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Joe exercises his brain with multiplication series, grammatical cases, and as much as he can remember of the narratives of Dickens's David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol and Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans and other Leatherstocking Tales. Joe then tries to remember "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Tennyson and "When the Frost is on the Pumpkin" by Riley. Joe runs through the planets, the Ten Commandments, and assorted psalms. Joe regrets how little he memorized of all of these things because now he cannot use them to entertain himself for long stretches of time.
Joe decides to start at the beginning with an idea and somehow teach himself something new. He decides to start with an idea that relates to telling time. He realizes he cannot calculate the time between the day in September 1918 when he was hit with a shell and the day he awoke and discovered he was deaf. But the idea of counting time has been in his head for a while. Joe's first thought is to track the seconds, minutes, and hours between each nurse's visit until he gets to twenty-four hours, so he would know what schedule the nurses kept. But Joe cannot concentrate long enough to count the seconds correctly. He realizes that this method is too complicated, so he decides to focus on simpler schedules like how often his bowel movements and bed changes occur in nurse's visits.
Eventually, Joe realizes that he can sense the outside world with his skin and decides that he should attempt to feel the sunrise. He reasons that the nurse probably bathes him in the mornings, as nurses do their heavy work in the morning. He calculates that the nurse probably visits him roughly every two hours, so he decides to count up to her last visit before dawn and then prepare himself to feel the change in temperature that accompanies sunrise. Joe executes his plan and triumphantly feels the warmth on his neck. Joe feels a part of the world, as dawn is happening to many others at the same time. Joe imagines himself watching dawn move over his old town and the mountains of Colorado. He feels grateful for the gift of time.
Joe celebrates his New Year's Eve exactly one year after he manages to keep time. He remembers various New Year's images from his life in Colorado and Los Angeles. Keeping time has become easier for Joe as he has became accustomed to the nurses' schedules and has learned to tell the nurses apart from the diffrent vibrations they make. Joe likes his regular nurse—the day nurse—and guesses that she is middle-aged, heavier, and used to her work, as she does it briskly. Joe can tell when a new nurse comes on duty because he can feel her take off his sheet, look at him for the first time, and then cry or even leave the room to be sick. All these observations help Joe organize his new universe. Now that he can keep time, he makes sure to imagine himself taking a walk in the woods outside Paris on every Sunday afternoon.
Joe thinks of Kareen, as he left her when she was nineteen. Thinking of her is the only time he becomes homesick and wishes he were in an American hospital. Joe knows that he cannot even be identified as an American. Joe decides that he is probably among Englishmen, as he was stationed next to a regiment of "Limeys" when he was hit.
Joe remembers the strangeness of the Englishmen, especially one Scottish man who refused to fight the Germans once he learned that there were Bavarians fighting with them (Scotland had a connection to Bavaria through Crown Prince Rupert of the Stuart line). To Joe's surprise, the Englishmen did not shoot the Scotchman; instead, they merely transferred him to another location where there were no Bavarians fighting.
Joe remembers a day when the Englishmen glimpsed a German soldier stumbling blindly out in the open and decided to shoot at him. The soldier was killed, but he remained hanging on the barbed wire not far from the English regiment's trenches. The dead German began to smell, so an English corporal passing through the area ordered the regiment's leader, Corporal Timlon, to bury the German. Timlon did bury the German, but then the area was shelled and the buried German resurfaced, hanging on the barbed wire again.
At this point, the Englishmen named the German man "Lazarus." The colonel came back through and ordered Lazarus buried again, this time with a full Church of England funeral service said over the body. Corporal Timlon obeyed and was shot in the rear end while reading the service. Several days later, however, the German body resurfaced again after shelling, and the Englishmen opened fire on the body. Shortly afterward, a young subaltern assigned to the English regiment snuck out on his first night patrol and stumbled into the body of Lazarus. The young Englishman went permanently mad and was sent to a mental hospital. Joe imagines swapping minds with the young Englishman, who is probably no longer using his healthy body.
Johnny Got His Gun continues to be paced peculiarly. An undefined amount of time passes between Chapter x and Chapter xi, while one year passes between Chapter xi and Chapter xii; the chapters themselves proceed at pace. In Book I, we see Joe struggle to keep his sanity and to assert his consciousness against the onslaught of memories. Joe learns to recognize that he is remembering memories, not reliving them, and he learns to recognize the difference between sleeping and waking hours. The establishment of these mental boundaries allows Joe to feel like a conscious, thinking being again. Book II charts Joe's progress as a conscious, thinking being as he tries to organize his mental world.
The shift from a preoccupation the past to a focus on the future that happens between Book I and Book II also happens on a smaller scale within Chapter xi. Joe begins the chapter attempting to fill up his mental life with lessons remembered from his youth—mathematics, grammar, literature, religion. But Joe ultimately realizes that he never learned enough to make this mode of preoccupation worthwhile. Instead, he looks forward, deciding to try to teach himself new things. He works first on the project of telling time. Instead of trying to fill up the empty space of his time, he works to divide that time up into measurable segments.
In Chapter xii, Joe's internal world begins to come alive with details from the external world. He has also gained greater control over his memories. Instead of letting them wash over him while he is in a semiconscious state, Joe measures them out, using them to fill time, as with his repeated Sunday afternoon walks in the woods outside of Paris. Sometimes, he uses his memories to rehearse a story line, as with the memory of Lazarus.
The story about Lazarus begins as a tale of how different Joe considers the English to be, but it ends with Joe declaring solidarity with the young English subaltern: "wherever you are we have lots in common we are brothers." The Lazarus story again raises the idea of the decay and disgustingness encountered during war—a theme also touched on by Joe's rat story and dream in Chapter vii. The subaltern and Joe are not "brothers" because they were fighting together against the Germans, rather because they are both victims of the overwhelming bodily horrors of war. In fact, the Lazarus story emphasizes the fact that solidarity does not necessarily fall along battle lines: the Scotsman feels more solidarity with the Bavarians against whom he is fighting than with the English with whom he was fighting. Joe's story stresses the foreignness of the English regiment while creating sympathy for the wandering German, who is arbitrarily shot down and becomes "Lazarus." Solidarity in battle is not created by recognition of allies and enemies, but instead by mutual experience and recognition of the bodily horrors of war.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Johnny Got His Gun!