Study Guide

Joe Bonham's Family in Johnny Got His Gun

By Dalton Trumbo

Joe Bonham's Family

Bill Bonham (Joe's Father)

This dude mostly goes by the name "Joe's father." He also dies at the beginning of the book. But that doesn't stop him from being in many of Joe's memories.

The novel begins with Joe's father dying, so he must be important, right? Especially when we consider that Book I is called "The Dead," and he's our first dead guy. In fact, one of the first direct thoughts we get from Joe is about how his dad was "only fifty-one" (1.14). Joe believes that "[p]eople've got to be quicker and harder these days than you were dad" (1.14). Keep in mind that Joe says this long before he is condemned to a hospital bed for the rest of his life.

Later on, when Joe is remembering his last fishing trip with his father, he even calls his dad a "failure" (9.16). So even though Joe seems to love his father (and from the beginning, it sounds like his dad is a really good guy who provides for his family and is understanding about gaffes like losing an expensive fishing rod), we know that Joe thinks of his father as in some ways sub-par. He aspires to be something more than his father—someone who is quicker and harder and more successful.

Well, that doesn't happen, now, does it? As Joe is made to face his new existence, he seems to dwell particularly on the judgments he once gave his father. He never outright says, "Gee, maybe I was a bit harsh," but we're certainly made to feel that way. Really, calling your father a failure because he's not very rich, and because he died fairly young? Grow up, Joe.

We should point out, though, that Joe's harsh judgment of his father is in line with some of the values of the time. The world's at war, and people are into big ideas about heroism and glory and all that. Yeah, maybe Joe's father doesn't seem like the bee's knees if that's the way you're thinking—but Joe learns the hard way how dangerous this kind of thinking actually is.

Macia Bonham (Joe's Mother)

Macia is Joe's mother. When Joe's father courts her, she plays the piano for him over the telephone. At the time, that was some exciting new technology.

Catherine Bonham (Joe's Sister)

Catherine is the older of Joe's two younger sisters. She appears in the first chapter when Joe's father dies.

Joe says that she "was crying like a woman" (1.11), and he notices that she has been growing up without him realizing it. On the next page, Joe says that he feels a lot older than his father (1.14); later, he also mentions that Kareen, though only nineteen years old, seems "old like an old woman" (3.38).

So there's a lot of emphasis throughout the book on people growing prematurely old and on the inevitable changes that people go through in their lives as they age. Catherine is just one example; Joe's father and Kareen are two others. Premature aging, of course, is similar to premature death—we get the feeling that natural processes have been totally disrupted and altered by the presence of war.

Elizabeth Bonham (Joe's Sister)

Elizabeth is the younger of Joe's two sisters. In most of her appearances, she's asleep.

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