Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Chapter 19

By Dalton Trumbo

Chapter 19

  • Joe is disappointed by this unexpected question and realizes that he hasn't actually considered what it is that he wants because he never thought that he break through to someone.
  • Joe starts to think that maybe they're not asking him what he wants, but what they could give him; after all, it's not as though Joe would ask for an ice cream cone, or for a new silk shirt, or to go to the movies.
  • So what's the next best thing? Joe wants to get out and to be a part of mankind again.
  • Joe wants to tap out that he feels like a prisoner, and that they've no right to keep him there, but then he realizes that he doesn't have the means or the money to take care of himself outside of a military hospital.
  • Joe remembers a freak show he went to once, where a man turned to stone. He thinks that maybe he could be an educational exhibit about war. Joe takes to this idea: he wants to be a symbol that can show people what war is really about.
  • Joe starts to tap. He taps faster as his idea grows. He imagines them putting him in a glass case and taking him to beaches and to county fairs and so on. He'd be like no freak show anyone had ever seen, because he would be the man who is both alive and dead, the man who made the world safe for democracy.
  • Joe asks to be taken to every country house as an exhibit of something that will never grow but will also never die and decay.
  • Joe asks to be taken to places where people work. There, he'll tell people to start a war, because that will make prices and wages go up. It'll be win-win, he'll explain: if they don't get drafted they can make more money, and if they do then they may come back like Joe without a need for shoes or glasses or shirts. Um, haha?
  • Joe asks to be taken to schools to show the children what they can be when they grow up. They can grow up into big strong men and women, and they can die for their country. Or they can come back like Joe.
  • Joe tells them that he is the soldier they've been waving flags for, but now they're too scared to come near him. He comes up with some morbid nursery rhymes, too. (He's a bit overexcited, in case you can't tell, but hey, it's the first time he's been able to talk in, like, years.)
  • Joe asks to be taken to the universities and shown to the girls as their father and their son. He imagines them being told to kiss his face and having to wipe their lips afterwards. To the young men he will be their brother and best friend. He will be living tissue like in a science experiment, but with a brain whose secrets remain locked. He will be an example of their futures.
  • Joe asks to be taken to parliaments and congresses where they talk about making the world safe for democracy, where they talk about trade policies and embargos and markets and who the next Germany is and weapons and alliances. When they come to vote on whether or not to send the little guys to kill each other, someone will point to Joe's glass case on the speaker's desk and say that this is the only issue they are voting on. If they are against killing and mutilating people, let them vote. If they are for killing and mutilating people, let them be drawn and quartered.
  • Finally, Joe asks to be taken to churches and placed on the altars so that God can look down on his murderous children—and at a man who wasn't lucky enough to die on a cross. Joe knows the truth; it's the rest of the world that doesn't.

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