Johnny Got His Gun

by: Dalton Trumbo

Chapters i–ii

One year, the aviator Lincoln Beechy came to town; it was the first airplane that Shale City ever saw. Mr. Hargraves, the superintendent of schools, gave a speech about the invention of the airplane bringing people together and bringing peace to the world. The whole city mourned when Lincoln Beechy died in the San Francisco Bay several months later.

For Joe's birthday in December, his mother would always cook a big dinner for his friends, and then his father would take them to see a show after dinner. In autumn, everyone went to the County Fair. In summer, they would swim in a local ditch and talk about girls. When Joe was old enough, he and the other boys would take girls on dates to the pavilion and dance with them and smoke cigarettes.

In the Shale City cigar store, the old men would sit and talk about the upcoming war, but it was not until his family moved to Los Angeles that Joe first became conscious about the war. Then Joe's father died and America entered the war and he himself had gone to war, too. Joe thinks back regretfully about his entry into a war that turned out to have nothing to do with him in the end.

Analysis

Chapters i and ii introduce us to the technique Trumbo uses to present virtually all the material in Johnny Got His Gun. Everything happens inside the head of the protagonist, Joe Bonham. The description and dialogue that fills out the novel occurs within Joe's flashback memories. Within the first book, memories are often triggered by Joe's bodily state. The ringing in Joe's newly deaf ears in Chapter i, for instance, melds into his memory of phone ringing on the night of his father's death.

When Chapter i opens, Joe has clearly been unconscious for a period of time, and he is now trying to evaluate his health and surroundings. The novel begins with Joe's reentry into conscious life. This rebirth is marked by the accompanying memory of his father's death, thus introducing one of the main themes of the novel—the confluence of birth, or life, and death.

Joe's memories, which alternately overtake his consciousness and then fade away, highlight his current deadened state. The memory of the night of his father's death is full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile feelings, while Joe seems not to see, smell, taste, or hear anything in his current state. His only remaining sense, that of touch, reveals bandages covering his entire body. The memory of his father's death also depicts Joe in a position as authority and caretaker, which again highlights the helplessness and isolation of his current position. The memories stress connections between people—some of them long-distance, as with the telephone courtship of Joe's mother and father—that further highlight the isolation of Joe's present condition.