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Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

February 6, 2017

Exploring an unusual perspective, Dalton Trumbo writes an uncommon anti-war novel that poses questions we, or at least I, never thought to ask: Why have we fought the wars we have? I think everyone has a different answer. This book explores the mind of a young man who was severely wounded in battle, and finds one way to address part of the question.

A young man named Joe gets his arms, legs, and face blown off during World War I, leaving him without ears, eyes, a nose, or a mouth. He doesn’t know where he is and, with nobody to talk to, hear, see, and nothing to taste ( he’s fed through a tube), he’s completely alone with only his consciousness for company. His mind wanders to all the memories of his past: happy ones and dark ones. He continually imagines what it would be like to see his loved ones again.

Trumbo incorporates Joe’s life into his memories, which I appreciated because then I could get to know the character and not just his thoughts. He makes readers feel as though they’re in Joe’s position: a man stuck in a place that’s nothing like life—and feels so close to death. Trumbo helps his readers imagine darkness until you die, never to see, hear, talk to anybody ever again—nothing to taste or touch. He describes all of Joe’s emotional changes from panic to joy, and the realization that obviously he can’t get new body parts, so he must use what he has. Trumbo takes his audience on a journey to the realities of war and all its consequences.

Trumbo disguises his powerful, but intriguing, anti-war protest with an even better story. When reading this novel, I couldn’t help but think back to past wars and also current events. He wrote in a way that I could see Joe change: for example, by starting to treasure his memories instead of blocking them out, and thinking of how to use what he has, rather than panicking about it. Johnny Got His Gun is based around a simple theme: the complicated reasons we fight wars and the powerful effects they have. This famous book was made into a movie that Trumbo directed, which I haven’t had the chance to see yet. It was also a National Book Award winner.

Johnny Got His Gun is an amazing read that will interest lots of readers looking for a different perspective. I highly recommend this powerful novel.


Lyle Stuart, Inc. 243 pages.

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