Johnny Got his Gun Essays and Papers

This essay has a total of 1411 words and 6 pages.

Johnny Got his Gun

Whe n I first started reading Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, I thought it would be
more direct in its description of World War I. However, the entire novel takes place in
one American soldier’s hospital bed. His name is Joe. He no arms, legs, or face,
and he is deaf. Rendered this way after an explosive shell hit him, he has no way to
communicate with the world.

Joe dreams throughout the novel, mostly about his memories, and because of this, a great
deal of the book is disjointed and contains a dreamlike quality. Through his dreams, I
learned about Joe’s life before the war. I learned he lost his father fairly young,
and about his boyhood romances. Joe worked at the railroad, and at a bakery. Before he
left for the war, he had a girlfriend named Kareen who I believe he wanted to marry.

When Joe is awake, he at first is unaware of his injuries. He realizes he is deaf, but he
goes through several stages of denial and acceptance for his physical features. He thinks
his face is only swathed in bandages, not gone. He thinks the doctors are injecting drugs
into the heel of his hand, not the stub that was his arm. Only when Joe realizes
he’s missing his arms and legs and face, does he realize the full extent of his

Joe doesn’t even know where he is, though he speculates that he could be in England,
France, or possibly America. Joe knows that if his arms and legs didn’t make it
through the shell blast that nearly killed him, his dog tags certainly didn’t. He
knows he’ll never see his sister or mother, or Kareen, his girlfriend, again.
He’ll never even know where he is.

Joe learns to tell time by how often the nurses come. He first figures out when dawn is
by the warming of the sun’s rays on his skin. He then keeps count of how often the
day and night nurses come between two dawns. When Joe finally gets it right (it takes
several tries) he feels as though he’s regained some sort of connection with the
rest of the world.

After five years, Joe is given a medal of honor for his efforts and losses in the war.
Joe is quite incensed at the man who gives him the medal, and tries to show it. However,
the man leaves without understanding Joe’s anger. One good thing comes out of this
though. Joes realizes he can communicate through vibrations and signals. He begins
tapping his head in Morse Code signals, but the nurse who attends him does not understand.
She instead takes his tapping for discomfort, and injects him with drugs.

Joe continues the try to communicate. The attempts all end with drugs until one day, a
new nurse comes. She traces ‘Merry Christmas’ on his chest. He understands
that this new nurse is tending him for a limited amount of time, and it may be his only
chance to get his message through. After a series of trial and error, the nurse
comprehends what he is doing, and gets a doctor. The doctor, using Morse Code, taps
‘What do you want?’ on Joe’s forehead. Joe doesn’t know what he
wants at first, but then he decides. ‘Let me out,’ he says, so all the world
can see what war has done to me. The doctor refuses though.

Throughout the book, Joe struggles with his loss. He also blames the men who did this to
him, the ‘masters of men’. They are the men who plan these wars and then send
young soldiers like Joe to fight them and ‘point the gun’. He is justifiably
angry at these men who would send such naïve boys into war. ‘Fight for
freedom’, they say. “Fight for democracy’. Joe does not want to fight
for a word. He would rather have his face.

Not much of the war is discussed through Joe in the novel. It was almost as if he has
blocked out any memories of the war. The novel showed me how easy it is for soldiers to
become disillusioned with the idea of war. It’s easy to believe you can fight for a
word when you’re so far away from the fighting. It’s easy to be noble and
patriotic. But when you’re actually there, inside the belly of the war, staring at
the awful gaping jaws of death every ten seconds, you aren’t fighting for democracy
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