Dalton Trumbo Harold Strauss - Essay

Harold Strauss

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Johnny Got His Gun"] is a tour de force which derives its intense but morbid interest not from any of the common allurements of fiction, but from the unraveling of an unusual physical and psychological puzzle. The solution is one of considerable brilliance and probability, and it holds the reader engrossed. This view of his book may surprise Mr. Trumbo, for there is evidence that he intended the novel as a passionate jeremiad against war, and as a dramatization of the sufferings that must come in its wake. But regardless of Mr. Trumbo's intentions, one soon forgets that Joe Bonham was blasted out of a dugout in France in 1918, and remembers only his tremendous struggle to return to the world of the living….

The story is told through Joe's stream-of-consciousness…. His mind is driven inward upon itself, seeking occupation, and in a mood of tenderness and sorrow he undertakes a recherche du temps perdu….

But soon the possibilities of recollection are exhausted. Without conscious intent to find a new occupation, Joe finds himself possessed by a fierce desire to measure the passing of time. Cleverly he weaves strands of evidence together—the changing temperatures of day and night, the regular visits of nurses. Only one thing remains—to communicate with a human being. The particulars of this achievement and the tragic irony of the response which he receives form a harrowing climax to a harrowing book. The inhumanity of that response is one small bit beyond the borders of belief. Yet there can be no question of the effectiveness of this book, nor that it tells a story such as has never before been told.

Harold Strauss, "The Body Maimed," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1939 by The New York Times Company; copyright renewed © 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 10, 1939, p. 7.