Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun The Rat

By Dalton Trumbo

The Rat

Ah, the rat. Even though he likes to eat, he's not the fat and friendly kind (yes, we just ruined Ratatouille for you forever):

It didn't matter whether the rat was gnawing on your buddy or a damned German it was all the same. Your real enemy was the rat and when you saw it there fat and well fed chewing on something that might be you why you went nuts. (7.29)

Nicely put, Joe. If we were intent on ruining literature, we might translate this statement into something like: "Don't hate the player; hate the game." But we're not. So we won't.

Basically, the rat is like a furry little land-vulture: he profits off of other peoples' destruction. The more people who die, the fatter he gets—and Joe himself is like a constantly regenerating all-you-can-eat buffet.

But for Joe, the rat also represents something very, very specific.

First of all, let's notice how the rat doesn't seem to discriminate between sides: he just up and eats everyone. Second, Joe and the other soldiers hate the rat more than they hate their supposed enemies; in fact, they hate the rat so much that they'll even fight it to defend those enemies. These guys don't want to see anybody eaten up by the rat; the rat is the real enemy.

But before we get to what the rat represents, let's take a closer gander at what Joe says about the rat "chewing on something that might be you." Imagine you're, you know, watching a rat munch on the dead face of a Prussian officer. Seeing that makes you understand that at any moment, that rat could be chowing down on the grade-A meat of your own mug.

Think about that. At any time, you might be the rat's next dinner.

All right. So based on everything we've just said, who is this rat? The short answer: it's the people who get fat off the spoils of war. Who gets fat off of war? There's no simple answer, but try these for size:

  • People who are in control of industries that are particularly important during wartime, like weapons, artillery, textiles, food, steel, airplanes… basically, a lot of industries (see what Joe says in 19.18 about prices going up during a war).
  • Politicians looking to increase their country's sphere of influence (see what Joe says in 19.25).

We totally smell a rat. Could there be more?

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