Dalton Trumbo – Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo – Johnny Got His Gun

The protagonist wakes up to find that he cannot see or hear. He is unable to move beyond slightly wiggling his body, but he is not paralyzed. He soon figures out he has also lost both arms and both legs. He cannot walk, or hold or touch anything. He can feel that he is also missing his nose and most of his jaw. He cannot smell, taste, eat, or speak. He is being fed through a tube, and can feel that his face is being hidden by a mask. It sometimes itches, but he cannot scratch it, or ask anyone else to. He does not remember how he got wounded. His last memories are of combat during World War I, but doesn’t remember being in imminent danger before waking up.

The whole book is his train of thought as he figures out his situation. He oscillates between wakefulness and dreams—most vividly when he feels the pain of his still-healing side wound being gnawed at by a furry, wriggling rat. The pain, helplessness, and terror he felt seemed absolutely real. But he later believes this was just a dream, and sticks to that story.

Now and then he thinks back to his childhood and teenage years in Colorado. He once accidentally broke his father’s prized fishing rod as a boy. His father, a good man, took it well and soothed the child’s dread. When he grew old enough to work, he took to outdoor jobs a long train ride away, and met a girl he wanted to marry, taking the train back home to visit her when he could sneak away.

He has no way of telling whether weeks, months, or even years have passed in his new state. He does not what country he is in. France? England? Somewhere back in America? He does not know if his family knows what happened to him, if they have visited, or if his girlfriend has moved on. He does not know if his body was able to be identified. He learns to tell by feeling vibrations from footsteps when nurses come and go, and can even tell them apart by gait.

Near the end of the book he learns to communicate in Morse code by nodding his head in dots and dashes, and feeling dot-and-dash pats in response on his torso. His doctors or nurses, or whoever is looking after him, inform him they cannot do what he asks, because it would be against regulations.

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