WHISTLE
The throat. To wet one's whistle; to drink.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

"Whistle" is a 1978 novel by James Jones, most famous for his novel "From Here to Eternity". The novel describes the lives of four service members who are patients at a military hospital in the middle of World War II. As James Jones remarks in an opening note, the novel serves as the third part of a "trilogy", consisting of "From Here to Eternity", "The Thin Red Line", and this book. The three books all center around four characters who have roughly similar names, and roughly similar biographies, but differing fates in the books themselves. The book was written by James Jones in the last years of his life, and the last three chapters of the book are just his drafts of what he wanted to write, before he passed away from congestive heart failure.

The book follows four characters, Winch, Prell, Strange and Landers, who were all medically invalidated during the South Pacific Campaign of World War II. Winch is (much like the author) suffering congestive heart failure unrelated to the war, while Prell was seriously wounded by machine gun fire and earns the Congressional Medal of Honor, but is in risk of losing his leg. Strange and Landers are both suffering minor but incapacitating combat wounds. The book starts on a hospital ship back to The United States, and follows the four characters to their destination in a military hospital in a fictionalized version of Memphis, Tennessee. Through a series of sometimes disjointed subplots and stories, the book explores several issues: the physical and psychological scars of war being one of them, and the rapid social change and wild culture of World War II America being the other.

Whatever the literary merits of this book are, it more raised my interest as a historical document. As a historical document, it provides challenges for me, because while it was written about World War II, Jones wrote it during and after the Vietnam War, and it is easy to see an influence of that conflict on the attitude of the book. I don't know what specific political or social views Jones had about war, but it is easy to read this book as a very critical, although not polemical, work on war in general. But much of that is influenced by my own background: having lived through the much different, but much longer series of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is interesting to read a book about PTSD before PTSD had a name. The attitudes towards sexuality are similarly old for a modern reader: the book goes into some detail for quite some time about how the characters relate to the idea of oral sex, something that to a modern reader seems much less serious than the life and death issues in the book. But that is mostly the interest of the book for me: some things that would seem very important to me are glossed over, while other things that are now commonplace are treated as new developments. And, if nothing else, I can't think of many other books like this: World War II novels that are focused on life in the United States, rather than in the campaign areas.

Whis"tle (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Whistled (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Whistling (?).] [AS. hwistlian; akin to Sw. hvissla, Dan. hvisle, Icel. hvisla to whisper, and E. whisper. . See Whisper.]

1.

To make a kind of musical sound, or series of sounds, by forcing the breath through a small orifice formed by contracting the lips; also, to emit a similar sound, or series of notes, from the mouth or beak, as birds.

The weary plowman leaves the task of day, And, trudging homeward, whistles on the way. Gay.

2.

To make a shrill sound with a wind or steam instrument, somewhat like that made with the lips; to blow a sharp, shrill tone.

3.

To sound shrill, or like a pipe; to make a sharp, shrill sound; as, a bullet whistles through the air.

The wild winds whistle, and the billows roar. Pope.

 

© Webster 1913.


Whis"tle, v. t.

1.

To form, utter, or modulate by whistling; as, to whistle a tune or an air.

2.

To send, signal, or call by a whistle.

He chanced to miss his dog; we stood still till he had whistled him up. Addison.

To whistle off. (a) To dismiss by a whistle; -- a term in hawking. "AS a long-winged hawk when he is first whistled off the fist, mounts aloft." Burton. (b) Hence, in general, to turn loose; to abandon; to dismiss.

I 'ld whistle her off, and let her down the wind To prey at fortune. Shak.

⇒ "A hawk seems to have been usually sent off in this way, against the wind when sent in search of prey; with or down the wind, when turned loose, and abandoned."

Nares.

 

© Webster 1913.


Whis"tle, n. [AS. hwistle a pipe, flute, whistle. See Whistle, v. i.]

1.

A sharp, shrill, more or less musical sound, made by forcing the breath through a small orifice of the lips, or through or instrument which gives a similar sound; the sound used by a sportsman in calling his dogs; the shrill note of a bird; as, the sharp whistle of a boy, or of a boatswain's pipe; the blackbird's mellow whistle.

Might we but hear The folded flocks, penned in their wattled cotes, . . . Or whistle from the lodge. Milton.

The countryman could not forbear smiling, . . . and by that means lost his whistle. Spectator.

They fear his whistle, and forsake the seas. Dryden.

2.

The shrill sound made by wind passing among trees or through crevices, or that made by bullet, or the like, passing rapidly through the air; the shrill noise (much used as a signal, etc.) made by steam or gas escaping through a small orifice, or impinging against the edge of a metallic bell or cup.

3.

An instrument in which gas or steam forced into a cavity, or against a thin edge, produces a sound more or less like that made by one who whistles through the compressed lips; as, a child's whistle; a boatswain's whistle; a steam whistle (see Steam whistle, under Steam).

The bells she jingled, and the whistle blew. Pope.

4.

The mouth and throat; -- so called as being the organs of whistling.

[Colloq.]

So was her jolly whistle well ywet. Chaucer.

Let's drink the other cup to wet our whistles. Walton.

Whistle duck Zool., the American golden-eye.

 

© Webster 1913.

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