Sunday, September 28, 2008

Johnny Got His Gun

Has anyone here read this book? I just started reading it for my ethics class and find it very difficult to follow. It’s not told in linear time. It jumps from one time period to another, back and forth, memory upon memory. There are no smooth transitions between periods and what I’m presuming to be memory. Not sure what it has to do with ethics yet.

It was written by Dalton Trumbo and was originally published in 1939. It’s starts off when a hungover Joe learns his father just died. Then he’s at his home with his mom and sister and all of a sudden he’s floating off deaf in what sounds like a bizarre dream. Then suddenly his dad and mom are dating. Just as suddenly Joe is deaf, bandaged, floating on water (where? No idea), and had his arm cut off. At this point he sounds like he's in the hospital. Then all of a sudden he’s with his girl just before he goes to war to fight the Germans. I keep thinking I missed something as I’m reading and I’m only on page 36. I’m sure this will all begin to make sense after another 30 pages or more.

The book is a National Book Award Winner and is supposed to be Trumbo's most highly acclaimed work, according to the back cover. So, if you’ve read it or know anything about Johnny Got His Gun, please feel free to comment on it. I would love to hear what you think.


FranIAm said...

Let's see- I am 50, almost 51 and I read that book when I was about 14, so a lot of my recollection is weak.

I do recall that it was very, very confusing.

I also recall that it put the horror of war deep in my heart as Vietnam raged on.

Not much- it is all I have for you.

I will be most interested in what you end up finding in the book.

susan s. said...

I believe there is a movie of this. I'm not sure now that I think about it, but I will look it up. If I am wrong I'll let you know.

The Lovely Mona said...

Wow! You read it at 14. Thanks for sharing. I can't imagine reading this and knowing someone you care about is in a war. My brother was in Vietnam when I was in high school. Maybe the whole point of the book is to help people see the horror of war and look for peaceful means to settle differences.

We're starting our unit on war Tuesday. We're going to read "Islam and War, then about capital punishment. We even get to watch "Dead Man Walking."

I'm interested in hearing what my professor has to say about it.

The Lovely Mona said...

Susan, you're right. It came out in 1971 with Timothy Bottoms as Joe. Guess who was the director? Author Dalton Trumbo.

susan s. said...

Stick with it, Mona. It is a back and forth kind of book. Surely soon it will be clear to you what is happening. You are going in the right direction as Fran has indicated. I'm glad you are grown and reading it. I can't imagine how hard it would be to read at 14.

There is a movie that was made in 1971 that was directed by Trumbo. That's all I will tell you.

The Lovely Mona said...

I just remembered I had seen a movie about a quaduple amputee once. (I had to look it up on It was confussing to me back then. Now I'm wondering if the whole ethics discussion will be should you keep a person who has been so critically and horrifyingly injured alive?

Jane R said...

Never read it but know the story. Powerful. If you really need a guide, you can Google "Johnny Get Your Gun Trumbo" and a Wikipedia article which is pretty accurate will show up. Though you'll probably figure it out.

My take on it is that the ethics issue is on at least a couple of different levels - but you may have a different perspective. Keep us posted.

Caminante said...

I read it about age 14-15. My father, a WWII, vet was absolutely horrified and said I really shouldn't read it. When I finished, I understood why: he had seen in the war, people like the main character, quadruple amputee with their faces blown off, nothing left except a torso, soul and brain.

The Lovely Mona said...

Caminante - that is absolutely horifying. There were some horrible scenes in "Independent Media in a Time of War" that I had to watch for class. They included blackend arms and legs that you just know had to be amputated because they were burned completely.

The Lovely Mona said...

I forgot to say many of the victims that were shown in "Independent Media in a Time of War" were children who now amputees.

susan s. said...

I just noticed that you and I cross posted yesterday. Well almost. I guess I just missed your entry above mine or I was googling, or something.

Susan Hedges
(From St. Mark's, Berkeley)

it's margaret said...

i read this book --loved it in an awful way. Very moving.

Dalton was blacklisted because of this book. McCarthy era stuff.

I was so moved, I tried to find and call Dalton--found his son and spoke to him a while. Interesting....

I think the ethics have to do with war, care of the injured, patriotism --you can name it, it's in there.

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