After a shell leaves his body mangled on the final day of World War I, young Joe Bonham lies trapped in a hospital bed. He is a fully conscious quadruple amputee who cannot speak, hear or see. He is left to wander within his own mind and goes between his harsh reality and memories of a happier life long gone. Delve into the mind of a man lost somewhere on the edges of sanity and insanity, life and death.
Joe Bonham is a wounded veteran of World War I. [Johnny Got His Gun] is his story.
Joe was born to Bill and Margie Bonham in Shale City, Colorado, and he lived there with his family through his teenage years. He liked camping and fishing with his father. His life was largely uneventful. In high school, he had a girl friend named Diane. His best friend, Bill Harper, tattled on Diane for dating Glen Hogan, when she also cheated on Joe by dating Harper. After Joe's father died, he moved with his mother and two younger sisters to Los Angeles. He got a job in a vast bread bakery, and he found a new love named Kareen. They intend to wed, but their plans are disrupted when Joe is drafted as the U.S. enters the Great War in Europe.
As the novel opens, Joe is feeling unwell, really sick, and he is irritated by the ringing of a distant telephone that no one will answer. Is he hung over? You can't drink enough of that French wine to get THIS hung over, he thinks. Then he recognizes the roaring of the bread ovens and the mechanical noises of the conveyors. He walks past dollies and other equipment to the phone. It is his mother; he must come home because his father's died. His supervisor directs a delivery driver to take him home, and he arrives in time to witness morgue workers carrying his father's body away.
"That's not Bill," he mother tells him. "It may seem like it, but it's not." Bill had died in Colorado several years before, of course. And Joe wonders "why couldn't the goddam phone stop ringing?" He feels things getting "floaty and sticky."
He drifted again. He was hurt. He was bad hurt. The bell was fading. He was dreaming. He wasn't dreaming. He was awake even though he couldn't see. He was awake even though he couldn't hear a thing except a telephone that really wasn't ringing. He was mighty scared.
He remembers reading The Last Days of Pompeii and having nightmares of being entombed by his blankets, dreaming them to be lava. He has that same feeling now and tries to claw his way out of loose ground. And excruciating pain engulfs him. He sweats and the sweat makes him aware of bandages that cover every part of him. Even his head. He's suddenly aware that he can't hear his pulse, though his heart is pounding.
Oh god then he was deaf. Where did they get that stuff about bombproof dugouts when a man in one of them could be hit so hard that the whole complicated business of his ears could be blown away leaving him deaf so deaf he couldn't hear his own heart beat? He had been hit and he had been hit bad and now he was deaf. Not just a little deaf. Not just halfway deaf. He was stone deaf…
So he'd never hear again. Well there were a hell of a lot of things he didn't want to hear again. He never wanted to hear the biting little castanet sound of a machine gun or the high whistle of a .75 coming down fast or the slow thunder as it hit or the whine of an airplane overhead or the yells of a guy trying to explain to somebody that he's got a bullet in his belly and that his breakfast is coming out through the front of him and why won't somebody stop going forward and give him a hand only nobody can hear him they're so scared themselves. The hell with it.
Chapter I draws to a close.
The novel alternates chapters set in Joe's past—experiences in Colorado, his work in the bakery—with those in his isolated present. It is all in what's left of his head, as he recalls his past and contemplates his future, as he struggles to break out of his isolation. He has nightmares, daymares, anytime-mares. He hallucinates of his last hour with his love, Kareen.
"Joe dear darling Joe hold me closer. Drop your bag and put both of your arms around me and hold me tightly. Put both of your arms around me. Both of them."
You in both of my arms Kareen goodbye. Both of my arms. Kareen in my arms. Both of them. Arms arms arms arms. I'm fainting in and out all the time Kareen and I'm not catching on quick. You are in my arms Kareen. You in both of my arms. Both of my arms. Both of them. Both
I haven't got any arms Kareen.
My arms are gone.
Both of my arms are gone Kareen both of them
Kareen Kareen Kareen.
They've cut my arms off both of my arms.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen they've cut off both of them.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen Kareen Kareen my arms.
As best he can, he inventories his body and its conventional parts.
It was a process of feeling with his skin of exploring with something that couldn't move where his mind told it to. The nerves and muscles of his face were crawling like snakes toward his forehead.
The hole began at the base of his throat just below where his jaw should be and went upward in a widening circle. He could feel his skin creeping around the rim of the circle. The hole was getting bigger and bigger. It widened out almost to the base of his ears if he had any and then narrowed again. It ended somewhere above the top of what used to be his nose.
The hole went too high to have any eyes in it.
He was blind.
Calm and mentally quiet, he continues, feeling "just like a storekeeper taking spring inventory… He had no legs and no arms and no eyes and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue." His biology teacher comes to Joe's mind. He had chunks of cartilage that "didn't have anything except life so they grew on chemicals." But Joe was "one up on the cartilage. He had a mind and it was thinking."
He thought here you are Joe Bonham lying like a side of beef all the rest of your life and for what? Somebody tapped you on the shoulder and said come along son we're going to war. So you went. But why?
Joe thinks about those dangerous concept words: Liberty. Freedom. Honor. Decency.
You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else's life…They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.
All the while, Joe Bonham is trying to figure out a way to communicate with anyone other than himself. He is a part of nurses' routines. He can't tell daylight from night, but he eventually recognizes a regular day nurse from her routine, her touch, the particular vibration of the floor as she moves about the room. Night nurses seem to change regularly. He roughly calculates time and day from the schedule of his care. He is bathed and his bedding is changed every two days. The routine of changing his feeding tube and bodily discharges contribute to his perception of time. He always thinking, always planning. And by the book's end, he can communicate.
So that's Joe's story. Do you still want to put your boots on the ground in the Middle East?
Wow, what can I say about this book? Thought provoking? Yep. Harrowing? Yep. Disturbing? Yep. Intriguing? Oh yeah and then some.
This book features a young man Joe Bonham, conscripted to fight in the trenches of WWI only to be horrifically injured in a shell blast. Joe wakes up initially to find that he is deaf but then realises that his injuries stretch much farther than that as it turns out that he has lost all his senses bar one, thought, so he finds himself trapped with only his thoughts and memories for company. Now this book is seen as anti-war and is certainly that with tales of conscripts sent to fight others' battles but this book is more than that, it is also about being part of a larger humanity and what happens to us if we are cut off from it. A desperation to belong.
Many people will argue that this book is now out-dated and as most countries no longer have conscription they are right to a certain point but the fact is even today whilst most armies are made up of volunteers and professionals, wars are still fought by the little people not by the elite. What has changed is that modern warfare means that weapons are able to be fired at vast distances at largely unseen enemies but the fact remains that there is still someone on the receiving end of them likely to be killed, injured or their lives irrevocably changed forever usually detrimentally. The fact is that medical advances means that more and more people are surviving and living with horrific injuries than ever before as can be witnessed whenever we put on our TVs. In that way this book is stiil as relevant now as when it was first published,in 1939.
This book also challenges many of the norms we ascribe to in a so called civilised society that are too complex to go into in any great detail. However, there are also some very subtle touches of comedy which periodically lift the gloom
An interesting thing to note, and I feel that this is a touch of genius by Trumbo, is that throughout the book there is no punctuation other than full stops. This means that the book reads as a single stream of thought. Now this was not at first initially obvious to me but as I got further and further into the book this struck me as a brilliant ploy.
Go out and read this book. Whether you enjoy or hate it I almost guarantee that it will at least get you thinking about just what it means to be 'human'.
Il romanzo è un lungo monologo diviso in due sezioni: i morti e i vivi. Durante il monologo si assiste all'acquisizione di consapevolezza dello stato da parte di Johnny che lentamente si rende conto di non avere più braccia e gambe e di aver perso tutti i sensi che lo collegano con l'esterno.
Nel corso del romanzo, passando dai morti ai vivi, Johnny riprende lentamente contatto con l'esterno e ritornando quindi man mano alla vita.
E' un romanzo molto incisivo, sia per i contenuti drammatici che per lo stile con cui li trasmette al lettore; il pensiero di Johnny scorre con pochissima punteggiatura e molte ripetizioni, accentuando l'angosciante desiderio di comunicazione del protagonista.
Non è una lettura semplice, ma è una lettura da fare.
Johnny got his gun and went to war, it does not matter which one, Johnny came back but without his body.
The novel is a monologue divided in two parts: the death and the living ones. During the monologue Johnny increases his consciousness about his status; slowly he understands that he does not have any more arms or legs and to have lost all of his senses and the connections with the outer world.
During the novel, going from the death to the living, Johnny regains contact with the outer world and comes back to the living ones.
The novel is keen, both for its dramatic contents both for the narrative style almost without punctuation and with lots of words repetition, stressing the protagonist desire for communication with other human beings.
It is not a easy read, but it is a must read one.
“That would be a great thing to concentrate war in one stump of a body and to show it to people so they could see the difference between a war that’s in newspaper headlines and liberty loan drives and a war that is fought lonesomely in the mud somewhere a war between a man and a high explosive shell.”
Dalton Trumbo’s greatest triumph with Johnny Got His Gun was boiling the entire anti-war argument of the novel into that single horror: an armless, legless, faceless, eyeless, voiceless casualty screaming at you for mercy. If you favor military action in any form, can you justify the victories in the loss of life and limbs?
Needless to say, Johnny Got His Gun still resonates so effectively today as it did when it was first published in 1939. Look at any photographs of Iraq war veterans with severed limbs and the same question still confronts you: is the war worth the cost? It is that focus that keeps the novel from drifting into long-winded speeches or diatribes. Because we never see the world outside of Joe’s mind, we are trapped in the argument of “Why? Was it all worth this?” Therefore, the novel never feels preachy. Nor does the anti-war argument grow dated -– because it is not rooted in World War I (where the action takes place), or World War II (which the novel was released just prior to), but in the moral argument against war itself.
Trumbo also does a superb job of making Johnny Got His Gun a “small novel.” It is not trying to encompass all the horrors of war, but just this one soul-wrenching example. You cannot help but cringe along with Joe when he feels a rat gnawing at the side of his body as he lies helpless on the hospital bed, unable to swat it away. As the reader, you share Joe’s isolation and helplessness.
And yet, from this horror, Trumbo is even able to bring forth great humor. Take the scene of Christ playing cards with the soon-to-be-dead soldiers. He performs a minor miracle by making full whiskey glasses appear beneath each player (a sort of mock of the water-into-wine trick), but then winds up losing a hand of blackjack (“I never could hit a twelve he said in a complaining voice”).
Throughout it all, Trumbo never lets you off the hook. You must look at Joe and see his fate. To look away (or stop reading in this case) is to deny the realities of war and its ultimate cost.
Without giving away the ending, the book outdoes the movie (which Trumbo himself directed) in that it doesn’t over-argue the point. The sad resolution is not discussed as a great moral quandary, but rather a matter of regulations. Ultimately, the army’s regulations turn a blind eye to the truth that lies before them.
"Johnny" is a terribly sad tale of a boy sent off to war, who comes home mangled and destroyed, blind, deaf, a remnant of a human being. When he finally learns how to communicate with those around him, it transpires that what he most wants to say, nobody wants to hear. Extremely sad.