Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun The Good Ol' Days

By Dalton Trumbo

The Good Ol' Days

The flipside of technology is what we're going to call the "Good Ol' Days"—you know, that blissful time before technology, when all people did was lie in grass and eat strawberries, without a care in the world? That's the world of the pastoral, and it makes kind of splash in the flashback sections of Johnny Got His Gun.

Okay, we're exaggerating a bit, but Joe sure does long for the days of childhood in Colorado. Basically, what he's feeling is nostalgia for a way of life where people grew their own vegetables and lived simple lives without the complications of big mean capitalist warfare. Many of us remember our childhoods fondly, but imagine how much more we'd miss those times if we were stuck in the trenches surrounded by the rotting bodies of our friends?

The Good Ol' Days tend to be associated with our youth, because for whatever reason, a lot of us end up thinking that everything was better when you were younger, right? In Joe's youth, a lot of his positive memories tend to center around delicious homegrown goodness, such as:

  • The food that his mother cooks and cans and preserves and bakes on her own (2.1-4).
  • The cornucopia of vegetables that his father grows for the family in his garden on his own (9.10-14).
  • The hamburger guy who sells Joe hamburgers every Saturday (2.6) because there are no corporate chains in good ol' Shale City (mainly because they don't exist yet).

You might have noticed that the memories associated with the Good Ol' Days tend to revolve around the senses (smell and taste are big ones for the novel). Poor faceless Joe, of course, has been thrust into a world where metal bombs deny a person even these, the simplest and most basic of pleasures.

That's one way of measuring the contrast between the pastoral and the technological in Johnny Got His Gun. Considering what Joe says about how he think the future will look (20.28), it's possible that he sees World War I as a catalyst that permanently separates the good ol' days (the past) from an inhuman world governed by technology and warfare (the future).

We've got more to say about this idea, so be sure to take a peek at the "Nostalgia" section under "Tone."

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