I've come across the term 'marines' in the book 'The Arrangement by Elia Kazan' twice; however I couldn't get what it may refer. I know it is like 'nautical' or something but it seemed different to me in the context. Need your help. Here are the two paragraphs:

"You're the son of 612, aren't you?" he asked. "I'm Dr. Levine. I've been looking after your father." "How is he really?" I said. "He's finished. Otherwise he's fine." "What the hell does that mean?" "I t means some doctors will BS you, put him on a drug calendar, and slip you a hefty bill. But there's no way back with this thing." "So what do I do?" "Make him as happy as you can, for as long as you can. But don't look for the marines. They ain't coming."

I need to mention here that the old man here suffers from arteriosclerosis. The other paragraph is:

My father winked at me, and laughed and coughed and laughed. Miss Smythe came back. With her were Butch and the marines, Dr. Levine and Father Draddy, the young priest who had tried to talk to my father earlier and hadn't been able to.

I thought that the term 'marines' may be something used in daily language like white-collars or something like that. I know it isn't but what is it then?

  • Don't look for the marines - or don't wait for the cavalry - refers to Hollywood's habit of having earlier the cavalry, and later the marines show up at the last minute to rescue the movie's main characters. A messenger might have been sent to seek help, but that's about realism, not plot necessity. Almost nothing separates that from the ancient theatrical conceit, 'deus ex machina' meaning that far from anything probable, the rescue relies on a God popping up - or on stage, being lowered out of a machine - and fixing everything through a liberal dose of handwavium. Nov 27, 2023 at 22:00

3 Answers 3


While @Randal’Thor has given a literal definition of marines, the quotations show a more metaphorical usage.

Within American culture the Marines are the best fighters, the unstoppable yet noble force who will carry the day. To invoke the marines is to say that victory is assured. This is illustrated in this quote

The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand.

Attributed to Richard Harding Davis (1864-1916)

So to say ‘don’t look for the marines’ is to say that no-one is coming to make everything okay.

I would assume from the second quote that Dr Levine and Father Draddy did in some sense make everything okay and so are, metaphorically, the Marines.


I know it is like 'nautical' or something but it seemed different to me in the context.

It's more specific than that. The marines are a special branch of the armed forces in many countries: naval infantry or 'soldiers at sea', sometimes operating as an autonomous part of the navy and sometimes as a separate fourth branch of the armed forces. In the context of this novel set in the United States, it would be the United States Marine Corps. You can read about them on Wikipedia or follow them on Twitter.


The actual Question remains unanswerable. What might any other definition or sub-meaning of the term 'marines' mean?

Is that simply a request for clarification, or is there some other definition or sub-meaning of the Question? Does that show how easy it is to turn something simple into a mystery?

"Don't look for the marines…" was widely propagated by Hollywood, and means simply "Don't look for any rescuers…"

"Don't look for the cavalry…" was widely propagated by Hollywood, and means exactly the same. The difference is the time frame. The marines tend to rescue people in the 20th; the cavalry in the 19th century.

"Don't look for any knights in shining armour…" has the same meaning several centuries earlier… the other significant difference there being that, in keeping with the times, marines and cavalry both came in troops while knights tended to show up singly.

I have no idea what "sub-meanings" means.

  • I uprooted cos I don't like the question either
    – user5641
    Jan 21, 2022 at 15:54
  • How is it unanswerable. An answer was accepted 3 years ago.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 25, 2022 at 18:39
  • @Spagirl Do you truly base either quality or quantity of any Answer on someone else's acceptance? Really? Jan 30, 2022 at 20:55
  • @RobbieGoodwin OP wanted to know the meaning of ‘marines’ in a certain context. They are ere given the meaning of ‘marines’ in that context. What is lacking, by your lights, from that as an answer?
    – Spagirl
    Jan 30, 2022 at 21:31
  • @Spagirl Sorry you didn't notice, and there are no "other definitions" or "sub-meanings" of the term "marines" in that or any other context. "Don't look for the marines…" is exactly equivalent to "don't expect the cavalry to come charging to the rescue." What you meant by "They are ere. - is that are or were or what? Given the meaning of ‘marines’ in that or any other context, who could guess? Who sees the given examples as comparable, should be able to explain how. Until you do, "My father winked at me…" has no more obvious relevance than clear meaning, though context might help… Feb 5, 2022 at 22:28

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