Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

Johnny Got His Gun

Chapters iii–iv

Summary Chapters iii–iv

On the train, Joe thinks regretfully about punching his best friend, Bill Harper, when Bill told him about Diane and Glen getting together. Joe remembers all the history that he and Bill have together, having been best friends for years. Joe vows to make up with Bill when he gets back to Shale City.

Joe and Howie get into Shale City. Howie immediately heads toward Onie's house, leaving Joe to walk home by himself. Happily, Joe realizes that he has wandered onto Diane's street on his way home. Across the street from Diane's house, Joe sees Diane kiss a boy goodnight on her front steps. Joe realizes that the boy is Bill Harper. Joe walks home, feeling intense self-loathing and loneliness. He cries in bed, feeling that his life has changed.

Joe comes back out of the memory and realizes how long ago the events occurred—before he even moved to Los Angeles with his family. Joe has since received a letter saying that Bill Harper died in the war; Joe considers Bill doubly lucky for having gotten Diane and then having been killed. Joe finally feels that he is cooling off, though his mind is still muddled.

Analysis

Memories continue to serve as Joe's escape from the pain and discomfort of his current position, although the memories seem to come upon him without his control rather than happen at his bidding. The boundary between his memory and his conscious, present state becomes increasingly blurred. Joe himself recognizes this blurring in Chapter iv, when it takes him a moment to realize that his sense of déjà vu is due to the fact that he is mentally reliving a scene from his past. In this fevered state, Joe worries about his sanity, about his consciousness being "all mixed up." This fight for sanity in the midst of his dips in and out of consciousness and of his overwhelming memories characterizes all of Book I.

Chapter iii offers several examples of the filmic techniques of Johnny Got His Gun. When Joe thinks about the ring on the hand of the arm that has just been amputated, the text immediately switches to a flashback dialogue scene between Joe and Kareen, when Kareen gave the ring to Joe. This quick, unannounced scene change is a technique that has its origins in the visual medium of film: the link between the two scenes is the a visual one—the mental image of the ring. Similarly, the scene of Joe's goodbye to Kareen and his family at the train station is interspersed with snatches of patriotic speech and song, in the way a film would use the technique of montage.

Chapter iii introduces several characters who are in undesirable positions and who seem to have no choice or agency in the matter. First, Kareen's father, Mike, has worked in the mines for twenty-eight years, suffering bodily damage, and then has worked for the railroad. Trumbo portrays Mike as despising both jobs but having to work them anyway. Mike, in turn, highlights Joe's lack of choice in serving in the army, urging Joe to be on time for the Army train lest the Americans shoot him before the Germans. Furthermore, a woman arrives at the train station looking for her son, who has apparently been given the option of either remaining in jail or going to war, and has chosen to go. (This woman, along with the story about her son, reappears later in Chapter xvi.) In each of these situations, freedom of choice disappears, as the options one is offered are equally undesirable—working at hard labor or living in poverty; getting killed in the war or getting shot for desertion; remaining in jail or going to war. We come to see how democratic situations, though they extol an individual's control over his own destiny, can become a screen for an environment of unequal exploitation.