Dara Salley's Reviews > Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
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's review
Jan 24, 2011

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Read from May 18 to 24, 2014

My copy of this novel came with two introductions, by Cindy Sheehan and Ron Kovic, which gave me an idea of its place in history. It has become a rallying call for anti-war activities and disillusioned soldiers. It was written about World War I, but it is relevant to all wars, American and global. It contrasts the glee and celebration with which the civilian population greets the war with the horrific aftermath. The protagonist is a man who was drafted and went thoughtlessly to war. As a result of his catastrophic injuries, he is unable to move or communicate. He has leisure to reflect on the war and his part in it. His threat to the powers that be, “You plan the wars you masters of men, plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun.” sum up his attitude.

I thought the majority of the book was fairly mediocre. It is split into two sections and at the end of each section there is an essay on the insanity and stupidity of war. Those essays are where the book shines. The words are as inspiring as a speech by Martin Luther Kind or Churchill. It’s a call to action the stirred my heart and made me sit up and read aloud.

The rest is not as interesting. I mentioned Joe Bonham’s traumatic injuries. He is a quadriplegic and his face was blown off. He cannot see, speak, hear or move. Trumbo explores what it might be like to live in such total isolation. It’s an interesting thought, but it doesn’t gel with the anti-war theme of the novel. It feels like a separate book. There are also nostalgic memories of Joe’s pre-war life. They are meant to be poignant, but I could do without them. There are many other, more skilled authors who address the subject of American nostalgia. I won’t dispute the iconic status of this book. It has an important message that it delivers passionately. I think it might have been better as a short essay; Trumbo is just a weak narrative writer.

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Reading Progress

05/18/2014 marked as: currently-reading
07/07/2014 marked as: read

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