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Catch 22: a Classic in American Literature

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Catch 22: a Classic in American Literature essay

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It tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Force in the Second World War. Yossarian sees himself as one powerless man in an overpoweringly insane situation. Heller himself was a bombardier for the U.S.

Army in the Second World War, flying in combat over Italy. He flew 60 missions before he was discharged as a lieutenant at the end of the war. After the war, Heller took a job as a copywriter for a small New York advertising agency. In 1953 he started working on Catch-22 –which he didn’t complete until 1961. There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s 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 had 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. One of the most important qualities of Catch-22 is its experimentation with the experience of time; by presenting a linear narrative in a mixed-up order, the novel both deprioritizes development toward an end as a feature of its plot and conveys the impression that, as Yossarian is afraid to confront a life that ends in death, the novel itself is skittish about the idea of the passing of time, which leads toward death. Breaking up the time flow is, in a sense, an attempt to defy mortality. In these early chapters, Dunbar presents an important alternative to this approach: he knows he is trapped in linear time, but he hopes to live as long as possible in it by making time move more slowly in his perception.

So he courts boredom and discomfort, because time seems to pass more slowly when he is bored or uncomfortable. The separation of the actual passage of time from the experience of that passage is, for Dunbar, an attempt to regain control of a life constantly threatened by the violence of war. ****** The first time Yossarian ever goes to the hospital, he is still a private. He feigns an abdominal pain, then mimics the mysterious ailment of the soldier who saw everything twice. He spends Thanksgiving in the hospital, and vows to spend all future Thanksgivings there; but he spends the next Thanksgiving in bed with Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife, arguing about God.

Once Yossarian is “cured” of seeing everything twice, he is asked to pretend to be a dying soldier for a mother and father who have traveled to see their son, who died that morning. Yossarian allows them to bandage his face, and pretends to be the soldier. ****** ***** Huple A fifteen year-old pilot; the pilot on the mission to Avignon on which Snowden is killed. Huple is Hungry Joe’s roommate, and his cat likes to sleep on Hungry Joe’s face.

***** ***** One evening Nately finds….. his whore in Rome again after a long search. He tries to convince Yossarian and Aarfy to take two of her friends for thirty dollars each. Aarfy objects that he has never had to pay for sex. Nately’s whore is sick of Nately, and begins to swear at him; then Hungry Joe arrives, and the group abandons Aarfy and goes to the apartment building where the girls live.

Here they find a seemingly endless flow of naked young women; Hungry Joe is torn between taking in the scene and rushing back for his camera. Nately argues with an old man who lives at the building about nationalism and moral duty–the old man claims Italy is doing better than America in the war because it has already been occupied, so Italian boys are no longer being killed. He gleefully admits to swearing loyalty to whatever nation happens to be in power. The patriotic, idealistic Nately cannot believe his ears, and argues somewhat haltingly for America’s international supremacy and the values it represents. But he is troubled because, though they are absolutely nothing alike, the old man reminds him of his father.

***** ** The chaplain then learns that Corporal Whitcomb has been promoted to sergeant by Colonel Cathcart for an idea that the colonel believes will land him in the Saturday Evening Post. The chaplain tries to mingle with the men at the officers’ club, but Colonel Cathcart periodically throws him out. The chaplain takes to doubting everything, even God. ** More importantly, the syndicate represents a dangerous kind of collectivity–in this enterprise governed by amoral expediency, “everybody has a share.” In this light, the syndicate becomes almost a parody of communism: it is nominally a collective but is actually run by a single despot; the economic rationalization of the syndicate resembles the moral rationalization of a dehumanized collective, which might agree that it is in “everybody’s” best interest for Milo to bomb his own squadron and kill, wound, and maim a number of his fellow soldiers. Still, Yossarian seems to like Milo, and Yossarian is undeniably the moral compass of the novel. But Milo is continually presented as a threatening figure–while Yossarian sits naked in the tree at Snowden’s funeral in a highly Biblical scene, Milo almost seems like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, there to tempt the innocent with chocolate-covered cotton and the promise of a fast buck.

The absurd chapter on the death of Doc Daneeka represents perhaps the most extreme moment of beaureaucratic confusion in the entire novel. Paperwork has the power to make a man who is clearly alive officially dead, and those in charge of the beaureaucracy would rather lose the man than try to confront the forms. Painfully, Mrs. Daneeka becomes complicit in her husband’s red-tape murder when she decides to take the insurance payments as a higher authority than his own letter protesting that he is really alive. And so Doc Daneeka realizes that he is actually dead; in a kind of extreme version of Mudd’s case, death is no longer a matter of biology, it is simply a matter of paperwork. The soldiers’ powerlessness over their own lives extends even to their own deaths, which can be enforced upon them living, not only by a gun but by the fall of a stamp.


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Catch 22: a Classic in American Literature. (2019, Apr 21). Retrieved from