Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Mortality

By Dalton Trumbo

Mortality

Did you know that the original title of Johnny Got His Gun was All Quiet on the Western Front and Zombies?

Yeah, that's because it wasn't. But we would still like to point out that as a self-proclaimed specimen of the living dead, Joe is just one small step away from total zombiehood. Fortunately, he has no teeth.

But seriously, folks, how many times does poor Joe compare himself to a dead man? Or lament the fact that he's neither living nor dead? The line between being dead and being alive is pretty blurred in this novel, and Joe's attitude toward life and death is similarly complex: he sees death as absolute and final and puts a premium on life and living, but he still considers himself unlucky to not have been killed.

Questions About Mortality

  1. How would the novel be different if Joe were dead and narrating to us from beyond the grave? Why is it important that Joe is alive?
  2. Joe sees both death and severe physical trauma as equally reprehensible outcomes of war. How do death and physical trauma figure structurally in the novel? Does Trumbo treat them in the same way or differently? Does one get more attention than the other? Why?
  3. How are we supposed to feel about the fact that Joe both wants to live and wants to die?
  4. By the end of the novel, does Joe come to any conclusion as to whether it is better off for someone like him to be dead or alive? What implications does this have for the novel's message?

Chew on This

The fact that Joe is still alive at the end of the novel (and will probably live for a while afterwards) complicates our view of death by forcing us to consider that sometimes suffering and isolation is tantamount to death.

Johnny Got His Gun is a book that is read by the living about the dead. We can only begin to comprehend the book's message when we consider what exactly it means to be dead, or to have died.

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