Imagery in Johnny Got His Gun and Cry, the Beloved Country Essay
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We all have wished to change something in our lives. Everything would be perfect if we could control what happens in the world. However, we know that life offers us no choice but to accept changes that occur in life. Therefore, we grieve at piteous downfalls but rejoice great transformations. Trumbo and Paton efficiently depict changes that their main characters encounter in life. Trumbo and Paton use imagery to show positive and negative changes throughout the lives of their main characters.
Trumbo uses imagery to portray Joe’s pleasant past life. For example, Joe feels loved when he pictures “the sled” that was “his Christmas present” and his mother who is “laughing like a girl” and his dad who is “grinning in his slow wrinkly way” (11). The sled symbolizes familial love not only because it is given to Joe from his parents but also because the sled allows the family to spend loving time as a whole, making memories. Joe further remembers the time he spent with his family when he thinks about his mother’s rolls that were “steaming hot” and “melted” when “you put butter inside them” (16).
Trumbo highlights not only Joe’s ability to smell and taste but also Joe’s emotional pleasure associated with sharing his favorite foods with the people he loves.
Furthermore, we see that Joe is sociable and lively as a boy when he “got into his heavy clothes and his mackinaw and his boots and his sheepskin gloves and went out with the rest of the kids” into the snow (18). In his childhood, Joe is like any other ambitious boy who enjoys nature and social time even through the harsh and numbing cold. In addition, Joe feels accepted by society during his time in Shale City, the “prettiest town in the world” to him with a “pale blue” sky and with ” about a million stars shining” (51). Joe is able to call Shale City home because he is comfortable with the people and the activities in this town. His friends and the town’s beautiful physical aspects make Joe feel like a part of the town, like he belongs there. Through imagery, Trumbo allows the reader to gain a positive view of Joe’s past.
In contrast, Trumbo uses imagery to give an uncomfortable and negative view of Joe’s present life. For instance, Joe paradoxically describes his unconsciousness to be “a kind of fear yet not like any ordinary fear. It was more of a panic it was the panicky dread of losing yourself even from yourself” (127). Unlike his past, Joe is constantly in fear because he has no boundaries to help him differentiate his dreams from real thoughts; Joe feels that he can no longer trust his own mind. Furthermore, Joe wishes Kareen to be the unknown visitor beside him until “just as he could feel the touch of her hand his delight turned suddenly to shame” because unlike old times, Joe no longer feels confident about his body (157).
His physical aspects weaken his self-confidence: with the thought of Kareen looking down upon his debilitated body, Joe feels humiliation and embarrassment. Unlike his past, Joe would not spend time with his loved ones even if he were given a chance because his pride would prevent him. Furthermore, after the nurse taps “Merry Christmas” to him, Joe “heard the sound of sleigh bells and the crunch of snow and there were wreaths of holly with red berries nestling like hot coals against them” in his mind, contrasting his past days of Christmas where he is physically able to celebrate (200).
Trumbo uses a simile to portray the fresh memories of Christmas in Joe’s mind that are now Joe’s only keepsakes for internally celebrating the holiday. Finally, Joe falls into despair when “he could almost hear the wail of pain that went up from his heart” after his hopes are rejected by the doctors (235). Trumbo uses personification of a heart that wails to contrast the feeling of acceptance Joe felt in Shale City to the sense of betrayal Joe now feels from the doctors and society. Although Joe has put forth his whole heart and effort into his tapping, society has rejected him. Through imagery, Trumbo allows us to see the changes in Joe’s present lifestyle from that of the past.
Similarly, Paton uses imagery to portray transformations in the characters that Stephen Kumalo loves. For example, when Stephen meets Gertrude in Johannesburg, he notices that “the voice that was once so sweet has a new quality in it, the quality of the laughter that he heard in the house” because Gertrude has transformed into a new being (60). The laughter Stephen refers to is shameful, so he relates the laugh to Gertrude because she is no longer an innocent and respectful being. Like Gertrude, John Kumalo transforms but into a man that is ravenous for power; thus, Stephen notices that he “sat with his hands on his knees like a chief” (65).
Paton uses a simile to compare John to a chief because John is no longer a quiet man who follows tradition or someone else’s command; John is like a chief because he now takes his own leadership to speak his ideas. Stephen also sees that “there was a change” in John’s voice, that “it became louder like the voice of a bull or a lion” because John has an air of authority and demand in his voice (67).
Paton uses simile to portray John’s voice as powerful as that of a bull or a lion. Furthermore, when Stephen finally sees Absalom in Johannesburg, he observes the boy’s sinful change as he “twists his head from side to side, as though the loose clothing is too tight for him” (130). What greatly disturbs Stephen is the fact that Absalom does not even have a justifiable reason for his murder, merely shaking his head when Stephen questions him. Like Gertrude and John, Absalom has diverted from traditional values and thus grieves Stephen. Paton uses imagery to show negative changes in major characters of Stephen Kumalo’s life.
Paton also uses imagery to show changes in both Johannesburg and Nodtsheni. For example, Kumalo notices “how the grass had disappeared” and “how the maize grew barely to the height of a man” and grieves over his gradually debilitating town (52). Kumalo feels despair because he merely observes Ndotsheni growing ill without being able to help it. Furthermore, Kumalo feels emotionally stronger when he observes the natives boycotting the buses, starting to walk early in the morning with “a bite of food, and their eyes are hardly closed on the pillow before they must stand up again, sometimes to start off with nothing but hot water in their stomachs” (74).
The sight of the natives working laboriously for justice gives Kumalo hope in Johannesburg, a city filled with novel ideas that contrast his traditional beliefs in Ndotsheni. Furthermore, after Jarvis comes to Ndotsheni, the town starts to make progress: the men no longer plough “up and down” but “throw up walls of earth, and plough round the hills, so that the fields look no longer as they used to look in the old days of ploughing” (299).
Jarvis’ young demonstrator teaches the men of Ndotsheni ways to preserve the earth and rebuild the town; Jarvis brings a positive change to Ndotsheni. In addition, Stephen shows his emotional change towards Jarvis, taking a cypress branch and making it “into a ring, and tied it so it could not spring apart” and “put the flowers of the weld, such as grew in the bareness of the valley” (298). This wreath symbolizes Stephen’s gratitude towards Jarvis; Stephen’s guilt and pride no longer prevent him from accepting Jarvis’ warm offerings of help. Through imagery, Paton portrays changing aspects in Ndotsheni and Johannesburg.
Through imagery, Trumbo and Paton successfully express the physical and emotional changes throughout Joe and Stephen Kumalo’s life. However, Trumbo is more efficient than Paton because his imagery contains more vibrant descriptions to help the reader feel the gravity of Joe’s changes. Trumbo gives the reader a more vibrant picture of Joe’s life through the use of powerful similes and personification. Trumbo’s imagery of the changes in Joe’s life reminds us of our weakness to control our own lives.