Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Chapter 20

By Dalton Trumbo

Chapter 20

  • Joe feels the doctor leave the room. Joe worries that he tapped out the message too quickly, or that he misremembered Morse code. All of his hopes are carried on that message.
  • The doctor comes back and taps on Joe's forehead, "WHAT YOU ASK IS AGAINST REGULATIONS WHO ARE YOU." Hooray for bureaucracy, are we right?
  • Joe makes sure he interpreted the message correctly, and then he wants to wail in pain because he had done nothing wrong and yet the world just wants to forget him.
  • Now that Joe's hope has been utterly crushed, he feels even more condemned to loneliness and darkness than before. What, did you think this was going to end happily?
  • Joe suddenly vows that he must be heard, and he starts tapping again, pleading to be let out.
  • Joe feels the nurse stroking his forehead, and he then feels them rubbing alcohol on his left side in preparation to inject him with morphine. He thinks that they are trying to make him into a madman so that they can ignore his messages.
  • As the dope begins to sink in, Joe sees the vision of Christ in the desert again, and he hears the cry of his mother searching for him. He tries to fight the vision and stay conscious, but his taps become slower and slower, until he is just tapping repeatedly: "Why? Why? Why?"
  • Joe suddenly realizes why. He sees a vision of himself as a new Christ, a messiah who has seen the future of war and battlefields, and lovers parted, and dead and mutilated fathers and sons and mothers and babies, and all manner of messed-up dystopia. Cities are barren, and the only sounds are the mechanical sounds of warfare.
  • Joe realizes that the reason they are suppressing him is that they don't want anyone to see the truth that he possesses. They know that if people see him, they'll question why they should fight in wars.
  • Joe starts to speak for the "little guys" using the pronoun "we," so there's little bit of a shift in narration. He says that from now on, it won't be the little guys—the ones who build dams and make clothes and automobiles and airplanes—who fight the war, but "you," the ones who orchestrate it.
  • The book ends with the declaration that the little guys who work want to live their lives in peace, and if that peace is destroyed to make the world safe for democracy, then they'll take that message seriously and point the guns at the people who try to get them to fight one another.
  • Wow. That's a "moral of the story" moment if there ever was one.

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