Dalton Trumbo’s third novel was both innovative and difficult to write. The entire book is set in the mind of one character who can recall people from his past in vivid detail but is unable to describe visitors to his hospital room except through the sensation of touch. As Bonham himself realizes, he is more a symbol than a man, but Trumbo successfully uses a range of human experiences to make Bonham believable, fully developed, and able to grow despite his extraordinary circumstances.
Joe Bonham is not simply an “everyman” but is drawn from Trumbo’s own experiences. The character was named after Trumbo’s father, Orus Bonham Trumbo, and Bonhams’s youthful memories of Shale City, Colorado, and Los Angeles were based on Trumbo’s years in Grand Junction, Colorado, and his nine years as a night worker in a Los Angeles bakery. Trumbo uses these settings to establish Bonham’s essentially innocent past, and the flashbacks not only tell what life was like in a small town but also reveal what it was like to be Joe Bonham before the war. One important passage in the bakery focuses on José, an honorable Puerto Rican, whose attempts to lose his job are more than an anecdote to help flesh out Bonham’s education. José is a strong, solitary loner whose strength prefigures Bonham’s own forced exile as a silent, solitary hero. Other characters also act as contrasts between past and present. For example, Coreen’s repeated pleas for Joe not to leave...
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