Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Freedom and Confinement

By Dalton Trumbo

Freedom and Confinement

Prison sucks in general, but it doesn't get much worse than being a prisoner in your own body, does it? At least, that's what Joe thinks in Johnny Got His Gun. Try this little experiment: next time you're lying in bed, imagine that you can't see, smell, hear, or taste, and then imagine that you can't even move, except to tap out Morse code on your pillow, and that's the way you'll spend your entire life.

Yeah, on second thought, don't even try that.

Any possible recourse for an even semi-normal life has been cut off (sorry) for our poor protagonist, and Trumbo does not let us forget it for an instant. But Joe at least gives it a shot, and while he's on his quest to reenter the world, he thinks a lot about the nature of his confinement, about its irony, and about why exactly it is that he has been "sentenced."

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. Why do you think Joe puts so much emphasis on things like measuring time and communicating?
  2. What do you think is the biggest reason Joe has for wanting to be able to communicate? Are his reasons personal, political, or what?
  3. Why do you think the novel ends the way it does? Is Joe's request to be let out denied for political reasons? Is it because the people in charge don't want the world to see what war has done to Joe?
  4. How do you think Joe will spend the rest of his days after the novel ends?

Chew on This

The nurses and doctors in the novel are not unsympathetic; they're reasonable in their refusal to let Joe out.

It is worse to be dead than it is to be Joe. Alternatively, it's worse to be insane like the Limey subaltern than it is to be Joe.

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