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Johnny Got His Gun Study Guide

Johnny Got His Gun By Dalton Trumbo

It's World War I, and young Joe Bonham is a soldier in service of the USA. He is caught in the blast radius of an exploding artillery shell, and he loses consciousness. Awakening in an army hospital bed, he slowly comes to the horrifying realization that he has no legs, no arms, and no face - but his mind functions perfectly, leaving him trapped in the confines of his own body.

Bonham tries repeatedly to kill himself, but he cannot suffocate. He has been given a tracheotomy and cannot remove the tube or control it's function, so he must live despite his condition.

After four years of this, Joe is amazed to realize that he has visitors. A crowd gathers around him and he feels a weight on his chest. He realizes that he is being given a medal, and gets so upset that he begins to vibrate in his bed. He is furious that the generals and the elite children get to watch war from a distance, whereas poor families' children go to war and end up like he is.

Finally, he begins to desperately seek some control over his life, attempting to communicate with the doctors in Morse Code by banging his head against his bed. He wishes nothing more, he has decided, than to be put on display, to show the people the truth about the horrors of war. He is told, in Morse Code, that his desire is "against regulations".

Joe snaps, no longer paying attention to further Morse Code messages given to him, and repeatedly tapping out "Why? Why? Why?" He has come to realize that he could talk if they let the tracheotomy tube out, but that some outside power doesn't want him to talk.

Bonham finally concludes that they can't afford to let him out, because poor people would stop sending their best and brightest off to get killed and mangled in wars that only benefit the rich and privileged.

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3. In one scene, Joes is able to sense the coming dawn with his skin. Why is this such a significant event for him, and how does it help him retain his sanity?