Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun Suffering

By Dalton Trumbo


One of the things that Joe dwells on a lot during the course of Johnny Got His Gun is how he is worse off than if he were dead. His suffering doesn't necessarily take the form of physical pain, but he's trapped in a state of loneliness, isolation, and immobility, and he's unable to communicate with anyone as result from his physical condition.

It's a bad situation, all right, but as Joe himself points out, there are all kinds of suffering caused by war. Even though Joe insists that his case is special, and that it can't get much worse than what has happened to him, you should try to think about what exactly it is about Joe's suffering that allows him to be a spokesperson for all those dead, maimed, and otherwise hurt in war.

Questions About Suffering

  1. What causes Joe to suffer most? Is it his physical condition, his isolation, the reason (or lack of thereof) why he has been wounded, or something else?
  2. How does Joe's situation change his attitude toward war?
  3. Joe isn't the only one who suffers in the novel. How does the suffering of other characters affect how we view Joe, or how Joe views himself?
  4. Joe has come to stand in for veterans who feel that they have been left isolated or helpless. How might someone suffering less catastrophic wounds than Joe still relate to his experiences in the novel?

Chew on This

In the novel, Joe says more than once that death is better than suffering. At the same time, he says that the only thing soldiers want right before they die is to keep living. These two arguments are not contradictory.

Joe's suffering is more psychological than physical.

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