Johnny Got His Gun
Various Conflicts and Characters in Johnny Got His Gun
The novel Johnny Got His Gun was about a young man named Joe going through hard times. His life was always a struggle since he was a kid. Joe had many friends and worked to help his mom make money. Many conflicts occurred throughout the story including Joe and the dreams he has been happening and can’t wake up. Also Joe and Kareen conflict on breaking up and if Joe is going to go to war. The last conflict was that Jose knocked down a box of flowers and Jody Simmons was getting mad at him. These conflicts led to the introduction of characters that were significant for the way their personality and the way they acted. Although these characters these characters were almost like background characters, they were not drastically different from the main characters. The majority conflicts were between Joe.
The main character in the novel is Joe Bonham which is the round and dynamic characters. A round character is a significant player who is often the star of the story. This type of character encounters conflict and is changed by it. A dynamic character is a character who undergoes substantial internal change — in personality, attitude, or worldview — over the course of the narrative. Another character who is dynamic is Jody Simmons because he gets an internal change in her personality. A static character in the novel is Bill Harper because he doesn’t go through big changes. A static character is one who doesn’t undergo any significant change in character, personality or perspective over the course of a story. A flat character in the novel is Mike because he was only mentioned in the story in the beginning. Another flat character is Diane because she was only in one of the chapters. A flat character is a type of character that does not change too much from the start of the narrative to its end. These are the type of characters in the novel.
The first conflict was about Joe and Kareen. “Joe please stay I want to be with you and have a family(Kareen 123).” Kareen was telling Joe that she really likes him and wants to be with him. Joe and Kareen have been together for a couple years ever since the end of high school. They have been everywhere for each other. If they needed something they did for each other. Until 1 day Joe has been getting in depression. He has been thinking about joining the war and Kareen has been very sad about what he has been thinking about doing. A couple weeks after they have been arguing and Joe made his decision that he is going and Kareen was crying all day. She gave her ring that Joe gave to her back to him and couldn’t believe that he was going. After a month in the war Joe got shot and sent to the hospital. Kareen heard about the news and went to the hospital to see him. Joe was getting amputated and she didn’t imagine it was real and was crying. Ever since then kareen has never seen or talked to Joe. They had a big conflict on whether Joe should go to war. If Joe had listened to Kareen this wouldn’t have happened to him and he could be having a better life.
The second conflict is Joe and the dreams he has been getting. “What is happening to me with these bizarre flashbacks I am getting(Joe 56).” Ever since Joe has been stressing and struggling, he has been getting flashbacks and dreaming. He has been randomly been waking up at hospital beds, at a desert, and in the ocean. He has been struggling and with his dad who passed away and now he works. After a couple weeks of getting these flashbacks Joe is getting mad at himself and keeps saying why is this happening to me. He has been arguing with himself and worrying a lot. Joe hasn’t told anyone and is wondering what he should do and what if there is a big problem with him. He just forgot about and got a girlfriend and has been with her for a long time and made him feel a lot better and enjoying himself. Joe went to hospital and got checked by the nurse and said he is fine but he still thinks that there is something wrong with him. Joe is very upset at himself and just stresses everyday and decided to go to war.
The last conflict I chose from my novel is Jose and Jody Simmons argument on Jose knocking down boxes of flowers on purpose. Jose has been working at a bakery for a long time and does a lot of work. Jody Simmons really likes him and that he does a very good job. Pinky Carson who is another worker at the bakery who is jealous of how good Jose works and told him to knock down the boxes of flowers because it would be funny and that you don’t even like working here. He told him nothing bad will happen. He knocked down the box and the manager Jody Simmons saw and was very mad at him and fired him. They were arguing and he was explaining to him how Pinky Carson told him to do it but he didn’t care or listen and fired him. Jose was very sad and had no job. He then found a job at his dream job and was so happy.
Thus for, the novel Got His Gun had different types of conflicts and characters which were different it was a great novel. There were different types of characters such as round, dynamic, flat, and static. There were different and interesting conflicts that were held in the book and made it very interesting to read. Joe went through a hard times throughout the whole entire story and it was very sad. I think if Joe made better choices and not stress and worry he would’ve been better and not so bad. The conflicts were great and very interesting.
The Tragedy of War in Johnny Got His Gun
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo evidently proved that war is a morbid tragedy that ultimately could have been avoided. War is destructive, in the sense that it can leave you as a human vegetable, or even end your life completely. After reading Johnny Got His Gun, the downfall of war became obvious to me; although, individuals tend to believe the latter. War has been a controversial topic with two opposing sides; however, war is becoming to be seen as a bigger negative rather than a positive. Originally, when I started reading this book I had the belief of war being beneficial to the country to get what is needed, as the book finished my belief was shifted. Several philosophers discovered war does not always have the outcome that is expected, it can cause destruction of a country, separation of families, or overall famine to the economy could occur. As Sun Tzu stated in The Art of War, “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” War as stated by Tzu is a last resort, every precaution should be taken account of before destroying a relationship with an opposing country or state. A nation is hardly benefitted by an infinite war, as seen in Johnny Got His Gun. Death automatically grants a soldier the title of a ‘war hero.’ The soldier could have been the worst neighbor, a bully, a violent schoolmate, but once he goes to war and never comes home, all is forgotten. Dalton Trambo specifically states in Johnny Got His Gun, ‘What’s so noble about being dead?’ Memorials, monuments, ceremonies are given to those who lost their lives in the act of war; the wall built after the Vietnam War is an example of this. Every name on the black marble is a separate life lost, a person’s being is ignored because he blatantly gave his life to his ‘country.’ It is ultimately glamorized, death has so much power it can erase an entire negative history a person has.
A man doesn’t say I will starve myself to death to keep from starving, or that he’d spend all of his money to save money. Why should he be willing to die for the privilege of living?
Hickory dickory dock my daddy’s nuts from shell shock. Humpty dumpty thought he was wise till gas came along and burned out his eyes. A dillar a dollar a ten o’clock scholar blow off his legs and then watch him holler. Rockabye baby in the tree top don’t stop a bomb or you’ll probably flop. Now I lay me down to sleep my bombproof cellars good and deep but if I’m killed before I wake remember god it’s for your sake amen. War has been stated to be started by the rich and fought by the poor. The lower class are left with the burden to fight for their country without a guarantee of return, while the rich are giving commands and hoping the war is fought without actually putting any manpower. War Is also seen to provide a source of patriotism and togetherness as the entire nation gather to fight the war, nationalism is increased because the love for the country increases. “Put the guns into our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into reality. Sing the battle hymns and we will take them up where you left off,’ soldiers are the ones left to fight as others are providing the necessary tools of destruction. Soldiers were then nicknamed ‘G.I. Joes’ for their hard work, dolls and merchandise became a brand that many knew too well. The national anthem is sung wherever they go to remind them of the nation they belong to. All these components are products of war; it’s a feeling of submission for the soldiers to have to be forced to actively do something they do not want to do, but have to for the sake of their own well being. ‘Not one not ten not ten thousand not a million not ten millions not a hundred millions but a billion two billions of us all the people of the world we will have the slogans and we will have the hymns and we will have the guns and we will use them and we will live. Make no mistake of it we will live. We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquility and security in decency in peace. You plan the wars you masters of men plans the wars and point the way and we will point the gun.” The men stuck to fight this war are set up entirely, all they have to do is pull the trigger. They go through the motions as others give the orders to fight the war. It is a fallacy what war is made out to be, but lives are given at the cost of the wealthy.
PTSD went undiagnosed as people did not realize the disorder was the result of a gruesome war. Young men, barely reaching adulthood, were forced to see horrific scenes that a young mind could not handle to see. 18 year old boys were seen as men, who had no choice but to see their close friends die in battle, who had no choice but to see decaying corpses, or who had no choice but to see how deadly a weapon can revolutionize to. In Johnny Got a Gun, Dalton Trumbo wrote,’Hickory dickory dock my daddy’s nuts from shell shock. Humpty dumpty thought he was wise till gas came along and burned out his eyes. A dillar a dollar a ten o’clock scholar blow off his legs and then watch him holler. Rockabye baby in the treetop don’t stop a bomb or you’ll probably flop. Now I lay me down to sleep my bombproof cellars good and deep but if I’m killed before I wake remember god it’s for your sake amen.’ The shell shock experienced by the vivid memories our G.I. Joes are stuck reliving as they see gas become the worst weapon, fellow friends are being amputated in a less than a second as explosions take their limbs, or being kept awake from the constant thought of an unknown threat coming its way through the night. Paranoia became a constant feeling as young boys are visibly losing their sense of life.
In all, war is left to be fought by the least fortunate. The result of war is damage in families, the structure of a country, and the government; even though victory, the country still lost. Victory cannot be an excuse for the lives sacrificed for the “greater good.” In Johnny Got His Gone, it is seen regret is a constant feeling felt by the character throughout the entirety of the novel. Through pathos, the author allows for the audience to change their outlook on the destruction of battle.
Post World War I Era in Johnny Got His Gun
Johnny Got His Gun is a disheartening story about the post World War I era. It’s about Joe Bonham. He was a military enlistee that went out and fought in the War. Joe was unfortunate enough to be caught in a major blast from an artillery shell where he lost his all of his limbs, and most of his face. He was unable to talk with no teeth or tongue. The story is really itself is really anti-war, just the character himself is enough to scare me away from going and fighting. He’s alive still, somehow, but in a way he’s almost not alive, he basically lives in his own head working though memories and reality at the same time. Trumbo discusses war from a very negative aspect; he talks about Joe and his experiences, what he has lost from the war, being his entire life, what he has been put through and how this war is not even for him. Trumbo expresses his views through flashbacks and memories of Joe’s old life. In the end of the book Joe expresses that he wants to be toured around, so people can see what has become of him. Joe wants to be a body carted from city to city so people can see, and fear that atrocities of war.
A theme in the book I’m able to pick out which I find probably the strongest antiwar argument is that of who exactly is doing the fighting; Trumbo through Joe, speaks about the war in a “us” versus “them” idea, where “us” is typically lower class, or people who just are not earning enough to either support themselves or be happy are the ones that end up going to war. Where “them” refers to the upper class of people, generalizing that they are the ones that initiate the war, and goes on to say how they will not endanger themselves, instead the lower class, or “us” does the fighting. Trumbo goes on also to say Joe is not gaining anything from the war. The war itself has nothing to do with him, or people that are similar to him; people are going to fight for “democracy” and “freedom” and simply money in some cases. Joe goes on to say that when you are near death “democracy” does not matter; the only thing that matters is being alive. Joe says that the abstract idea of “liberty” is no requirement for death, he even argues that it hardly exists at all. Joe says, or thinks, “What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It’s just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it’s a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let’s fight for liberty and he can’t show you liberty. He can’t prove the thing he’s talking about so how in the hell can he be telling you to fight for it?” (110). Joe shows how much of a waste this war is; they are fighting across an ocean, on another continent for “liberty”, something that, in his mind, is nothing worth fighting for. Liberty can mean something different for everyone, thus it has no identifiable meaning, so it cannot be promised, and is not worth risking a life over. He says that the pain and death war brings are horrific and should be avoided at any expenditure. In chapter three Joe talks about how he feels when the doctors are amputating his arm, like they are lazy and this is not fair. Trumbo elaborates the grotesqueness of war, going on to tell of a man’s face that was burnt off due to a flare. Later in the book Joe attempts to put himself out there as a casualty of war, to get himself away from the hospital and push people away from the atrocity that is war. A strong underlying theme is how much Joe misses what he once had, and what the war took away from him. He used to eat burgers every paycheck with his family, and he used to have a girlfriend and best friends and a family and now all those things only exist in his mind. He’s nothing of what he once was and war has the ability to take those things away from you. In a book all about Joe’s flashbacks it is sad to see how much he has lost and can never get back. Trumbo’s arguments against war really make sense, and are hard not to agree with. Just the pure grotesqueness of the book, the way it speaks about Joe’s body, or what is left of it is scary. Honestly I would never want to be put in that position just seeing how much he has lost and just how horrible his existence is that is something I could never wish upon anyone, especially myself.
The book is written through Joe’s mind, through flashbacks, and at first I was off put by the strategy the author uses, but then I really began to understand why it was necessary. Had Trumbo made this book at the time of war, while Joe was on the battlefield he would not of had the opinions he now has. By having the novel take place in his mind you can understand everything that has happened and what led him to believe what he does now. This novel would have been done much differently if it did not involve the flashbacks and memories it does. It could not of communicated the things it did had it been about the war, by making war the missing slice, it give us a much more direct result. By starting in Joe’s earlier life and then progressing straight to the after war experience the reader can assume all this negativity has happened because of the war.
Near the end of the book Joe communicates through Morse code he wants to gain his freedom, he wants to be let out of the hospital that has become his home, he wants to be free and show people that war does not make men. It makes “freak-shows” and he is one of them. He says, “This will be the goddamndest dime’s worth a man ever had. This will be a sensation in the show world and whoever sponsors my tour will be a new [hero] and have fine notices in all the newspapers because I am something you can really holler about. I am something you can push with a money back guarantee. I am the dead-man-who-is-alive… I am the man who made the world safe for democracy. If they won’t fall for that then for Christ sake they’re no men. Let them join the army because the army makes men.” (226). This selection appears after Joe is asked what he wants, Joe knows what he wants, to get out of this hospital and present himself to people, he shows how he feels about himself, as a “freak” and how his only worth now is to scare people away from war. He then goes on in a brilliant line to say if they choose not to see what he is become, they are not men. They should join the army, so they can become just that. It is excellent because of the sarcasm it brings and how it explains how he feels so well. In the chapter he discusses how the women will see him and think of their husbands and sons. Joe speaks about how the patriotism he has made him what he is and how everyone should fear war and what he has become because of it. By willing to give himself like that, as a touring circus just to put people off enlisting is powerful in that it shows just how against war he really is.
Joe Bonham was a normal teenager, at the age of nineteen he had loved and lost, worked and ate just like everyone else. Joe got into the army and was a casualty of an artillery shell. Joe lost his limbs, most of his face, but more than that he lost his life. Trumbo’s book shows how Joe was alive, but as if it was pointless. He lived in a hospital and beyond that did nothing. The story is extremely anti-war, by saying the fighting itself was for nothing. That the fighting was pointless, by expressing the horrors of war it does an excellent job off putting anyone from wanting to enlist. The book ends with Joe’s end. He is drugged and left to “live” in the hospital, a gruesome end to a life that went through such a gruesome war.
Family Relationship in Johnny Got His Gun Novel
It seems that only during our most intimate circumstances do we find ourselves truly aware of the raw nature behind our most personal relationships. Dalton Trumbo, in an excerpt from his novel, Johnny Got His Gun, explores this intriguing aspect of reality through narration of a pivotal event in the relationship between a father and son. Trumbo employs various techniques in his narration to characterize the elusive nature inside the relationship between the young man and his father. Through very precise narration – leaving no minute detail left to accident or without meaningful intention – Trumbo crafts a scene that reveals in details that are subtle yet impactful in their presence a defining experience shared between the father and his son.
The excerpt commences with a description of a tent in a suggestedly remote and naturally majestic, rural setting. The narrator makes no mention of either two primary characters at first, crafting his narration to focus intently upon creating a vivid and sensory setting for the reader, a structural strategy implemented to accentuated the thematic elements of the piece on they make themselves known. The latter half of the paragraph introduces the characters in a subtle way that suggests the two as naturally occurring components of the surrounding location, an effect which makes the momentous nature of the son’s action in adding a foreign component to his and his father’s long-standing and even sacred-seeming tradition. The following paragraph extends the previously established effect by beginning from the start with a reference to just how long the tradition has remained instated: nearly a decade. Simultaneously, in the same sentence used to note the tradition’s length, the narrative tone makes a marring transition, stating in a single breath, “Now he was fifteen and Bill Harper was…com(ing) tomorrow.” The choice to blend the two statements without separation – even by orthodox punctuation – is subtle, yet profound in effect by rhetorically encompassing the seemingly disjointed reality by which the two events are coinciding. There is a stark contrast between the reality that has remained present in the lives of the son and father and the new one that comes into existence through the introduction of the element involving the son’s friend. That contrast marks the separating point between the past and the present, the accepted way of life and the apprehensive future, and represents the turning point which this entire piece is meant to encompass. From that point, the narration remains more fixed through the son’s perspective, as his inward conflict and self-questioning are introduced to the reader, a transition made to convey the rest of the occurrences with thematic clarity, with the setting already created and established.
The latter portion of the excerpt employs the instated setting and thematic perspective to clearly convey the nature of the familial relationship more closely. While the first two paragraphs reveal, on some level, a few aspects of their bond – such as their shared devotion to their tradition and their mutual affinity for nature, alongside some degree of emotional separation, made clear by noting the two’s separate “preferred company” – they function primarily to pave the way for the boy’s thoughts, communicated through omniscient narration to construct the message. Despite containing dialogue – more specifically, remembrance of that conversation – the narration holds steady a pensive and reflective quality, a trait created to characterize the relationship as developing yet tender. The narrative continues through the perspective of the son, and describes intimate details, such as the sacredness of the father’s fishing rod, which he is now willing to (in an implicitly symbolic manner) lend to the very friend who is shaking the foundation of their tradition, and the insinuated, subtle apprehension – apprehension suggestive that both boy and father are aware of the new development of their relationship – in the dialogue, to create clear portrayals of the relationship between father and son; simultaneously just as transitional and uncertain, as treasured, intimate, and quietly magnificent. The recalled conversation shares qualities with the narrative style itself in that it is within the unstated implications – like the telling minutia amidst the narrative description – behind the words of the father and son that reveal their mutual yet hidden awareness of the quietly enormous nature of the unfolding trip.
Themes That Are Relevant in Today’s World in Johnny Got His Gun
Johnny Got His Gun: Social Connections
Though written during the American interwar period during the first half of the twentieth century, Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun” contains themes that remain relevant in today’s world, especially with the increasing number of armed conflicts in foreign countries that the United States military is becoming involved in, despite a lack of public support or understanding of the U.S.’s role in these conflicts. Many people become involved in these wars, despite having no real connection to the causes of the conflict, putting themselves at great risk of personal injury or death. Furthermore, such injuries can destroy the relationships people had, either due to the various forms of post-traumatic stress disorders that arise following a return from the battlefield, or simply due to the grievous injuries sustained by those who aren’t lucky enough to make it out intact. This is precisely the same fate that befalls Trumbo’s fictional character, Joe, during his time as an American soldier during World War I. Joe explicitly describes his lack of a connection to Germany or Europe, and his regret towards his decision to enter the war, as well as being horrifically mutilated so as to suffer a fate worse than death, destroying his ability to maintain effective relationships with people, despite his development of a rudimentary communication system later on. The circumstances surrounding what happens to Joe, while exaggerated and unlikely to happen in real life, are still within the realm of possibility and are in accordance with the struggles faced by many today.
While considering himself an American, Joe states that he had less to do with “with Germany… or even with Washington D.C.” than he had to do with the “man in the moon”. While Joe did consider himself a patriot, he never truly had any real reason to enter the war other than to fight for his country. Joe neither understood the political situation in Europe at the time, stating that he had never even heard of Romania outside of a geography class, and only entered the war because “ America entered the war, and he had to come too”. Similarly, today, wars are being fought in the Middle East for reasons that the general public does not understand either due to a lack of connection to the issues surrounding the war or because of information being withheld by politicians. The most obvious example of this that springs to mind is the Iraq War. The majority of the American public was not fully informed about why the U.S. entered the Iraq War, or the details surrounding it, but simply supported it due to the mere mention of “WMD’s” by political entities that preyed upon the feelings of the public at the time to gain support, similar to how in World War I, mentioning “Germany” would stir the feelings of people who, despite supporting the war, knew little of the complex geopolitical environment of Europe at the time. That is not to say that Germany did not deserve the punishment it received, rather it is that the American public simply did not know the details about the war.
During his time as a soldier, Joe is gravely wounded and as a result cannot move, hear, speak, or see. His arms, legs, and face have been destroyed, terminating his career as a soldier, and rendering him incapable to communicate anything more than simple morse code taps with his head. His arms get amputated, but he can not give consent to proceed with the amputation, and is horrified by the discovery that his arms have been removed without his approval in a passage on page thirteen. As a direct result of this, he laments on page nineteen that he will never be able to hold Kareen, the woman he loves, ever again. Similarly, today people returning from battlefields often have irreversible physical damage done to them, and while they may not be as severe as Joe’s, they still leave them incapable to do many things. Many veterans come home from wars nowadays missing limbs due to IED explosions or similar events. If they are physically unscathed, they may develop PTSD as a result of spending so much time around so much death and bloodshed, inhibiting their ability to maintain relationships with the ones they love. While the circumstances of these disabilities are slightly different than those that befall Joe, they are still indicative of a major traumatic effect that wars have on people, physically and emotionally, both in the time of WWI and even in modern times.
Though circumstances through the years may have changed, war still leaves many unable to maintain emotional and interpersonal stability, especially when people fight in or support these wars without adequate knowledge of what they are supporting, a phenomenon that has existed forever and will continue to, unfortunately, exist well into the foreseeable future. Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun” provides this message that continues to remain relevant in today’s climate of American involvement in foreign armed conflict.
Johnny Got His Gun: Fishing with Father
Dalton Trumbo is perhaps best known for his Communist viewpoints and for his involvement in the HUAC committee in Hollywood and for his work in the movie industry. However, Trumbo’s novels are widely regarded as some of his best work. In one of those esteemed and probably best-known novels, Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo uses a third-person point of view and stream of consciousness-like syntax to characterize the exceptionally complex and changing relationship between the young man and his father.
Trumbo’s book is structured in an exceptionally unique way. The most striking aspect of its structure is Trumbo’s extensive use of flashback. The passage about the main characters fishing trip with his father is an example of Trumbo’s use of flashback, as it is written in a reflective point of view of the young man on a camping trip with his father and his friend. “They had been coming to this place ever since he was seven,” says Trumbo, “Now he was fifteen and Bill Harper was going to come tomorrow… Tomorrow for the first time in all trips together he wanted to go fishing with someone other than his father (Trumbo). While the third-person point of view somewhat isolates the reader from the situation, it also makes it more interesting in that it emphasizes just how groundbreaking the situation is in their relationship. In other words, the third-person point of view amplifies that the boy is growing up and is breaking away from the once close relationship he and his father had once shared. The use of third person point of view likewise highlights a striking generational gap between father and son. On one hand, the son wants to wake up “Early in the morning” to go “Fishing” with his friend Bill Harper. On the other, his father, who is presumably old, tired, and somewhat boring, “Doesn’t want to go fishing” as he’s tired and “[Going to] rest all day” (Trumbo). Not only does point of view illuminate a generational difference, it also characterizes the changing nature of their relationship. That is, they were once best friends who did everything together, but now are growing apart as the boy grows up and becomes his own person, not needing the once invaluable support and attention of his doting father.
Additionally, Trumbo uses stream of consciousness-like syntax to characterize the evolving relationship of father and son. This is especially evident when Trumbo says, “For a while his father didn’t say a thing. Then he said why sure go along Joe… A little later [he asked if] Bill Harper [has] a rod?” to which the son responded that Bill doesn’t have a rod (Trumbo). The boy’s father in turn tells his son to “take my rod and let Bill use yours” as he wasn’t going fishing with them and thus had no use for it (Trumbo). The fact that the boy’s father gives his son his prized pole, the “only extravagance his father had in his whole life,” is a kind of symbolic passing of the torch between father and son (Trumbo). In other words, the pole is a symbol for both the newfound independence and freedom of son and for the changing nature of the relationship between father and son (from loving and almost mutualistic to loving yet independent). Similarly, Trumbo’s use of such fast-paced, stream of consciousness-like syntax during which the boy’s fishing trip is described at the end of the passage underscores the boy’s happiness for his new freedom and the changing nature of his relationship with his father when Trumbo says, “He got up and gave Bill his road and took his father’s for himself…” (Trumbo). The boys then went to their fishing trip, hoping that they catch something and yearning for an experience without adult supervision, again showcasing the power of a single fishing pole.
In effect, the son is becoming his own person who doesn’t particularly need his father anymore. And through the use of third-person point-of-view and symbolism, Trumbo not only makes the aforementioned evident, but also makes it clear that the two, even though the son is becoming his own man, will always be close to each other and will still have a good relationship no matter what happens in their lives, which is underscored when the boy ironically destroys his father’s pole, signifying that the father’s broken trust in the boy and foreshadowing the gruesome fate of the boy.
Trumbo, Dalton. Johnny Got His Gun. New York: L. Stuart, 1970. Print.
Johnny Got His Gun: Mortality
“If the thing they were fighting for was important enough to die for then it was also important enough for them to be thinking about it in the last minutes of their lives. That stood to reason. Life is awfully important so if you’ve given it away you’d ought to think with all your mind in the last moments of your life about the thing you traded it for. So did all those kids die thinking of democracy and freedom and liberty and honor and the safety of the home and the stars and stripes forever? —- You’re goddamn right they didn’t. —– They died crying in their minds like little babies. They forgot the thing they were fighting for the things they were dying for. They thought about things a man can understand. They died yearning for the face of a friend. They died whimpering for the voice of a mother a father a wife a child. They died with their hearts sick for one more look at the place where they were born please god just one more look. They died moaning and sighing for life. They knew what was important. They knew that life was everything and they died with screams and sobs. They died with only one thought in their minds and that was I want to live I want to live I want to live. —- He ought to know. He was the nearest thing to a dead man on earth.” ― Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun
Johnny Got His Gun is a harrowing narration of a man, Joe, who is held captive by the useless shell of his body. Within the first beginning chapters, the reader discovers that the story’s protagonist, a WWI soldier, has had all four limbs amputated after being hit by an artillery shell. Along with his limbs, his face is gone, and with it use of his eyes and ears, and is left with no way to communicate. His entire world is confined to a hospital room in an unknown country, where he is maintained. He receives nutrition through a feeding tube. His bedding is changed. Nurses enter and leave his room. Through this, though silenced, blind, deaf, and immobile, Joe is conscious. He is a human paradox, both alive and dead. The book shifts between Joe’s memories, sentiments, and the present, reflecting the twisted thought processes of the human mind.
Joe’s situation is vital to the very core of the novel. Not only does it bring a unique perspective; it also gives him the ultimate authority to present his anti-war polemic. We assume as readers that his cognizance is why he can narrate to us, as if we’d lose that if he were dead. Many of his conclusions are based solely on his experiences predating or during the war, and in that sense, his consciousness is unnecessary. However, not having the option of death gives Joe’s revealed thoughts a grim honesty. The hopelessness he feels is obvious in much of the book, especially concentrated in The Book of the Living. In it, Joe’s relationship with Death is contradictory, desiring both death and life. As a dead man with a working mind, he frequently sees being dead (in a medical sense) as a much more attractive, impossible alternative to his present state, while also finding solace in his memories. After his attempts at communication fail, his attempt to live (through exhibiting his body to send a message) is rendered impossible as well. Trumbo successfully illustrates Joe’s position as a living hell: he struggles to distinguish reality from nightmare and gradually realizes his hopeless fate.
Joe sees the power of death and physical trauma as equals, responsible for leveling the worth of person in war, reducing veterans to their injuries. He dismisses the driving themes behind war, removing the glory behind words of honor and sacrifice to one’s country. Regardless of their national identity, those who fight in war are products of the horrors they experienced, not the nationalistic themes that put them there in the first place. Joe’s character captures this perfectly, and can generalize the war to all those who fought and the lasting effects by the thoughts he presents rather than by replaying battle scenes in his head.
The last two chapters of Johnny Got His Gun start with Joe’s communication breakthrough, continue with new levels of understanding of his condition, and conclude with a direct message to society. Joe desperately wants to live in the only probable sense: by feeling air outside the hospital and being in the presence of people. He knows this is impossible and eliminates it as in option: “The government would say he is nuts who ever heard of a guy without arms legs eyes ears nose mouth getting any fun out of being around people he can’t see or hear or talk to? The government would say the whole thing is a crazy idea and the hell with it he’s better off where he is and besides it costs too much dough.” He offers to make a profit by selling himself as an exhibit in order to show an embodiment of war. This situation, though equally impossible, would be better for Joe—or rather, better for the effect he would have. They cannot let him out; they need people to enlist. Joe is resigned himelf to coding “Kill me, SOS” over and over again after his requests are ignored. The conclusions made at the end of the novel send a message that the distinction between “them” and “us” is a socioeconomic one. “It will be you—you who urge us on to battle you who incite us against ourselves you who would have one cobbler kill another cobbler you who would have one man who works kill another man who works you who would have one human being who wants only to live kill another human being who wants only to live.” Joe concludes by urging the working class to rise against the upper class.