Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Home

By Dalton Trumbo


They were steaming hot and you put butter inside them and it melted and then you put jam on them or apricot preserves with nuts in the syrup. That was all you wanted for supper although you had to eat other things of course. (2.3)

Sounds familiar, right? This is just one example of how Trumbo creates a sense of nostalgia, using the pronoun "you" as if inviting the reader to remember his or her own memory of doing something similar to this. It's also another way Trumbo tries to make Joe seem familiar to us.

Each Saturday night he tried to beat last Saturday night's time so the sandwiches would be even warmer. (2.6)

Ah, ritual. People love it for a reason, especially when it involves hamburgers. This memory creates a sense of "the way things were," the implication being that what was once a happy tradition is now irrevocably lost.

He remembered that the shows were always good. (2.14)

This is, like, Nostalgia 101. He doesn't even remember what the shows were, just that they were always good. Ah yes, the good old days, when shows were always good. This takes on another meaning, though, when we realize that Joe will never see a show again. Just able to experience a show at all starts to seem like a fantastically good thing.

You were born and raised in the good healthy country of Colorado and you had no more to do with Germany or England or France or even with Washington D.C. than you had to do with the man in the moon. Yet here you are and it was none of your affair. (2.22)

Joe really begins to develop an identity around his boyhood and youth in Colorado. It's clearly where his allegiance lies, rather than in some bigger global idea—or even a national one (even though we know he does miss being in America). Considering that World War I was a war between and about nations, Joe's entire reason for being there begins to seem more and more suspect to him.

Oh Kareen why do they have a war right now just when we find each other? Kareen we've got more important things than war. Us Kareen you and me in a house. I'll come home at night to you in my house your house our house. We'll have fat happy kids smart kids too. That's more important than a war. (3.40)

Joe's not talking about the home of his past here; he's talking about the home that could have been. Joe's "death" doesn't just affect him: it affects an entire family that might have lived. Also, notice how Joe keeps repeating the word "house," almost as if the house were a symbol for family.

He knew it was something that had to happen sometime. Yet he also knew that it was the end of something. It was an ending and a beginning and he wondered just how he should tell his father about it. (9.2)

This is like that awkward moment when you're too old for something and your dad doesn't realize it yet—except it's less awkward and more emotional. Here it represents what we lose as we inevitably get older. Contrast this to the way Joe loses everything so early in his life, way before he would naturally have lost those things.

His mind was wailing I wish to god I was in America I wish I was home. (12.14)

Wishing for home and familiarity is one of the most natural feelings in the world, and here, with Joe injured and extra-isolated, the knowledge of being in any kind of home would be a huge comfort.

He'd never had any particular ideas about America. He'd never been very patriotic. It was something you took without even thinking. But now it seemed to him that if he were really lying in an English hospital he had lost something he could never hope to get back. For the first time in his whole life he felt that it would be a little pleasant a little comforting to be in the hands of his own people. (12.16)

It's a bit ironic that Joe's patriotism comes out not when he was called to go out and fight for his country, but when he finds himself separated from it. Still, Joe seems to have gone off to war out of (enforced?) patriotism; what was the point of going if he didn't really believe in the cause? Why didn't he think harder about it? Did he have the chance to?

She was the Statue of Liberty and Aunt Jemima and the girl-you-left-behind to about a half a million dough-boys in Paris. (14.18)

Foreignness and unfamiliarity get to people, and any little bit of home that they can find suddenly becomes really comforting. Especially if it's a prostitute. Hey, by the way, what does it mean that the symbol of America here is a prostitute? Is there a suggestion that, in Joe's mind, the U.S. did something morally wrong for money and influence when it joined World War I? Is there a difference between the wishes of the American people and the wishes of big guys like politicians in Joe's mind?

It was so warm so secure so comforting to be home on christmas eve to be in a nice room with a good stove to feel somehow that here was a place in the wilderness a place forever safe a place that could never be changed could never be harmed could never be intruded upon. (17.17)

It's ambiguous here whether the reason Christmas Eve can never be changed is because it lives in Joe's memory or because it's a sacred, familiar, and repeated ritual. For Joe, though, it's pretty much all the same, since he's not coming home for Christmas anytime soon.

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