Johnny Got His Gun | Study Guide

Dalton Trumbo

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Johnny Got His Gun | Quotes


It wasn't your fight Joe. You never ... knew what the fight was all about.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 2

As Joe lies in his hospital bed, he realizes he's been mutilated on behalf of a cause he never understood. This quote introduces the concept that the "big" guys—the powerful people who stand to benefit from wars—make up slogans to get young men like Joe to enlist for a war whose real purpose is kept hidden from them. Joe can't think of any reason he should have fought in the war because it had nothing to do with him.


Why don't they take him out and shoot him while there's still something worthwhile in him?

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 4

Joe has become aware of the extent of his war injuries and reflects that it would be a mercy to be killed now rather than sentenced to years trapped in his mind and in his "prison" of a body. As the events of the novel will show, however, Joe will be denied the dignity of death because medical science considers him to be alive.


It didn't matter [who] the rat was gnawing on ... [the] real enemy was the rat ... fat and well fed.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 7

The rat is a symbol of the "big" guys, the warmongers who gnaw away at the bodies and lives of the men they send to war. They are fat and comfortable even while they send young men to sacrifice for them, to be wounded, or to die in their war. They need war because like rats they must constantly have bodies to gnaw at and feed on. Joe realizes that these warmongers, not the young soldiers he has been sent to kill, are the real enemy.


The garden was ... his father's way of creating ... of being an artist.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 9

The garden here is a symbol of creativity and and ingenuity. It transforms a man, a "failure," into an artist whose creation keeps his family self-sufficient. It also symbolizes innocence, the place that can keep the outside world at bay in the way the Biblical Garden of Eden was at first a haven for the sinless Adam and Eve.


[They had] all these things yet his father was a failure [who] couldn't make any money.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 9

Joe's father is considered a failure because he earns very little money. Society—the "big" guys—equates success with money, period. The concept of failure is important to the story because the same "big" guys who start wars also set the standards that determine the worth of ordinary people like Joe's father. Joe's dad is kind, creative, and capable, but he's considered a nonentity by the powerful men who make the rules about status and the value of human beings.


They died ... sighing for life. They knew what was important ... life was everything.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 10

Joe knows the soldiers who died at war were not thinking of propaganda, of patriotic slogans or social or political principles, at the moment of death. They were thinking they wanted to live. This quote is the author's moving statement that life is far more important than anything else. Nothing—no war—is more important than living a real life.


What a hell of a thing what a wonderful beautiful thing to wiggle your toes.

Joe Bonham, Book 1, Chapter 5

Joe's thought vividly captures the essence of living a real life, of having a body and senses that function and allow you to do even the most seemingly trivial things. The simplest act most everyone takes for granted would be a miracle for Joe. Tragically, his mind is acute enough for him to recognize the magnitude of his loss of movement.


His mind was the only thing left ... he had to find something to use it for.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 11

Joe experiences a turning point in Book 2 as he realizes he must use his mind for some purpose or else go insane. This realization leads to his efforts to use his mind to calculate time. Readers see how agile Joe's mind is even though it's almost completely divorced from his body. If Joe can situate himself in worldly time, then he'll feel more connected to the world, and his mind will be more engaged and active.


It never occurred to her there was a mind, an intelligence ... behind the rhythm of his head.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 14

This quote speaks to the way most people relate only to appearances, unable to recognize the humanity within a grotesque exterior. The nurse sees only the truncated body and missing face. She cannot get beyond these deformities, the outward appearance, to understand that there's a functioning mind in a living human, behind Joe's horrific surface.


One stump of a body [would show] the difference between war [in] newspaper headlines and ... war fought out lonesomely in mud.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 19

As an exhibit in a freak show, Joe's body would sever the connection between the propagandistic, misleading headlines about war that the public reads and the reality of war as it is fought. Joe's body would, instead, force people to see the consequences of war, the truth of what it can do to the body. The quote underscores one of Trumbo's themes, that wars are never described as they are experienced but only in patriotic headlines proclaiming falsehoods. Newspaper headlines brainwash the public into supporting war because they never show the reality of war.


I used to be a consumer ... I've consumed more shrapnel and gunpowder than any living man.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 19

In this quote the author uses verbal irony, with the pun on consumer, and sarcasm to pillory the American consumerism. Here the concept of consumerism is turned on its head. Joe says he was a normal American consumer but then shockingly reveals that his consumerism involved his body absorbing, or consuming, the output of the weapons of war.


Don't give us trouble you are beyond life [and] death ... you're finished forever goodnight goodbye.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 20

This is how Joe interprets the man's reaction to his communication via Morse code. Joe realizes the man, like all the "big" guys, just wants to ignore him because his message threatens the status quo that keeps war profiteers in power. Thus those in power refuse to view Joe as a human being and abandon him to his lonely fate.


He would keep on tapping. He would not let them ... bury him alive.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 20

Joe will not give up his attempts to communicate. Even though he at last realizes no one will take him seriously or do anything to help him, he's determined to continue tapping out his message about the causes and consequences of war. Maybe no one will listen, but he will continue to bear witness to the truth.


He was the future ... and they were afraid to let anyone see what the future was like.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 20

Joe realizes his condition represents the future of all those who fight in all future wars. He wants to use his horribly dismembered body to show others what war can do to a person. Yet Joe is also keenly aware that the "big" guys—those who start wars for their own benefit—cannot let this truth be known, cannot allow him to be seen. Joe will never be allowed to reveal what he knows because it would undermine the goals of those who have always been more powerful than he is.


You plan the wars you masters of men ... and point the way and we will point the gun.

Joe Bonham, Book 2, Chapter 20

Joe expresses his ideal for a future in which the "little" guys will stop fighting the "big" guys' wars. He is telling the "big" guys that they risk revolution if they start more wars that "little" guys are intended to fight. In this quote Joe says the working class will recognize the "big" guys as the real enemy. The underdogs will wise up, exercise their political power, and point their guns at the warmongers, who are the real enemy.

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