Johnny Got His Gun

by: Dalton Trumbo

Chapters i–ii

Summary Chapters i–ii

Joe's bitterness about the circumstances of his participation in World War I is already apparent in Chapter i. Joe's underlying sense of betrayal becomes clear in his anger over the apparent lack of protection afforded by "bombproof dugouts." His language, which refers to "they"—as in "where did they get that stuff about bombproof dugouts"—already points to an "us"-vs.-"them" distinction that informs Joe's relationship with authority. The extent of the anger and fear Joe experienced during his service becomes clear when we see that his first reaction to realizing his deafness is relief—relief that he will never again hear the sounds of warfare.

Many of Joe's memories are nostalgic and overly positive about his American boyhood. However, we must examine and evaluate this nostalgia in the context of Joe's current condition. Furthermore, while nostalgic, some of the memories do reveal a sense of skepticism or irony, as with Joe's memory of the superintendent's speech about Lincoln Beechy. The superintendent, along with the people of Shale City, uphold the airplane as an instrument of peace—a tool to bring the people of the world together and collapse their differences. However, the context within which the memory is relived—Joe's recent experience of being bombed by airplanes—highlights the naïveté the citizens of Shale City, including Joe himself, enjoyed before the war.

At the end of Chapter ii, Joe, full of regret, speaks to himself in the third person. This technique, which Trumbo uses only rarely in the rest of the novel, establishes Joe not as an unfortunate, isolated victim of war, but as a figure of larger significance—a figure being contemplated and spoken to by a larger group of people.