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Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Johnny Got His Gun (original 1939; edition 1984)

by Dalton Trumbo

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2,642482,263 (4.17)122
Title:Johnny Got His Gun
Authors:Dalton Trumbo
Info:Bantam (1984), Edition: Reissue, Mass Market Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, read

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Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (1939)


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I agree with Lisa B. I read this book 31 yrs ago and it still haunts me.This book makes you think and re-evaluate your own thoughts and opinions. You may or may not change those opinions but this book will touch you.I do feel this is a must read for all teens. ( )
  LauGal | Aug 16, 2016 |
A sad, poignant anti-war novel like no other, it is also one of the most powerful. The movie is pretty good too. Responsible for getting Dalton Trumbo put on the black list during the McCarthy era. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Joe Bonham is a wounded veteran of World War I. [Johnny Got His Gun] is his story.

Joe was born to Bill and Margie Bonham in Shale City, Colorado, and he lived there with his family through his teenage years. He liked camping and fishing with his father. His life was largely uneventful. In high school, he had a girl friend named Diane. His best friend, Bill Harper, tattled on Diane for dating Glen Hogan, when she also cheated on Joe by dating Harper. After Joe's father died, he moved with his mother and two younger sisters to Los Angeles. He got a job in a vast bread bakery, and he found a new love named Kareen. They intend to wed, but their plans are disrupted when Joe is drafted as the U.S. enters the Great War in Europe.

As the novel opens, Joe is feeling unwell, really sick, and he is irritated by the ringing of a distant telephone that no one will answer. Is he hung over? You can't drink enough of that French wine to get THIS hung over, he thinks. Then he recognizes the roaring of the bread ovens and the mechanical noises of the conveyors. He walks past dollies and other equipment to the phone. It is his mother; he must come home because his father's died. His supervisor directs a delivery driver to take him home, and he arrives in time to witness morgue workers carrying his father's body away.

"That's not Bill," he mother tells him. "It may seem like it, but it's not." Bill had died in Colorado several years before, of course. And Joe wonders "why couldn't the goddam phone stop ringing?" He feels things getting "floaty and sticky."

He drifted again. He was hurt. He was bad hurt. The bell was fading. He was dreaming. He wasn't dreaming. He was awake even though he couldn't see. He was awake even though he couldn't hear a thing except a telephone that really wasn't ringing. He was mighty scared.

He remembers reading The Last Days of Pompeii and having nightmares of being entombed by his blankets, dreaming them to be lava. He has that same feeling now and tries to claw his way out of loose ground. And excruciating pain engulfs him. He sweats and the sweat makes him aware of bandages that cover every part of him. Even his head. He's suddenly aware that he can't hear his pulse, though his heart is pounding.

Oh god then he was deaf. Where did they get that stuff about bombproof dugouts when a man in one of them could be hit so hard that the whole complicated business of his ears could be blown away leaving him deaf so deaf he couldn't hear his own heart beat? He had been hit and he had been hit bad and now he was deaf. Not just a little deaf. Not just halfway deaf. He was stone deaf…
So he'd never hear again. Well there were a hell of a lot of things he didn't want to hear again. He never wanted to hear the biting little castanet sound of a machine gun or the high whistle of a .75 coming down fast or the slow thunder as it hit or the whine of an airplane overhead or the yells of a guy trying to explain to somebody that he's got a bullet in his belly and that his breakfast is coming out through the front of him and why won't somebody stop going forward and give him a hand only nobody can hear him they're so scared themselves. The hell with it.

Chapter I draws to a close.

The novel alternates chapters set in Joe's past—experiences in Colorado, his work in the bakery—with those in his isolated present. It is all in what's left of his head, as he recalls his past and contemplates his future, as he struggles to break out of his isolation. He has nightmares, daymares, anytime-mares. He hallucinates of his last hour with his love, Kareen.

"Joe dear darling Joe hold me closer. Drop your bag and put both of your arms around me and hold me tightly. Put both of your arms around me. Both of them."
You in both of my arms Kareen goodbye. Both of my arms. Kareen in my arms. Both of them. Arms arms arms arms. I'm fainting in and out all the time Kareen and I'm not catching on quick. You are in my arms Kareen. You in both of my arms. Both of my arms. Both of them. Both
I haven't got any arms Kareen.
My arms are gone.
Both of my arms are gone Kareen both of them
They're gone.
Kareen Kareen Kareen.
They've cut my arms off both of my arms.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen they've cut off both of them.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen Kareen Kareen my arms.

As best he can, he inventories his body and its conventional parts.

It was a process of feeling with his skin of exploring with something that couldn't move where his mind told it to. The nerves and muscles of his face were crawling like snakes toward his forehead.
The hole began at the base of his throat just below where his jaw should be and went upward in a widening circle. He could feel his skin creeping around the rim of the circle. The hole was getting bigger and bigger. It widened out almost to the base of his ears if he had any and then narrowed again. It ended somewhere above the top of what used to be his nose.
The hole went too high to have any eyes in it.
He was blind.

Calm and mentally quiet, he continues, feeling "just like a storekeeper taking spring inventory… He had no legs and no arms and no eyes and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue." His biology teacher comes to Joe's mind. He had chunks of cartilage that "didn't have anything except life so they grew on chemicals." But Joe was "one up on the cartilage. He had a mind and it was thinking."

He thought here you are Joe Bonham lying like a side of beef all the rest of your life and for what? Somebody tapped you on the shoulder and said come along son we're going to war. So you went. But why?

Joe thinks about those dangerous concept words: Liberty. Freedom. Honor. Decency.

You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else's life…They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead.

All the while, Joe Bonham is trying to figure out a way to communicate with anyone other than himself. He is a part of nurses' routines. He can't tell daylight from night, but he eventually recognizes a regular day nurse from her routine, her touch, the particular vibration of the floor as she moves about the room. Night nurses seem to change regularly. He roughly calculates time and day from the schedule of his care. He is bathed and his bedding is changed every two days. The routine of changing his feeding tube and bodily discharges contribute to his perception of time. He always thinking, always planning. And by the book's end, he can communicate.

So that's Joe's story. Do you still want to put your boots on the ground in the Middle East?
4 vote weird_O | Dec 2, 2015 |
This is one of the most powerful books I have read in a long time. It is the ultimate in indictment of war as it affects the common draftee. Having just finished the audio version of Trumbo by Bruce Cook, I decided that Johnny was a book I could not and should not miss. Well written, it deals with one of the most horrible aspects of war that you can possibly imagine. To say that I enjoyed it is not accurate in the least. This is not a book to be enjoyed. But it is a story that needs to be told over and over again and to anyone and everyone who will listen or read. It is horrifying and touching and nostalgic and claustrophobic and sad beyond measure and enraging. And it is a timeless message. ( )
  enemyanniemae | Nov 24, 2015 |
If you agree with the thinking of the Sheehans you will love this book. Also at the time it was written I can see how it would make a great impact on the country. It is very descriptive and you are right there with him but just not my style.
( )
  Jodeneg | Oct 23, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
"There can be no question of the effectiveness of this book." "Mr. Trumbo sets this story down almost without pause or punctuation and without a fury amounting eloquence."
added by jimcripps | editNew York Times
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He wished the phone would stop ringing.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is a novel, not the film based thereon, nor the screenplay for the film.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0806528478, Paperback)

This was no ordinary war. This was a war to make the world safe for democracy. And if democracy was made safe, then nothing else mattered-not the millions of dead bodies, nor the thousands of ruined lives…. This is no ordinary novel. This is a novel that never takes the easy way out: it is shocking, violent, terrifying, horrible, uncompromising, brutal, remorseless, and gruesome...but so is war.Johnny Got His Gun holds a place as one of the classic antiwar novels. First published in 1939, Dalton Trumbo's story of a young American soldier terribly maimed in World War I-he “survives” armless, legless, and faceless, but with his mind intact-was an immediate bestseller. This fiercely moving novel was a rallying point for many Americans who came of age during World War II, and it became perhaps the most popular novel of protest during the Vietnam era.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:16 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

When Joe, a young American soldier in the Great War, lies helpless in hospital, he wanders back and forth through memories, struggling to retain his sanity and find a foothold in the world all but lost to him.

(summary from another edition)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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