Johnny Got His Gun

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Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war novel written in 1938 (published 1939) by American novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo[3] and published by J. B. Lippincott company.[2]



Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and face, but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body. He tries to die by suffocating himself but he has been given a tracheotomy, which he cannot remove or control. He successfully attempts to communicate with his doctors by banging his head on his pillow in Morse code. At first he wishes to die, but then he decides that he wants to be put in a glass box and tour the country, to show people the true horrors of war. Neither wish is granted, however, and it is implied that he will live the rest of his natural life in this condition.

As he drifts between reality and fantasy, he remembers his old life with his family and girlfriend, and reflects upon the myths and realities of war. He also forms a bond, of sorts, with a young nurse who senses his plight.


Title and context

The title comes from the phrase "Johnny get your gun",[5] a rallying call that was commonly used to encourage young American men to enlist in the military in the late 19th and early 20th century. That phrase was popularized in the George M. Cohan song "Over There", which was widely recorded in the first year of American involvement in World War I; the versions by Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso, and Nora Bayes are believed to have sold the most copies on phonograph records at the time.

Many of protagonist Joe Bonham's early memories are based on Dalton Trumbo's early life in Colorado and Los Angeles. The novel was inspired by an article he read about the Prince of Wales' visit to a Canadian veterans hospital to see a soldier who had lost all of his senses and his limbs. "Though the novel was a pacifist piece published in wartime, it was well reviewed and won an American Booksellers Award in 1940."[6]

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