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In Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, the casualties of World War One are expressed through the eyes of the main character, Joe Bonham. Joe loses his arms, legs, eyes, nose, mouth, and ears after a bomb drops on him while fighting in a war that is, in reality, not his to fight. While laying on a hospital bed, Joe slowly becomes aware that he has lost almost all of his limbs and realizes he would have to adapt to the present circumstances in any way possible. He passes the time by pondering over the lack of communication he is able to convey, and relating his irregularities with the inhuman qualities of war. Although Joe illustrates many different issues that rest upon him, one of the most important topics is the idea of his voice, or lack thereof. Throughout the novel Johnny Got His Gun, Joe tries to bring forward some ideas in which he can communicate with the doctors in the hospital, and hopes it would result in probable acknowledgment from the individuals who are not aware of his consciousness.
Joe realizes that, because he has lost his mouth among many other things, he needs to think deliberately in order to communicate with the outside world. The outcome regarding his decision to fight in the war ultimately meant that his life will be over around the age of twenty. Things being what they are, Joe tries to express his anger but finds he cannot possibly yell or make any other insistent noises. He is unable to converse with anyone but himself, “It was as if someone had pushed a mattress over his face and was holding it there”. He lays helplessly, already being silenced by the absence of his mouth. He uses his loss of sight and hearing to sense when the doctors open the door and enter the room. After being bound to a hospital bed for over four years, Joe concludes that feeling the vibrations from the footsteps of each nurse is an important part of communication. This instinctively brings about memories from when he was a child, and when him and Bill Harper, an old friend, were using an uncommon form of communication. They used Morse code to entertain themselves when they were restricted to certain areas of the house. Joe still reminisces about this code and immediately starts to tap out ‘S.O.S’ with his head. Now, “All he has to do to break through to people…is to lie in bed and dot dash to the nurse”. Joe brings his head up and drops it back on his pillow, tapping again and again, three dots, three dashes, three dots. At last, Joe defeats the odds; the man without a mouth or nose or eyes or ears or legs or arms, would finally be given a voice.
Now that Joe has found in himself a new ability, he feels he has regained an abundant amount of all that was lost. He taps his head over and over with exhilarated satisfaction until his neck grows weary; still, his taps are persistent. When Joe feels the vibrations from the approaching nurse, he taps with more intent and longs for an answer. At first, the doctors do not want to hear from Joe, unaware that he is trying to talk to them using morse code. He thinks the doctors will be happy to hear from him; instead, they dope him to keep him quiet. After some time passses and Joe realizes that he is suddenly surrounded by doctors, he continues to tap his head repeatedly. Once the doctors figure out what he is trying to do, they respond to him by asking, “What do you want”? Rather than ignoring Joe, the doctors ask him a very broad and abrupt question. His answer is not immediate, however, he primarily knows what he wants. He is desperate to go outside so that “he can feel people around him”. This is against hospital regulations, which indicates that Joe will never be permitted to leave his room; consequently, Joe feels discouraged, wondering why they would not respect his desire. Joe is finally given the opportunity to talk, but his voice is swiftly taken away by the doctors, leaving him in solitude and concealment until the day he dies.
Although Joe gets silenced by the doctors and the rules of the government, Dalton Trumbo, the author, expresses his opinions on the substantialness of war through Joe’s thoughts and sentiments. He explains how nothing good comes out of war because, ultimately, nothing is really worth dying for. Joe is not dead, however, he loses most everything that makes him human and is forced to lay in silence. Joe symbolizes what the result of war looks like and is “a perfect picture of the future… if men saw the future they wouldn’t fight”. Dalton Trumbo, through the eyes of Joe, then goes on to explain that if the weapons are provided, the soldiers will point the guns to defend their lives. He exposes the government and industries that “urge them on to battle… who would have one man who works kill another human being who wants only to live”. They plan the wars and point the way, leading the soldiers into execrable and inevitable circumstances. Joe battles for his life and fights for a voice, but is not able to consummate either one because of the predestined consequences of war.
Joe interacts with the doctors after being silent for many years, but does not receive his desired recognition. The weight of the world rested partially on his shoulders during the war. He was a man of peace, forced to fight against those who correlated with the same values as Joe. Subsequently, nothing but tragedy follows, and when he finally reaches out, there are no compelling responses. Not only did the generals of the hospital ignore him, but as well as the government. Joe’s ambitions dwindle, and have no significance to anyone who has the applicable ability to listen. The government has been silencing people for a very long time which, in perpetuity, leaves Joe stranded without a feasible way back to the life he once lived.
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