Joseph Heller, the American novelist, was born on May 1, 1923. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and from an early age, aspired to be a writer. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Air Force as a bombardier in Italy and flew sixty missions. These experiences later became the basis for his first novel, Catch-22.
In 1961, Heller published his first novel Catch-22, which tells the story of Captain Joseph Yossarian and his attempt to avoid serving in World War II by feigning insanity. However, Yossarian is thwarted by the doctor's argument that if he were truly mad then he would endanger his life and seek to fight more missions. On the other hand, if he were sane, then he would be capable to following orders to fight more missions. Thus the phrase "catch-22" came to mean "a proviso that trips one up no matter which way one turns." The novel was an immediate success, despite a very acrid review by the New Yorker, and a popular movie was produced in 1970.
Despite the immense initial success of Catch-22 and its cultlike following, Heller was never a literary star nor a prolific writer. His next work, a play titled We Bombed New Haven (1968), had many of the same themes as Catch-22 but failed on Broadway.
Good as Gold, (1979) recounts the life of a middle-aged English professor Dr. Bruce Gold and his encounter with White House politics. It satirizes the leading politicians such as Henry Kissinger and delves into the Jewish experience in contemporary America. God Knows (1984) is a hilarious, ribald modern account of King David's life in the Old Testament and serves as an allegory for a Jewish person's life in the real, often antagonistic world.
In 1986, Heller developed the neurological disease, Guillain-Barre syndrome. After his recovery, he wrote with Speed Vogel, No Laughing Matter, an optimistic autobiography account about his personal battle against this illness. His last novel, Closing Time (1994), was a sequel to Catch-22 and updates the lives of its former characters. He died in his home on December 12, 1999 of a heart attack. Heller is survived by his wife Valerie.
Despite such difficulties throughout his literary career, Catch-22 still remains widely admired today and will be considered the hallmark of Heller's works. The behavior of Yossarian has not only provided much amusement to the masses but also the source of much psychological analysis of the isolated character trying to flee from neurotic or hostile societies which fail to recognize the needs of the individual.
Captain Joseph Yossarian: a squadron bombardier who represents the individual. He views the war as a destructive tool of both the institutions and their supporters. While his arguments about self-survival are unusual and even appear to be paranoid, they sometimes possess an amazing amount of common sense and lucidity. He futilely protests against Colonel Cathcart's continuous increase of the number of missions. At the end of the book, Yossarian decides to flee.
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Joseph Heller: Catch XXII
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