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Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

Make an argument for why Book II is entitled "The Living."

Although one could argue that Book II is called "The Living" because it is in this section that Joe finally makes contact with the living world, this contact with others has an ultimately negative outcome that clashes with the optimism of a title like "The Living." Instead, the title likely refers to Joe's successive triumphs that help him feel as though he is living somewhat normally again. In Book I, "The Dead," most of Joe's energies are concentrated on staving off insanity and his overwhelming memories. In Book II, however, Joe seemingly regains a bit control. He learns how to keep track of days, how to interpret the vibrations and touches he receives from the outside world, how to use his memories to occupy his days, and finally, how to use vibrations and movement to communicate with the outside world. These layered triumphs, which make up the flow of action in Book II, all come about through Joe teaching himself. The novel holds forth that type of progress—not the hospital staff's eventual communication and sedation of Joe—as a minor triumph of life and human spirit, lending the second Book its title of "The Living."

The adjective "didactic" refers to something that is meant to instruct. Is Johnny Got His Gun a didactic novel?

Joe, the narrator of Johnny Got His Gun, never actually addresses us directly, to explain ideas to us or to admonish us for our views. Nonetheless, the novel as a whole is nevertheless didactic, as it puts forth a proposition and backs that proposition up with persuasive argument and rhetorical devices. In one sense, the story line of Johnny Got His Gun could be seen not as Joe's struggle to communicate with the outside world, but as Joe's formation of a political consciousness. Both Book I and Book II end with incensed tirades from Joe about the politics of capitalism as they play out in modern warfare. The tone of both chapters, while still very angry, seems slightly more elevated than the rest of the novel. The sections use a variety of rhetorical devices, such as hypothetical questions, such as in Chapter x: "What the hell good to you is your native land after you're dead?" These sections also use the rhetorical device of repetition, such as with words like "democracy" and "liberty" in Chapter x. Finally, both sections move through an argument, using a variety of points and examples to sustain those points to arrive at a conclusion. These emphasized moments of Joe's political awareness not only chart Joe's progress and the unfortunately enlightened position in which his injury has left him, but offer instruction to us as well.

To what extent, and how, is Johnny Got His Gun a novel about the war?

As evidenced from the past tense verb in the title of the novel, Johnny Got His Gun takes as its focus the aftermath of war for a soldier, rather than the optimistic, patriotic prewar time frame upon which other novels—as well as the original song "Johnny Get Your Gun"—focus. Although the novel remains clear about the fact that Johnny received his injuries from an exploding shell, Johnny does not ever think back to combat warfare. The novel takes as its opponent not combat warfare but rather the mentality of warfare and organization of modern warfare by the moneyed classes. Joe's memories related to the war, such as the Lazarus story, or the story of the man with a flap over his stomach, do not directly deal with warfare. Instead, these various memories create a sense of the incomprehensible decay, injury, and pain that result from war. Joe remembers the stories with a wry tone that gives a sense of the absurdity of each of the situations—such as the rumor about the man who lost his face only to return home and die at his wife's hands. In this sense, the use of the war in the text remains true to its use in the title of the novel: the war exists as a precondition for senseless and grotesque injury and pain.

Suggested Essay Topics

Is Johnny Got His Gun a religious novel? Why or why not?

Is Johnny Got His Gun an antiwar novel, a pacifist novel, or both? What might the difference between the two be?

Why is Book I entitled "The Dead"?

Analyze Chapter xiv. How does form help get a message across in this chapter?

What is stream of consciousness? In what different ways is it used in Johnny Got His Gun?

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