John P. Marquand looks at what happens to a professional soldier when the war is over.

The story is told by Sid Skelton, a radio broadcaster. As an Army PR officer during the war,  he met and inadvertently pimped for General Mel Goodwin in Paris.

The Army asks Sid to shepherd the General through an interview with a noted journalist, fearing the general’s frankness might embarrass the military.

Sid and his wife find themselves confidants of the General and his wife, who has crocheted dish cloths and managed her husband’s career since his West Point days.

Meanwhile, Sid’s former girlfriend becomes the General’s mistress. He’s more innocent than lecherous:  she’s more ambitious than infatuated.

Wife and mistress fight to turn the Goodwin into their idea of a successful man.

Until becoming embroiled in the Goodwin’s affairs, Sid had little use for the Army. He gradually comes to respect the General. Sid is sufficiently impressed to borrow some of the General’s tactics to unseat his business rival.

Marquand lays his plot skillfully, then lets the characters run the show. His pen lays bare the thin cover of civility that covers the power struggles of army officers, of broadcasters, and of ambitious women.

Melville Goodwin, USA
by John P. Marquand
Little, Brown, 1951
596 pages
My grade A-
1951 bestseller # 7
 

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni