Johnny Got His Gun

by: Dalton Trumbo

Chapters xvii–xviii

Summary Chapters xvii–xviii

Joe's remembered version of the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus contains modern, realistic detail. The most important departure from the original story, however, is Joseph's and Mary's growing fear as the truth of Jesus' destiny and their destinies begins to bear down upon them. This retelling evokes Joe's own feelings about his participation in the war. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are portrayed as a happy family who do not experience fear until the outside world encroaches upon their life, just as Joe was happy until the worldly events of the war interfered. In the same ways that Joe believes that abstract words like "liberty" are not worth the price of losing one's life, he imagines Joseph and Mary seemingly ignoring the abstract honor of their son's destiny and fearing for Jesus' suffering to come. The retelling is also prescient about the precondition of suffering to the position of prophet and savior: Mary seems to know that Jesus will undergo much suffering before becoming the Messiah. In this way, Chapter xvii foreshadows Joe's image of himself as a "new messiah" in Chapter xx because of his extensive suffering.

The narrative of Chapter xviii brings us to euphoric heights with Joe so that the anticlimax of the nurse's return with a single man and his terse question—"WHAT DO YOU WANT?"—appear devastating. Joe's ecstatic vision of himself as having risen from the dead, or having been reborn, is undercut by the lack of similar wonder in on the part of the nurse and the man she brings back with her. The man instead treats Joe with the disinterest that accompanies everyday events. The tone of the question, revealed in the man's aggressive tapping, could also suggest that Joe's consciousness is not unknown to the man, and that others see Joe's assertion of that consciousness as bothersome.