Johnny Got His Gun and Things Fall Apart: A Voice Does Not Always Have Power
In every society, a person may have a voice, but not all voices hold power. In Dalton Trumbo’s depressing novel Johnny Got His Gun and Chinua Achebe’s cultural story Things Fall Apart, several characters reveal this struggle through their actions and thoughts. Joe from Johnny Got His Gun is recruited as a soldier in World War I when an explosion causes his life to turn upside down. He loses all his limbs, voice, and eyesight as a result and believes he will never be able to communicate again. However, Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart has a strong voice with power until he gets exiled and returns to white men ruling over his village named Umuofia. Although Chinua Achebe and Dalton Trumbo introduce characters that hold power in both pieces of literature, ultimately both authors convey the message of giving the voiceless and powerless a voice by creating characters with determined qualities that want to use their voices to make a change. Both Chinua Achebe and Dalton Trumbo achieve this idea by using Joe’s and Okonkwo’s determined and independent characters actions and thoughts to portray that not everyone holds a powerful voice.
In Dalton Trumbo’s novel Johnny Got His Gun, a soldier named Joe who was close to his death from an explosion loses every way he had to communicate with others. He begins to fear that all his ways of communication are gone and that he will never have a voice again. Trumbo makes Joe a character who features qualities of determination and intelligence. After years of communication, Joe remembers morse code and begins to try to communicate with the nurses. These actions and thoughts that Trumbo incorporates into the story portrays what Joe’s voice is and how he is determined to get his message across to the other people around him. Joe’s thoughts prove this determination of getting his voice back by saying, “He kept on tapping growing angry now and hopeless and feeling like he wanted to throw up… he realized that she was trying by the weight of her hand to make him tired so he’d quit tapping” (Trumbo 164). Joe’s thinking emphasizes the frustration of not having a voice and proves his level of determination to get his voice back. While Joe got a voice, the nurse can be portrayed as someone how takes away a person’s power from a voice because she forces him to stop tapping. While the nurse may seem not as an important character, she is one of the first ones to begin to take away power and make Joe quiet.
Unlike Joe who begins to obtain his voice again, Okonkwo from Things Fall Apart has a strong voice in his village and is already high in status, being one of the strongest warriors from Umuofia. Strange white men begin to take over villages in Igbo. When Enoch, a converted Christian, begins trouble and kills an ancestral spirit, the egwugwu confront the Reverend and burn down the church in order to cleanse Umuofia from the evil that Enoch committed. The District Commissioner then meets with the leaders of the clan, including Okonkwo, and tricks them into being jailed until they get paid with cowries. Okonkwo begins to get angered by this and exclaims, “‘We could have killed the white man if you had listened to me… ‘You are not satisfied with your crime, but you must kill the white man on top of it’ the messenger exclaimed. He carried a stick, and he hit each man with a few blows. Okonkwo was choked with hate” (Achebe 195). Okonkwo is beginning to portray his anger and his determination to kill the white men. Even though in the past, the clan held a lot of power, the white men were the ones who made their voice powerless. Chinua Achebe decides to use the messenger using his stick on the men to show the difference of how the clan held the stick in the past, but now the white men held the stick and controlled over them. Their voices are being disempowered because the clan is in fear of using their voice against the white men. Okonkwo does use his voice, but in return he gets hit with a few blows from the stick, inferring how his voice won’t hold much power anymore.
While both Joe’s and Okonkwo’s actions and thoughts begin to display how there voices become powerless because of the people around them, it eventually makes them lose all the power in their voices completely. Dalton Trumbo purposely lets Joe to get his voice back only to show how all the power in it disappears. Joe learns morse code only for the nurses to silence and ignore him each time, even after realizing that he was communicating. Finally after trying each time, he realizes that his voice holds no power because they are afraid that he would show the countries people the realism of war and what it causes. His determination to communicate begins to fade after each time they silence him, but he begins to rely on the other soldiers to show the countries people what the result of war is. Joe makes his final remarks in the novel by explaining, “Put the guns into our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into realities. Sing the battle hymns and we will take them up where you left off” (Trumbo 242). Joe’s anger and determination turns into a hope for all soldiers to not lose the power in their voices like he did. This quote is displaying what Joe believes will keep the soldiers voices heard and if they continue to use the power in their voices, then they will be able to keep their power. It is considered an empowerment because even if he is losing his voice, there is still hope for the other soldiers to make their voices heard.
However, for Okonkwo and his clan, everyone loses their voice and power. Chinua Achebe ends the book with Okonkwo hanging himself because he loses all hope and that every person in the village and clan are too afraid of the white men to raise their voices and try to claim their land back. Okonkwo shows this by killing a messenger all by himself while the rest of the villages watches. The book explains, “Okonkwo’s machete descended twice and the man’s head lay beside his uniformed body. Okonkwo stood looking at the dead man. He knew that Umuofia would not go to war. He wiped his machete on the sand and went away” (Achebe 204). At the end the end of the novel, Chinua Achebe turns Okonkwo from a determined warrior to a character which has given up. Killing the messenger was Okonkwo’s way of leaving a mark on Umuofia so that the villagers would realize how Okonkwo was the only one fighting for his voice until the very end. Okonkwo killed the messenger because everyone had lost their power and were afraid to stand up to the white men. He was the only one to hold on to the power he had left.
When comparing Okonkwo’s and Joe’s final part in the novels, Chinua Achebe and Dalton Trumbo took different approaches to giving the voiceless and powerless a voice. Okonkwo gave up all his hope on his village while Joe began to gave up, but still held hope for the other soldiers to make their voices heard. In both the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, the authors gave voices to even the voiceless and powerless. Joe’s voice was his thought and his communication with the nurses while Okonkwo’s voice were his actions. Achebe and Trumbo used actions and thoughts to show how even the powerless have voices. Although they introduce characters that hold more power over them, including the nurse and the white men, there voices made a different and that is why both Joe and Okonkwo were silenced. Even a person without a voice such as Joe can hold power which were the reason he was ignored. The authors express how in every society, a person may have a voice, but not all voices hold power, just like Okonkwo and Joe.
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