Johnny Got His Gun

Last updated
Johnny Got His Gun
First edition
Author Dalton Trumbo
CountryUnited States
Genre Anti-war novel
PublishedSeptember 3, 1939
J. B. Lippincott [1]
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages309 [1]

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war novel written in 1938 by American novelist, and later blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, and published in September 1939 by J. B. Lippincott. [1] The novel won one of the early National Book Awards: the Most Original Book of 1939. [2] A 1971 film adaptation was written for the screen and directed by Trumbo himself.

Dalton Trumbo American screenwriter and novelist

James Dalton Trumbo was an American screenwriter and novelist who scripted many award-winning films including Roman Holiday, Exodus, Spartacus, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. One of the Hollywood Ten, he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry. He, along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten and hundreds of other industry professionals, was subsequently blacklisted by that industry.

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW) is an imprint of the publishing conglomerate Wolters Kluwer. Under the LWW brand, Wolters Kluwer publishes scientific, technical, and medical content such as textbooks, reference works, and over 275 scientific journals. Publications are aimed at physicians, nurses, clinicians, and students.

<i>Johnny Got His Gun</i> (film) 1971 anti-war drama movie directed by Dalton Trumbo

Johnny Got His Gun is a 1971 American drama anti-war film written and directed by Dalton Trumbo based on his novel of the same name, and starring Timothy Bottoms, Kathy Fields, Marsha Hunt, Jason Robards, Donald Sutherland and Diane Varsi. It was based on the novel of the same title by Trumbo, and features an uncredited writing collaboration by Luis Buñuel. The film was released on DVD in the U.S on April 28, 2009 via Shout! Factory, with special features.



Joe Bonham, a young American 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 all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Locked-in syndrome nervous system disease that is characterized by complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles except for the ones that control the movements of the eyes

Locked-in syndrome (LIS), also known as pseudocoma, is a condition in which a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for vertical eye movements and blinking. The individual is conscious and sufficiently intact cognitively to be able to communicate with eye movements. The EEG is normal in locked-in syndrome. Total locked-in syndrome, or completely locked-in state (CLIS), is a version of locked-in syndrome wherein the eyes are paralyzed as well. Fred Plum and Jerome Posner coined the term for this disorder in 1966.

Joe attempts suicide by suffocation, but finds that he had been given a tracheotomy that he can neither remove nor control. At first Joe wishes to die, but he later decides that he desires to be placed in a glass box and toured around the country in order to show others the true horrors of war. Joe successfully communicates these desires with military officials after months and months of banging his head on his pillow in Morse code. However, he realizes that the military will not grant his wishes, as it is "against regulations". It is implied that he will live the rest of his natural life in his condition.

Tracheotomy temporary surgical incision into the trachea

Tracheotomy, or tracheostomy, is a surgical procedure which consists of making an incision (cut) on the anterior aspect of the neck and opening a direct airway through an incision in the trachea (windpipe). The resulting stoma (hole) can serve independently as an airway or as a site for a tracheal tube or tracheostomy tube to be inserted; this tube allows a person to breathe without the use of the nose or mouth.

Morse code Transmission of language with brief pulses

Morse code is a character encoding scheme used in telecommunication that encodes text characters as standardized sequences of two different signal durations called dots and dashes or dits and dahs. Morse code is named for Samuel F. B. Morse, an inventor of the telegraph.

As Joe drifts between reality and fantasy, he remembers his old life with his family and girlfriend, and reflects upon the myths and realities of war.

Fantasy (psychology) imagined situation as used in psychology

Fantasy in a psychological sense refers to two different possible aspects of the mind, the conscious, and the unconscious.

Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives or stories that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods or supernatural humans. Stories of everyday human beings, although often of leaders of some type, are usually contained in legends, as opposed to myths.


Joe Bonham

Joe Bonham is the main character. "The novel mainly consists of his reminiscences of childhood and his current struggle to remain sane and, finally, to communicate." [3]

Sanity refers to the soundness, rationality and health of the human mind, as opposed to insanity. A person is sane if they are rational. In modern society, the term has become exclusively synonymous with compos mentis, in contrast with non compos mentis, or insane, meaning troubled conscience. A sane mind is nowadays considered healthy both from its analytical - once called rational - and emotional aspects. Furthermore, according to Chesterton, sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies narrowness and brokenness.

Regular day nurse

"As a caretaker, capable of great humanistic love, the regular day nurse stands apart from the terse medical establishment, represented by the Morse code man, yet is not capable of the perceptive sympathy of the new day nurse." [3]

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. The term was coined by theologian Friedrich Niethammer at the beginning of the 19th century to refer to a system of education based on the study of classical literature. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. It views humans as solely responsible for the promotion and development of individuals and emphasizes a concern for man in relation to the world.

Bill Bonham (Joe's father)

Joe's father, Bill Bonham, courted Joe's mother and raised a family with her in Colorado. "His character comes to stand for Joe's nostalgia for an older way of life." It is also said that Bill passes away (chapter 1) leaving his mother and his younger sisters alone (one aged 13 years, the other aged about 9 years). [3]

Marcia Bonham (Joe's mother)

Joe's mother, Marcia Bonham, was always close to Joe and Bill. She is referenced regularly in the book singing, cooking/baking and playing the piano often.

Kareen (Joe's girlfriend before he leaves for war)

Kareen (who was aged 19 years at the time of Joe's departure) is mentioned throughout the book as Joe floats between reality and fantasy. She and Joe sleep together for the first time (chapter 3) the night before he leaves, with her father's approval.

Diane (Joe's first girlfriend)

Diane is only mentioned in chapter 4. In that chapter it is mentioned that she cheated on Joe with a boy named Glen Hogan. She also cheats on Joe with his best friend, Bill Harper (who told him that she cheated with Hogan).

Bill Harper (Joe's best friend)

Bill Harper warns Joe that Diane has cheated on him with Glen Hogan. Joe, who doesn't believe the news, hits Bill. Joe later finds out Bill was truthful and decides that he wants to renew their friendship. However, he finds Bill and Diane making out at her home and is hurt by both. The end of chapter 4 references how Bill was killed at Belleau Wood.


Joe meets Howie (chapter 4) after his troubles with Diane and Glen Hogan. It seems that Howie was never able to keep a girl in his life, and his girlfriend Onie also cheated on him with Glen Hogan. Joe and Howie decide not only to forget about their girlfriends but also about Glen Hogan. Joe and Howie join a group of Mexicans working on a railroad. However, once Howie receives an apologetic telegram from Onie, the boys decide to return home.


José worked at a bakery with Joe. He was given the job at the bakery through the local homeless shelter. José has many stories that set him apart from the other homeless workers, including the fact that he refused marriage to a wealthy woman. José wanted to work in Hollywood. When the opportunity presented itself to work for a picture company, José purposely gets fired because he feels his own personal honor will not allow him to quit on the boss that gave him his original opportunity.

New day nurse

The new day nurse was the first person to successfully communicate with Joe after his injuries. She moved her finger on his bare chest in the shape of the letter M until Joe signaled that he understood "M". She then spelled out "MERRY CHRISTMAS" and Joe signaled that he understood. The new day nurse then deduced that Joe's head-banging was in Morse Code and fetched someone who knew Morse Code.

Title and context

The title is a play on the phrase "Johnny get your gun", [4] 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. Johnny Get Your Gun is also the name of a 1919 film directed by Donald Crisp. [5]

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 (possibly Ethelbert “Curley” Christian, though he did not suffer severe facial wounds or lose any of his senses 1, 2, 3, and 4 in references). "Though the novel was a pacifist piece published in wartime, it was well reviewed and won an American Booksellers Award in 1940." [6] (It was published two days after the declaration of war in Europe, more than two years before the United States joined World War II.)


Serialized in the Daily Worker in March 1940, [7] the book became "a rally point for the political left" which had opposed involvement in World War II during the period of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. Shortly after the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Trumbo and his publishers decided to suspend reprinting the book until the end of the war. After receiving letters from right-wing isolationists requesting copies of the book, Trumbo contacted the FBI and turned these letters over to them. Trumbo regretted this decision, which he later called "foolish," after two FBI agents showed up at his home and it became clear that "their interest lay not in the letters but in me." [8]


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  2. "1939 Book Awards Given by Critics: Elgin Groseclose's 'Ararat' is Picked as Work Which Failed to Get Due Recognition". The New York Times . New York City: The New York Times Company. February 14, 1940. p. 25 via ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2007).
  3. 1 2 3 "SparkNotes: Johnny Got His Gun: Analysis of Major Characters". Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  4. "SparkNotes: Johnny Got His Gun: Themes, Motifs, and Symbols". Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  5. IMDb profile of 1919 film Johnny Get Your Gun
  6. "SparkNotes: Johnny Got His Gun: Context". Retrieved 2009-08-07.
  7. de Fossard, Fred (March 2015). "A Triumph of Anti-War Literature". Spiked . London, England. Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  8. Trumbo, Dalton (1940). Johnny Got His Gun. New York City: Citadel Press. p. 5. ISBN   978-0553274325 . Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  9. Lendman, Stephen (November 12, 2015). "A Stunning Anti-War Polemic: "Johnny Got his Gun"". Global Research Council . Retrieved June 25, 2018.
  10. 1 2 3 "Johnny Got His Gun, the movie". Retrieved December 30, 2014.
  11. "Johnny si vzal pušku [TV inscenace]". Filmová databáze. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  12. Corwin, Joanna (2009). "Trapped in Myself: 'One' and the Mind-Body Problem". In Irwin, William. Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. p. 180. ISBN   9781405182089.
  13. Harvey, Dennis (October 13–19, 2009). "Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun" (PDF). Variety . Los Angeles, California: Penske Media Corporation . Retrieved December 30, 2014 via maint: Date format (link)
  14. Johnny Got His Gun (DVD of the 1971 film ed.). USA: Shout! Factory. May 26, 2011 [2009]. Retrieved March 16, 2016.

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