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Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo

Chapters xiii–xiv

Chapters xi–xii

Chapters xv and xvi

Summary

Chapter xiii

More than two years have passed since Chapter xii. In that time, the only landmarks from the outside world have been a night nurse falling down once, and Joe's removal to a new room. Then, one day, Joe feels himself being prepared to have visitors. He feels four or five people come into his room. First he hopes that it is Kareen and his family, but then he feels ashamed of his body and hopes that it is not them.

Joe begins thrashing in an attempt to hide the horror of himself from the visitors. He feels a hand on his forehead and more hands folding down his blanket. First He thinks that a team of doctors is examining him, curious about the live dead man. Then he feels something being pinned onto his chest and someone kissing his head. Joe realizes that the visitors are generals decorating him with medal.

Joe becomes gradually furious at the hypocrisy of the generals—who never actually get injured in battle themselves—decorating him with a medal. He thrashes in bed, this time attempting to thrust his mangled body into the generals' view. Joe feels a vibration in his throat and he knows that he is making a sound they can hear. He feels the vibrations of the men leaving. Joe suddenly realizes that, if he himself can gather information about the world through vibrations, he might potentially use vibrations to communicate with others.

Joe remembers telegraphing with Bill Harper over their wireless sets. Joe decides to tap his head in Morse code to try to get a message to his nurse. But when his nurse comes in she does not understand his "SOS" message and merely rests her hand forcefully on his brow to calm him.

Chapter xiv

Joe has lost all track of time, as he is constantly tapping out messages. His day nurse continues not to understand, and instead tries to soothe him. She bathes him, adjusts his bed, and massages him, but he keeps on tapping. One day, Joe feels a change of attitude in the touch of her fingers. There is a new tenderness and a strange kind of servicing love. The day nurse begins to masturbate Joe; despite his immediate disgust at her misinterpretation of his need, he responds to her touch.

Joe remembers the first girl he was with sexually—Ruby. All the boys in town had begun with Ruby because she made them comfortable. Eventually all the boys felt ashamed of Ruby and would not speak to her again.

Joe remembers Laurette, a prostitute at Stumpy Telsa's brothel. When Joe was younger, the boys spent time hanging around the brothel in curiosity, but later on Joe and Bill Harper decided to go inside. They sat in the parlor, ate sandwiches and talked to the girls, and then got up and left when the visit ended. One girl, Laurette, seemed to like Joe, and she talked to him about books. Joe often returned to see Laurette, but always before nine o'clock, when she got busy. She gave him a pair of gold cufflinks for his graduation. Joe thought that this meant Laurette loved him, so he went down to see her. However, Telsa explained to Joe that Laurette had gone to Estes Park, as she did each summer to meet men and spend the money she made the rest of the year.

Then there was a girl named Bonnie whom Joe ran into in Los Angeles. They had gone to the same school in Colorado, but Joe could tell "what she was" now. They would breakfast together on Main Street and Bonnie would know all the sailors in the restaurant.

A woman named Lucky was one of the few American prostitutes overseas. Joe would visit her in her room; she would be naked crocheting a doily and they would gossip. She was making money to send home to her six-year-old son on Long Island. Joe thinks about Lucky's comforting female, American presence and thinks of the strange feel and mishmash of voices in Paris. Joe feels he is back in Paris; as an aside, he imagines the shell that maims him being manufactured by a German girl at the same time.

After more memories of the voices of other soldiers in Paris, Joe imagines that the shell comes closer and closer to its date with his body—"it has a time set and we shall meet when the time comes." Joe imagines the onset of the shell: "You will feel it before it comes and you will tense yourself for acceptance and the earth which is your eternal bed will tremble at the moment of your union."

Joe feels weak and ashamed. He wishes for peace and rest.

Analysis

Several years pass between Chapter xii and Chapter xiii. The narrative is matter-of-fact about the emptiness of Joe's life as experienced through the outer world—each year is marked only by one mundane event, such as one of the nurses tripping and falling.

The visit the military officials pay Joe to award him a medal revisits the idea that Joe feels cheated by his war service. The generals' ceremony and medal, for which Joe has no use, are empty symbolic gestures compared to the human connection that Joe needs. The medal, like empty words such as "liberty," seems hardly worth the price of one's life and bodily health. The medal insults Joe, and we see the intensity of his anger in his previously intense impulse to hide himself in shame, thinking his visitors were family. Joe is disgusted by the hypocrisy of generals—who do not encounter the disgusting horrors and danger of war firsthand—awarding medals to those who do. Joe's response is to try to make the generals experience the horror of his body now; he accomplishes this by thrashing and grunting around in bed, making himself seem more animal—"pig"—than man. Ironically, though the medal is nothing Joe can use or take comfort in, the generals inadvertently offer him another gift—the idea of trying to communicate through vibrations.

The outside world's perception of Joe as an animal becomes clear in his day nurse's response to his efforts to communicate with her through Morse code. Because the day nurse does not even consider the possibility that Joe could be human enough to still operate through language, she assumes that he is merely signaling, non-linguistically, his animal needs. So she tries to make him more comfortable in various ways, and eventually, in Chapter xiv, assumes that his agitation is due to pent-up sexual feeling.

Chapter xiv deals ambivalently with the day nurse's masturbation of Joe. On the one hand, Joe's disgust gives in somewhat to positive bodily response, which then triggers sentimentalized memories of prostitutes that Joe has known. In each of Joe's prostitute relationships—Laurette, Bonnie, Lucky—the emphasis is not on their sexual transactions, but on their human interaction. In this light, the nurse's attempt to bring Joe to release appears a gesture of friendliness and common humanitarian love. On the other hand, as Joe nears his release, an undertone equating sexual union with violent confrontation emerges. Joe's asides about the bomb's production and journey use highly sexual language. The image of the German girl handling the shell invites a connection with the nurse's handling of Joe's erection. The shell is buried beneath a "hill that is like a woman's breast," and the "union" of Joe and the shell is a parody of the union of sexual intercourse. The stream of consciousness sections through which the bomb asides are interspersed contain several injunctions from a brothel voice to hurry up, as many other men want to be serviced too. The ominous quality of these sexualized images, combined with the perfunctory rapidity of sexual transactions with prostitutes, leaves Joe sick and weary after his release. Because his sexual feelings are so tied up with his body, now mangled and shameful, the tenor of the section toward the nurse's well intentioned masturbation of Joe remains ambivalent.

The end of Chapter xiv uses a different form of stream of consciousness that recalls Joe's earlier memory of his farewells at the train station in Chapter iii. Rather than rendering the flow of Joe's individual consciousness, as much of the stream-of-consciousness prose in Johnny Got His Gun does, Trumbo uses these sections to create a montage effect of a setting filled with many voices—in this case, Joe's days spent in wartime Paris.

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