Joe feels as though he is floating in a river, perhaps the part of the Colorado River that ran through Shale City where he would swim as a kid. Joe is floating in the river and thinking about, and then talking to, Kareen. Joe is floating on his back so that he does not drown. He senses Kareen disappearing, perhaps underwater, and then he himself begins to sink. He tries to swim and stick his head above water, but he cannot, as he has no arms. Therefore he lays at the bottom of the shallow river, drowned, looking at the world above water, only a few feet up and yet unreachable.
Joe hears explosions and sees rockets and bombs flash in front of his eyes. Then, suddenly, his pain disappears and his mind is quiet. Joe is grateful for the relief from the pain. He thinks optimistically about the fulfilling life he can still have, even though he is armless and deaf. Joe reasons that he must have imagined himself drowning, as his legs are higher than his upper body. When Joe tries to move his legs, he realizes that he has no legs—they have both been amputated below the hip.
Joe panics and tries unsuccessfully to distract himself from the awful thought of having no legs. He tries to scream in desperation, but he realizes that he has no mouth, no tongue, no palate. Breathing heavily, he realizes that he cannot feel his nose with air coming out of it. Joe figures he is dying, but he wants to discover the extent of the damage to his body before he dies. He works out that a large hole spans from his neck to his forehead, and his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are gone. It dawns on Joe that he is not really living, yet cannot kill himself, cannot die. He mentally calls out for his mother to wake him up and take care of him. Joe panics, “No no no please no.”
Joe remembers working the night shift at the bakery in Los Angeles. Friday nights are particularly busy, so they call down to a local unemployment shelter to get an extra worker for the night. The extra workers always stink of disinfectant from the shelter and usually are not very bright.
One Friday night, a Puerto Rican man named Jose shows up for work. Jose is a good worker. During the break, he talks about how he came to California to find a job at a studio. He left his previous job as a chauffeur for a rich family in New York City after their daughter fell in love with him. The bakery men do not believe Jose, but do not confront him either; they have learned that the stories the men from the shelter tell about themselves are important to the men.
Jose is kept on at the bakery for the following week, and then full-time. One day, Jose comes in with a letter from the daughter of the family he worked for; the other men are surprised to discover he has not been lying. The girl is asking for Joses address so she might come out and marry him with the money she has inherited. To the mens surprise, Jose asks them how best to turn her down politely, as he does not love her.
Joses second problem arises when he finds a day job at a studio. He does not know how to get out of his night job at the bakery, as he is too grateful and indebted to Jody Simmons, the manager, for giving him the job in the first place. The men offer various ways of telling Jody Simmons off, but Jose cannot take their suggestions. Instead, Jose suffers between the two jobs and forty- five minutes worth of sleep.
The third night, Pinky Carson suggests that Jose drop some pies in front of Jody and get himself fired. Jose does this, but Jody forgives him. Pinky then suggests that Jose tip over a whole cart of pies the next night. The next night, the men come to work to find that Jody Simmons has received a mysterious bouquet of roses. When Jose tips over the cart, Jody yells at him and fires him. Jose offers to pay him for the pies, which he later does by mail, and then walks out of the bakery and is never seen again.
Joe awakens from his reverie and still thinks that Jose is with him. Slowly he regains full consciousness and remembers where he is and that he is alone.
It is not until Chapter v that Joe comes into full realization about the extent of his injuries. This slow process of realization—stretched out over five chapters—is a sort of reversal of the bildungsroman genre. The bildungsroman, or novel of formation, tracks the growth of the protagonist, as his character is formed under the impression of various trials that he must face as he moves from childhood to adulthood. In Johnny Got His Gun, we relive Johnnys childhood trials and formative moments only in flashback. The growth the novel tracks turns out to be the growth of Joes realization of the extent of his bodily damage. The growth of Joes consciousness in the novel is matched by the decomposition of his body, resulting in a sort of ironic version of the bildungsroman.
To make Joes difficult progress even more painful, the first five chapters establish a pattern whereby Joe recovers his optimism after each revelation of a faculty he has lost. This motion works as triumph in reverse—another upending of the conventions of the bildungsroman. In Chapter v, we see that Joe overcomes the horror that he has lost his arms and his hearing and simply becomes grateful for the cessation of his pain. But each time Joe reaches emotional stability and peace of mind with his newly discovered state, a new injury is revealed. This pattern allows Johnny Got His Gun to have the dramatic pacing of a typical novel even though all the “action” takes place only within the head of the protagonist.
Chapter vi seems like an interlude, as Joes memory of Jose spans the entire chapter and seems driven by the purpose to tell a story, rather than render a glimpse of an impressionistic memory. Indeed, the story of Jose serves as a sort of parable, highlighting the novels concern with styles of social interaction and respect. Jose is a figure of courtesy and immense gratitude. His decisions not to marry the rich daughter for her money and not to quit the job that Jody Simmons has given him reflect Joses adherence to social customs of courtesy that are distinct from laws or the codes of professionalism. Jose is also implicitly identified as peaceful, as he only reluctantly assents to do the “violence” of tipping the pies.
Additionally, the story of Jose highlights the damaging nature of the distinctions made between Jody Simmons and his workers. The story presents the workers as a group who work well together and even care for each other to a certain extent. They can hold to customs of courtesy, such as not making a big deal about the fact that men from the unemployment shelter seemingly always lie. Similarly, Jody Simmons seems to be a worthy individual in his own right, as we see as early as Chapter i, in Joes flashback about the night of his fathers death when Jody gives him the night off. If Jody and his workers are good people otherwise, it is in the context of hierarchal distinctions between them that problems emerge. Non-communication develops, along with a sense of indebtedness on the part of Jose, to make a large problem out of a small one. The story of Jose thus highlights the differences between social codes that are dictated by power structures and social codes not dictated by power structures.