Johnny Got His Gun
Chapters xv and xvi
Joe continues tapping in the hopes that someone will finally understand. He has lost all track of time and feels himself becoming insane with the feeling that he is trapped inside his brain. He has begun to think about himself as a prisoner and the nurse as his jailor. He thinks about slaves captured as labor to row ships through the Mediterranean, and slaves in ancient Carthage forced to be chained guards of treasure with their eyes cut out.
Thinking of all different slaves and their fates throughout history, Joe realizes that he is like them: "the fate of the little guy the fate of men like himself." Joe, too, has been uprooted from his home and forced to fight against other slaves, like in the ancient Coliseum in Rome. But his fate is even worse than that of the slaves throughout history, because he cannot die and because is maimed worse than any of them.
Joe senses a male doctor coming in the room. The doctor injects Joe with a sedative and Joe realizes that "they" are trying to "shut him up." Joe tries to shake his head to indicate that he does not want the sedative, but as his head grows weary and his mind foggy, Joe realizes that they have "won again."
Sedated, Joe experiences an array of images in his mind. He has a dream vision that begins with the same woman he remembers hearing at the train station before he left for the war (from Chapter iii). The woman is looking for her sixteen- year-old son, who was given the option in Tucson to go to war to get out of jail. Joe sees that the woman's son is Christ, coming up through the desert from Tucson.
Christ comes into the railway station and sits down to play cards with Joe and several other men. Christ provides a glass of whiskey for each man, and the men begin talking about their deaths, which they already foresee. Suddenly, one man points out that Joe does not belong with them because he will not actually die in the war. When Joe explains what will happen to him, though, the men leave him alone, as his ultimate fate is worse than theirs. The men get up and board the train. Christ takes leave of them, as he has many other men to see before they die.
Joe feels lonely on the train with men going to their deaths, so he jumps off. He runs across the desert to the figure of Christ and throws himself at Christ's feet.
Chapter xv and Chapter xvi are largely an exploration of suffering. In Chapter xv, Joe feels himself begin to go insane, as he continues tapping during all waking hours and tries to understand why he is not being heard. His panic quickly advances to paranoia as he figures out the problem: it is not that no one understands the larger significance of his tapping, but that no one wants to understand the larger significance. Joe's contextualization of his plight in terms of historical slavery is, in one sense, a way for him to alleviate his panicked loneliness; he is not alone, as others throughout history have experienced the bodily and mental subjugation he is experiencing now. However, Joe then asserts that his plight is actually worse than theirs, which leaves him alone in his suffering once again.
Chapter xv also reintroduces political concerns into the novel. Joe's contextualization of his plight in terms of historical slavery adds a political dimension to his suffering—as with the slaves throughout history, someone captured and used Joe, probably for profit, in one sense or another. Joe compares World War I to games at the Coliseum in ancient Rome, in which slaves were forced to fight each other for the pleasure of spectators. Chapter xv continues the "us" versus "them" dynamics we have seen before; when a doctor comes into the room and sedates Joe, Joe sees this act within those dynamics as well. "Us" is, by various names, the slaves, the little guys; "them" continues to be those who organize or profit by war, and now also the medical establishment, probably a military hospital. Joe's current helpless state—in which the hospital staff cannot conceive that he might be communicating, and thus further oppresses him—allows him to begin to understand that he was taken advantage of far before his injury. He has been a pawn since his initial entry into the war.
Chapter xvi portrays Joe in a drugged state, yet the chapter continues to deal with the suffering explored in Chapter xv. Joe's dream, like his mental argument in Chapter xv, proceeds from his identification with and incorporation into a group of others who are similar; it ends with Joe's alienation from that group. Here, the group consists of the men leaving the train station to go to war. It relates back to Joe's memory of the scene in Chapter iii, though here the men know that they will die. This knowledge of imminent death brings them together; they receive a visit from Christ, a fellow sufferer, who appears much like themselves. Suddenly, however, one of the men notes that Joe will not actually die in the war. The men let him remain with the group, acknowledging that his fate will be worse than death. However, Joe himself decides he does not belong. He leaves the men in search of Christ, whom he hopes will understand and aid his suffering. In these chapters, Joe's alienation stems not from his inability to communicate with the rest of the world, but from the fact that he is categorically different from even those who have suffered badly.
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