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‘The new messiah of the battlefields’: The Body as Discursive Strategy in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun

Author:

Wade Bell

University of Gothenburg, SE
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Abstract

This article discusses the discursive significance of the body in Dalton Trumbo’s classic anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun (1939). With its political rants, depictions of working-class life, symbolic imagery, and vivid descriptions of the dismembered torso of its protagonist, the human body emerges in Trumbo’s novel as our primary vehicle for being-in-the-world, as well as the figurative weight that grounds us in it. Following this logic, human freedom and autonomy appear to be curtailed by our own corporeal limitations, coupled with our involvement in a world of oppressive hierarchal systems and reified social relations. Building on the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Mikhail Bakhtin, Georg Lukàcs and others, this study reveals a dialectic at work within Johnny between what can best be described as the phenomenal, reified, and grotesque bodies. While the phenomenal body of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology emphasizes relative autonomy and embodied subjectivity, the reified body represents humankind in a completely objectified state. My analysis illustrates how Trumbo’s text creates a tension between these two conceptions of being, while employing grotesque realism—a subversive literary mode utilizing the degraded image of the body—to inspire change in the real world.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.615
How to Cite: Bell, W., 2020. ‘The new messiah of the battlefields’: The Body as Discursive Strategy in Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 19(5), pp.47–63. DOI: http://doi.org/10.35360/njes.615
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Published on 19 Dec 2020.
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