The American novelist and dramatist Joseph Heller, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., May 1, 1923, began his writing career as the author of short stories but won immediate acclaim with Catch-22 (1961; film, 1970). A protest novel underscored with dark humor, Catch-22 satirizes the horrors of war and the power of modern society, especially bureaucratic institutions, to destroy the human spirit. Heller's second novel, Something Happened (1974), an expose of the capacity of the business world to crush the individual, is a pessimistic statement about the effects of prosperity on the human condition. We Bombed in New Haven, a play produced on Broadway in 1967, is a tragicomedy similar in theme and mood to Catch-22. Good as Gold (1979) involves a humorous portrayal of Jewish family life and a satire of national politics, including attacks on real people such as Henry Kissinger. God Knows (1984) is a humorous retelling and analysis of the biblical account of King David.
Heller's works are characterized by a satirical sense of the absurd, speaking out against the military-industrial complex and those organized institutions which seem to manipulate people's lives in the name of reason or morality. Among his later works are the novels Poetics (1987) and Picture This (1988). No Laughing Matter (1966, with Speed Vogel) is a chronicle of Heller's recovery from Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Plot and structure:
During the 2nd half of World War II, a soldier named Yossarian is stationed with his Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa, near the Italian coast in the Mediterranean Sea. The squadron is thrown thoughtlessly into brutal combat situations and bombing runs in which it is more important for the squadron members to capture good aerial photographs of explosions than to destroy their targets. Their colonels continually raise the number of missions that they are required to fly before being sent home, so that no one is ever sent home. Still, no one but Yossarian seems to realize that there is a war going on; everyone thinks he is crazy when he insists that millions of people are trying to kill him.
Yossarian takes the war personally. Yossarian is furious that his life is in constant danger. He has a strong desire to live. As a result, he spends a great deal of his time in the hospital, faking illnesses in order to avoid the war. As the novel progresses through its loosely connected series of reoccurring stories and anecdotes, Yossarian is continually troubled by his memory of Snowden, a soldier who died in his arms on a mission when Yossarian lost all desire to participate in the war. Yossarian sees friends die and disappear, his squadron gets bombed by its own mess officer, and colonels and generals volunteer their men for the most perilous battle in order to enhance their reputations.
Catch-22 is a law defined in various ways throughout the novel. First, Yossarian discovers that it is possible to be discharged from military service because of insanity. Yossarian claims that he is insane, only to find out that by claiming that he is insane he has proved that he is obviously sane—since any sane person would claim that he or she is insane in order to avoid flying bombing missions. Elsewhere, Catch-22 is defined as a law that is illegal to read. Ironically, the place where it is written that it is illegal is in Catch-22 itself. It is yet again defined as the law that the enemy is allowed to do anything that one can’t keep him from doing. In short, then, Catch-22 is any paradoxical, circular reasoning that catches its victim in its illogic and serves those who have made the law. Catch-22 can be found in the novel not only where it is explicitly defined but also throughout the characters’ stories, which are full of instances of circular reasoning—for instance, the ability of the powerful officer Milo Minderbinder to make great sums of money by trading among the companies that he himself owns.
As Yossarian struggles to stay alive, a number of secondary stories unfold around him. His friend Nately falls in love with a whore from Rome and woos her constantly, despite her continued indifference and the fact that her kid sister constantly interferes with their romantic rendezvous. Finally, she falls in love with Nately- he finally lets her sleep/ she never had time for it/, but he is killed on his very next mission. When Yossarian brings her the bad news, she blames him for Nately’s death and tries to stab him every time she sees him thereafter. Another subplot follows the rise of the black-market empire of Milo Minderbinder, the squadron’s mess hall officer. Milo runs a syndicate in which he borrows military planes and pilots to transport food between various points in Europe, making a massive profit from his sales. Although he claims that “everyone has a share” in the syndicate, this promise is later proven false. Milo’s enterprise flourishes nonetheless, and he is revered almost religiously by communities all over Europe.
The novel draws to a close as Yossarian, troubled by Nately’s death, refuses to fly any more missions. He wanders the streets of Rome, encountering every kind of human horror—rape, disease, murder, burglary.... He is eventually arrested for being in Rome without a pass, and his superior officers, Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn, offer him a choice. He can either face a court-martial or be released and sent home with an honorable discharge. There is only one condition: in order to be released, he must approve of Cathcart and Korn and state his support for their policy, which requires all the men in the squadron to fly eighty missions. Although he is tempted by the offer, Yossarian realizes that to comply would be to endanger the lives of other innocent men. He chooses another way out, deciding to desert the army and flee to neutral Sweden. In doing so, he turns his back on the dehumanizing machinery of the military, rejects the rule of Catch-22, and strives to gain control of his own life.
John Yossarian: protagonist, an Air Force captain and bombardier stationed in Pianosa. He is an outsider/ many of the men think he is insane/ + his Assyrian name= leads us to think that he will be exceptional. He’s not a typical hero. He doesn’t risk his life to save others. His goal is to avoid risking life! This is probably the only logic in the novel. Catch-22 is full of lack of logic: men are asked to risk their lives again and again for reasons that are utterly illogical and unimportant. He redefines heroism into simple self- preservation. Even though he is determined to save his life, he nonetheless cares deeply for the other members of his squadron and is traumatized by their deaths. His ongoing horror at Snowden’s death stems both from his pity for Snowden and from his horrified realization that his own body is just as destructible as Snowden’s. In the end, when offered a choice between his own safety and the safety of the squadron, Yossarian is unable to choose himself over others. It creates its own Catch-22: life is not worth living without a moral concern for the well-being of others, but a moral concern for the well-being of others endangers one’s life. His solution is literally walking away from the war.
Milo Minderbinder: an extreme version of capitalist free enterprise that has spiraled out of control. Like Yossarian, he bends the rules toward his own benefit; his quest for profit seems logical. All the men seem to like Milo, and they are perfectly willing to fly him to places like Malta and Egypt so that he can buy and sell his goods. Milo’s ability to make money off of both friend and enemy, and his willingness to support whichever is more profitable, take advantage of the complete lack of ideology in Catch-22. He even bombs his own camp.
The Chaplain: Anabaptist, had a wife and three kids, not very social being. The horrors of war cause the chaplain to have his doubts about God. One of the hardest things for the chaplain to deal with is the way that religion is constantly being co-opted for reasons having nothing to do with God or even with the comfort of the men. For example, the chaplain’s atheistic assistant, Corporal Whitcomb, wants to send form letters home to the families of men killed and wounded. The chaplain objects because the letters are insincere, but Colonel Cathcart insists on the form letters because he believes that they will bring him recognition. Such events force the chaplain to realize that religion is not valued on its own terms, but only as a tool that the officers can use to further their own causes. When he realizes that his innocence won’t help him, he justified sin to himself, he feels much better. He´s disoriented in the world where killing became a virtue.
Doc Daneeka- Doc Daneeka feels very sorry for himself because the war has interrupted his lucrative private practice in the United States, and he refuses to listen to other people’s problems.
Colonel Cathcart: The ambitious, unintelligent officer, he wants to be a general. He volunteers his men for dangerous combat duty whenever he gets the chance
Hungry Joe: Hungry Joe is obsessed with photographing naked women. He has horrible nightmares on nights when he is not scheduled to fly a combat mission the next morning.
Nately: A good nineteen-year-old boy, comes from a wealthy home, falls in love with a whore in Rome
Nately’s whore: she doesn’t´ t want to stay with him until he lets her sleep= falls in love with him.
McWatt : A cheerful, polite pilot who often flies Yossarian’s planes
Clevinger. believes loyalty, and duty, and argues about in such concepts as country
Dobbs: A co-pilot, Dobbs seizes the controls from Huple during the mission to Avignon, the same mission on which Snowden died.
Dunbar : seems to understand Yossarian, he´s his friend.
Major Major Major: Born Major Major Major, he is promoted to major on his first day in the army by a mischievous computer. He will see people in his office only when he is not there. His promotion to squadron commander distances him from the other soldiers, reducing him to loneliness. Extrémne priemerný.
Major —— de Coverley: He’s feared but also respected and loved.
Aarfy - Yossarian’s navigator, even though he gets lost wherever he goes.
Orr - Yossarian’s roommate. Orr is a gifted fix-it man who is always constructing little improvements to the tent. He almost always crashes his plane, but he always manages to survive. He´s difficult to understand- ako dieťa nosil plánky v ústach, aby mal líca ako jabĺčka a keby sa ho náhodou niekto spýtal, prečo má plánky v ústach, vysvetľoval to tak, že ukázal že on má loptičky v rukách- nie plánky v ústach- confusing, foolish.
Appleby - A handsome, athletic. Orr enigmatically says that he has flies in his eyes.
Captain Black - He exults in the men’s discomfort and does everything he can to increase it; when Nately falls in love with a whore in Rome, Captain Black begins to buy her services regularly just to taunt him.
Lieutenant Colonel Korn - Colonel Cathcart’s wily, cynical sidekick.
Major Danby- Before the war-he was college professor; now-he does his best for country.
General Dreedle - permanently drunk, General Dreedle is the victim of a private war waged against him by the ambitious General Peckem.
Nurse Duckett - becomes Yossarian’s lover. At first she didn´t really like him.
Chief White Halfoat - An alcoholic Native American who has decided to die of pneumonia.
Havermeyer - A fearless lead bombardier. Havermeyer never takes evasive action, and he enjoys shooting field mice at night.
Huple - A fifteen-year-old pilot who was flying the mission to Avignon on which Snowden was killed. Huple is Hungry Joe’s roommate; his cat likes to sleep on Hungry Joe’s face.
Washington Irving - A famous American author whose name Yossarian signs to letters during one of his many stays in the hospital. Eventually, military intelligence believes Washington Irving to be the name of a covert insubordinate, and two C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Division) men are dispatched to ferret him out of the squadron.
Luciana - A beautiful girl Yossarian meets, sleeps with, and falls in love with during a brief period in Rome.
Mudd - Generally referred to as “the dead man in Yossarian’s tent,” Mudd was a squadron member who was killed in action before he could be processed as an official member of the squadron. As a result, he is listed as never having arrived, and no one has the authority to move his belongings out of Yossarian’s tent.
Lieutenant Scheisskopf - Later a colonel and eventually a general. Scheisskopf, whose name is German for “shithead,” helps train Yossarian’s squadron in America and shows an unsettling passion for elaborate military parades.
The soldier in white - A body completely covered with bandages in hospital. The body terrifies the men. He dies after a few days. Texas man is accused by others that he has killed him by talking to him all the time.
Snowden - The young gunner whose death over Avignon shattered Yossarian’s courage and caused him to experience the shock of war. Snowden died in Yossarian’s arms; a trauma that is gradually revealed over the course of the novel.
Corporal Whitcomb - The chaplain’s atheist assistant, and later a sergeant. Corporal Whitcomb hates the chaplain for holding back his career and makes the chaplain a suspect in the Washington Irving scandal.
Ex-p.f.c. Wintergreen - able to intercept and forge- falšovať documents and thus wields enormous power in the Air Force. He continually goes AWOL (Absent Without Leave) and is continually punished with loss of rank.
General Peckem - plots incessantly to take over General Dreedle’s position.
Kid Sampson - A pilot in the squadron.
Colonel Moodus - General Dreedle’s son-in-law. General Dreedle hates him.
Flume - Chief White Halfoat’s old roommate, who is so afraid of having his throat slit while he sleeps that he has taken to living in the forest.
Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife - the lover of all the men, including Yossarian, with whom she debates about God.
(time) • Near the end of World War II
(place) • Pianosa, a small island off the coast of Italy. Although Pianosa is a real place, Heller has taken some creative liberties with it, enlarging it to hold all the action of the novel.
Point of view:
The anonymous narrator is omniscient, seeing and knowing all things. The narrator presents characters and events in a humorous, satirical light but seems to have real sympathy for some of them as well. The narrator speaks in the third person, focusing mostly on what Yossarian does and what Yossarian thinks and feels. Occasionally, the narrator also shows us how other characters, such as the chaplain or Hungry Joe, experience the world around them. Yossarian´s point of view.
The story is written in the past tense. Although the book settles into a more chronological order as it approaches its end, most of Catch-22 is told out of sequence, with events from the past mixed in with events from the present. It is full of puns/ slovná hračka/. Repetition is used as a way of shaping/ Yossarian tries several times to escape the war/.Repetition points out the absurdity of the war. Characters slide in and out.
The narrator presents ridiculous behavior and illogical arguments in a flatly satirical tone, never stating outright that matters are funny, but always making the reader aware of how bizarre the characters and situations are.
The absolute power of bureaucracy: the lives and deaths of the men are governed by an impersonal, frightening bureaucracy. The bureaucrats are absolutely deaf to any attempts that the men make to reason with them logically. In one scene, Scheisskopf interrogates Clevinger but will not let Clevinger state his innocence because he is too busy correcting Clevinger’s way of speaking. In another such scene, the chaplain is taken into a cellar and accused of a crime, but the men interrogating him do not know what the crime is—they hope to find out by interrogating him.
Loss of religious faith: Even the chaplain begins to doubt his faith in God by the end of Catch-22. Heller’s treatment of the subject of God is most focused in the Thanksgiving discussion between Yossarian and Scheisskopf’s wife. Both are atheists: Mrs. Scheisskopf does not believe in a just and loving God, whereas the God in whom Yossarian does not believe is a fool/ God who created such a wide array of options when it comes to pain and death/. Loss of faith in God does not mean a world without morals for the characters. each man must make his own morals
The impotence of language: first chapter- Yossarian deletes words from the letters that he is required to censor while he is in the hospital. The military bureaucracy has taken the communicative power out of language. As Snowden dies in the back of the plane, all that Yossarian can think of to say is “there, there,” over and over. He knows his words have no power to comfort Snowden, but he does not know what else to do. Catch-22 itself is nothing but a bunch of words strung together to circumvent logic and keep Yossarian flying missions. Catch-22 even contains a clause that makes it illegal to read Catch-22, demonstrating how absolutely powerful the concept of Catch-22 is. Yossarian knows that since it is nothing but words, Catch-22 does not really exist, but within the framework of the bureaucratic military, he has no choice but to accept
The inevitability of death: Snowden’s death revealed a secret: that man is, ultimately, garbage. The death haunts Yossarian constantly. Furthermore, Yossarian is always visualizing his own death. It gives him a sense of how precious life is.
Catch-22: It is just a name made up for an illogical argument that justifies what is really going on. Behind Catch-22 stands an unswerving principle: might makes right.
Catch-22 also manifests itself even when it is not explicitly named. Both the doctor and the chaplain have been caught up in their own versions of Catch-22, since war drastically undermines the premises of their professions and yet calls upon them to practice those professions in the name of war. Even Heller’s style is in a way a Catch-22; the dialogue leaps haphazardly from one comment to another, often arriving at a point exactly opposite of that which the person speaking is trying to express.
Number of missions: Colonel Cathcart wants to be promoted to general; to gain promotion, he constantly raises the number of missions that the men are required to fly before they can be discharged. Increasing number of missions provides us with the track of chronology of the book. Only Orr and Yossarian escape from fulfilling the number of missions.
Washington Irving: he doesn´t exist and therefore he is perfect for dealing with bureaucracy. This name is used first by Yossarian in the hospital, leter by Major Major- the paperwork with Irving’s name on it never comes back to him.
Symbolism, allusions, myth:
The soldier in white: represents the way the army treats men as interchangeable objects. When, months after his death, he is replaced by another, identical soldier in white, everyone assumes it is the same person.
Aerial photographs: men are supposed to take photographs of explosion that would be beautiful. Dehumanization of war allows for its horrors to be seen merely for their aesthetic effects.
Genre: War novel; satire
My own interpretation:
major conflict • Yossarian struggles to stay alive, despite the many parties who seem to want him dead.
rising action • The rising action in the novel’s present time is Yossarian’s growing certainty that he will never be allowed to go home. Alongside Yossarian’s certainty is a second subplot that takes place in the past: the bombing run on which Snowden was killed. As the novel moves along, we are allowed to see more and more of this pivotal scene.
climax • The two climaxes of Catch-22 happen simultaneously. The first climax occurs when Yossarian is offered a choice: he can either face a court-martial or be sent home if he agrees to support Cathcart and Korn. The second climax, which occurs as Yossarian makes his decision, is the final flashback to Snowden’s death, in which all the details of this critical event are at last revealed.
falling action • Remembering the lesson of Snowden’s death, Yossarian decides that he cannot betray the other men in his squadron by forcing them to fly his missions for him. Instead, he decides to desert the army and flee the camp.
foreshadowing • Snowden’s death is heavily foreshadowed, but in the unusual vehicle of Yossarian’s memories. Yossarian recalls the death very briefly several times near the beginning of Catch-22. It is not until the second-to-last chapter that the death is finally described in full.
Important Quotations Explained
1. There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he would have to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.
Explanation for Quotation 1>>
This passage from Chapter 5 marks the novel’s first mention of the paradoxical law called “Catch-22.” Over the course of the novel, Catch-22 is described in a number of different ways that can be applied to a number of different aspects of wartime life; here, however, Catch-22 affects Yossarian most specifically. Catch-22 is alarmingly persuasive; even Yossarian accepts what seems to be its logical infallibility. But Catch-22 is an abstract thing; we find out later that Yossarian believes that Catch-22 does not really exist. It is a trap made up of words, and words are faulty things, often misrepresenting reality. What is so upsetting about the way Catch-22 is applied throughout the novel is that real men are sent into real peril based on a few unreal and unreliable words.
2. One of the things [Yossarian] wanted to start screaming about was the surgeon’s knife that was almost certain to be waiting for him and everyone else who lived long enough to die. He wondered often how he would ever recognize the first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end.
Explanation for Quotation 3>>
This quote from Chapter 17 demonstrates that the war, in confronting Yossarian daily with the possibility of his own death, has not hardened him to fear; instead, it has made him much more aware of the value and fragility of life. He cannot stop thinking about all the ways in which he could possibly die—in addition to antiaircraft fire, there are plenty of diseases that could kill him. In this passage, Yossarian also dwells on the inevitability of death. He feels trapped in the army; Catch-22 prevents him from escaping it. But the fact that he must someday die is an even greater and more inescapable trap, for even if he manages to wiggle out of the prison of the army, he will still have to face his death eventually
3. “Haven’t you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys and God? I’d like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether can.” if we
The chaplain was apologetic. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone God.” and make at least some passing reference to
“Then let’s get some new ones.”
Explanation for Quotation 4>>
In this conversation in Chapter 19, Colonel Cathcart and the chaplain discuss the possibility of saying a group prayer before each mission. Cathcart wants to start saying the prayers because he thinks it will get him mentioned in the Saturday Evening Post; later, he abandons this idea when he hears that the enlisted men will have to be included along with the officers. By asking to exclude religion from the prayers, Cathcart shows that he is interested in religion only as a tool for his own advancement. Actual faith in God has nothing to do with the chaplain’s purpose—at least as far as Cathcart is concerned. Throughout Catch-22, the chaplain struggles to maintain his faith, and he is confronted again and again by men who want to use religion as a tool without understanding the value of real faith.
4. Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter, that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.
Explanation for Quotation 5>>
This passage occurs in Chapter 41 during the final description of Snowden’s death, in which Snowden’s entrails spill out of his stomach and onto the floor. Snowden’s death causes Yossarian to realize that, without the spirit, man is nothing but matter. Yossarian feels cold, which allows him to identify with Snowden; in Snowden’s entrails, Yossarian can see the prediction of his own death. The final sentence of this passage, “Ripeness is all,” contains a small message of hope, implying that man can, for a brief period, be truly alive. It is this kind of ripeness that Yossarian clings to by trying to keep himself alive and, eventually, by deserting the army.