Introduction to Catch-22

Catch-22 is known as the leading anti-war fiction by Joseph Heller. It became popular, despite taking more than 8 years in writing. Joseph started this novel in 1953 and published it in 1961, setting the stage for anti-war novels written in unusual postmodern strain. A non-linear narrative in the third person, the novel presents different characters and places involved and linked to the WWII and American Air Force pilots bombing the German fronts from an island. Most of the characters in the novel are inspired by his personal experiences when he was serving the WWII as a bombardier. The popularity of the book could be gauged from the fact that its title has become a catchphrase and the storyline was adapted for a movie in 1970. In 1994 Heller published the sequel titled Closing Time.

Summary of Catch-22

The novel presents chapters through characters and places. It opens with a pilot, Yossarian, stationed at the island of Pianosa, on the Mediterranean Sea, to bomb the German fronts and forces from the allied areas. What he finds torturing is that his routinized work of bombing is entangled in the bureaucratic system comprising violence and torture. He comes to know that the officers consider them working robots instead of human beings, having emotions and lives of their own. The combat missions and situations become so much routinized that Yossarian and other pilots think themselves going mad. Whenever they complete sorties of one mission, another mission awaits for them without any hiatus. The bureaucrats keep involving their subordinates in unnecessary missions in order to get praise and recognition from their higher leadership. Yossarian’s uniqueness lies in that he realizes the absurd situation of war and their task of killing human beings through senseless aerial bombings but nobody believes him.

The story sets in a non-chronological manner and is confusing since it is a wartime novel. Yossarian’s chaplain, Tappman who is kind and loves his family and God tends to Yossarian who was in the hospital because of his fake liver ailment. Soon the storyline turns to other characters but all events and places revolve around Yossarian who thinks about things from his point of view. Orr, Yossarian’s tentman, Clevinger in his squadron who abides by the concept of loyalty to his country. Havermeyer, loves dangerous missions, McWatt, cheerful one among his squadron and buzzes with his plane. Nately, son of a wealthy businessman who is madly in love with a Roman prostitute who doesn’t acknowledge his feelings and acts indifferently with him.

Yossarian, a diffident but reflective pilot, feels humiliated at the constant risks his life as a pilot involves when going on bombing missions. His wish to keep himself alive puts him to test at which he turns to the hospital to vent up his frustration and keep himself out of harm’s way. It, however, turns out that bureaucratic hurdles have entered the medical facilities, too, where doctors are either ignorant or work under the command to release the pilots too early to be ready for another mission. The most tragic incidents happen when the pilots of his squadron bomb their own camp and still the event is ignored in the fog of war, showing outright neglect of the seniors.

When meeting Doc Dankeea, Yossarian asks him to ground him so that he could live in peace but he rejects his request on the ground that there is a law of catch-22 to which he cannot violate. He, then, explains that as he is sane to fly, therefore, he cannot be grounded on this pretext. The opinion of the doctor is that only crazy persons are grounded and not the ‘sane’ ones, like him. On the other hand, Cathcart, the colonel, continues increasing the number of sorties on daily basis, keeping the pilots on tenterhooks. Although Yossarian thinks it an unjust action of his senior, he also keeps his opinions to himself, for nobody in the hierarchy of superiors cares about such things. His senior Korn is only after his promotion, while his colonel wants to see the stars of the general on his shoulders. Two other commanders Dreedle and Peckem are attending to their jobs to continue working as commanders of this bombing campaign. Both have their own fascinations; Dreedle has a mistress, while Peckem is obsessed with bombing as much as pilots could do.

Soon the critical moments of the war arrive when Cathcart signs up pilots for the Bologna bombing, the most dangerous mission of the war. Yossarian signs up for this mission and experiences a close shave when the enemy fire almost downs his plane. Soon he flees the base to meet Luciana in Rome with whom he has a one-night stand. On the other hand, the soldiers start dying and disappearing with the first disappearance of his friend, Dunbar, who disappears into thin air after making numerous complaints about unnecessary bombings, while Orr also leaves after his plane crashes in the sea. Kid Sampson gets killed in an accident when McWatt buzzes his plane but the officers do not take any action, while others also end up in one or the other mission, including a plane crash while few make it alive and settle down in other countries by not returning to their camps.

In this mess, the religious person, the chaplain, is also doing his job despite facing strong criticism from Korn and Cathcart including Yossarian. He soon faces the allegation of forging letters and has to face the threats of imprisonment and fear of not leaving for home but his tenacity in refusal wins him freedom. Although he is a deeply religious person, he feels that his intransigence against the superiors would win him respect among the pilots and soldiers.  Meanwhile, Yossarian starts changing his views about war and heroism. After seeing his friends dying in numbers, he silently leaves but faces two options of either be court-martialed or strike a deal to go home. Despite his inner decision of going for a deal, he flees toward Sweden to live his own life.

Major Themes in Catch-22

  1. Sanity and Insanity: The novel, Catch-22, presents the thematic strand of sanity versus insanity in that almost every character including Yossarian, the protagonist of the novel, is trapped in the vicious circle of sanity and insanity. If Yossarian demonstrates his sanity, he is liable to be used for further aerial bombing missions, while in case of insanity, he will be discharged from the service without proper honor. His other colleagues such as Kid and Orr also face the same problem. While Doc Daneeka whose real job is to check the psychological resilience of the pilots seems to be inefficient and ineffective in such a compelling situation. The chaplain becomes the victim of this conflicting situation when he comes to know about the situation of the pilots that they cannot get rid of this absurdity when the generals and commanders are racing for winning medals, ignoring the real situation and suggesting the real solution.
  2. Greed: The novel highlights the theme of greed through the character of Milo Minderbinder, Colonel Cathcart, and Peckam. Minderbinder represents corporations and the unethical practices that such institutions demonstrate by offering kickbacks and winning managers to manage profit and business. He shows that black marketing and profiteering are being reaped at such a massive scale, aside from the killing of the pilots by the commanders just to amass wealth from the corporations. Even Cathcart and Peckam become his linchpin in his profiteering campaign.
  3. Isolation: The theme of isolation seems to dominate the life of all characters, including Yossarian, the protagonist of Catch-22. For example, Major Major is undergoing extreme isolation because of his confusing name and identity, while the Chaplain, who is to become a symbol of balanced mentality, shows isolation when lecturing others. Even the doctor, Doc Daneeka, is going through the bad patch of his life due to the pressure of duty, the insistence of the pilots and the soldiers that they are being overburdened with the technicalities of the system which leaves little room for their social and private lives.
  4. Black Humor: The novel shows the use of black humor as its thematic strand in that it seems a tragedy that the soldiers and pilots are overburdened with the combat duties and obligations so much so that they have become rather insane and phobic. McWatt is highly fed up with the combat operations that he starts teasing others with his swishing plane and then kills Kid during one of such incidents. The chaplain also faces this type of humor when Corporal Whitcomb or Captain Black is with him as they play with his religious beliefs. Even one of them has gone so far as to kill a girl just for fun. These tragic incidents told with much-surprised humor shows the author’s intention of showing dark humor through this war story.
  5. Morality: The novel shows that there is no moral framework on account of the war and on account of the bureaucracy that has gathered at some other land instead of the United States where no laws apply. It appears that there is no place for morality. In such circumstances, people like Orr or in that matter like Korn have no place. Korn desires to replace Cathcart at every cost without any moral qualms. The same goes for Peckam and Dreedle in that they want to prolong the war merely to win promotions that seem a bad idea, reviewing the circumstances of daily deaths occurring among the pilots.
  6. Paradoxes: The novel is full of paradoxes in that even its title shows that that the characters are caught in double conflicts. The one is about their duty in the war and the other is about their lives as how to save them. Yossarian is so much frustrated from the war and duties that he is literally caught in the paradox of the phrase, catch-22. Even his seniors face the same issue, as Colonel Cathcart gets the order to increase combat missions of the pilots and he ultimately does it to save his position and to win promotion.
  7. Bureaucracy: The novel’s other significant theme is bureaucracy. A person caught such a system cannot move even an inch from the position/job/duty he is ordered to do. The bureaucratic circle becomes vicious where Cathcart is bound to increase the operation of the pilots, and Yossarian is bound to accept and execute it. Doc Daneeka is bound to declare them fit for duty, while the chaplain is bound to preach morality behind their actions despite knowing that they are not serving their country but serving the allies.
  8. Communication: The novel demonstrates the theme of communication and lack of it through Yossarian, Orr, and Chaplain. The writing of letters by Yossarian and the signing of Irwin Washington on those letters show that he wants to hide his communication. The same goes during the conversation of Appleby with Orr and between Aarfy and Yossarian during combat missions.
  9. Fear: The theme of fear in the novel is significant in the backdrop of war where unethical bombing and other destructive practices are going on such as Minderbinder’s contractual obligations, conspiracies of Yossarian to leave. This also includes fear of Kids and Orr getting killed during the missions.
  10. Violence: The novel shows violence not only within the air force base but also on the front where bombing continues. This violence has dehumanizing impacts on Yossarian as well as commanders and religious persons, showing none has time to lament the deaths of Snowden and McWatt.

Major Characters Catch-22 

  1. Yossarian: Yossarian is the protagonist but not the narrator of the novel, for the novel follows an unusual non-linear pattern in its narration. Yossarian is a US air force captain during WWII. He faces the dilemma of patriotism and heavy operation load that he seems psychologically and physically unable to keep up. It also burdens him with too many missions and renders him think about the absurdity of life trapped in the bureaucratic system. His sole mission by the end of the novel seems to avoid combat missions and flee from the air force base at every cost. He ends up fleeing from the duty after facing severe pressure and seeing no way out even on religious or medical grounds.
  2. Colonel Cathcart: The second important character, Colonel Cathcart, is an inefficient and a ruthless, mean person, who desperately wants his retinue to continue combat missions disregard of their physical fitness, or psychological distress. His selfishness about his promotion to general causes losses of man and material on the airbase. To achieve this end, he uses all fair and foul means, including an increase in combat missions and sending more men to the front. His pretentious nature as demonstrated through his cigarette holder and efforts to win only public approval only defame him among his soldiers.
  3. Doctor Daneeka: Doc Daneeka is a doctor, a typical character with avaricious nature and dishonest practices, making him the most hateful persona in the novel. Pilots suffering from various ailments, want him to declare them unfit for sorties, but he continues ignoring their physical or psychological wellbeing. Despite having no flying experience, he still gets himself listed in the log of McWatt to win more financial remuneration. Although he tries to win Yossarian by clarifying to him catch-22, he gets messed upon in this explanation and finds the same dilemma as Yossarian is facing that war is taking too much toll on them.
  4. Milo Minderbinder: Minderbinder is part of the military bureaucracy, his wily nature and malicious intentions can be gauged from his working with the black-marketers to amass money. His motto of having his share in the war becomes a source of constant nudging to him to take part in the black-market business at the expense of neglecting his principal duties. That is why the bombing of his own base goes unchecked, for he has justifications and shares for everybody around him.
  5. Chaplain Tappman: Simply called ‘the chaplain’, his theological significance in the novel becomes rather a point of derision. Obviously, none of the pilots or soldiers take him seriously. Despite being a staunch believer of religion, he is also shaken by the psychological toll the war is taking on him. Yet his patience does not let him become irritant against the constant bullying of the officers like Captain Black or Colonel Cathcart.
  6. Orr: Orr is a companion and friend of Yossarian and appears in the novel engaged in the operation and taking risks that may jeopardize his whole mission. He is an eccentric character and does not lose the funny side of things. He remains a light-hearted fellow who resolves issues like that of catch-22. He gives clues to Yossarian to solve it by fleeing to Sweden.
  7. Hungry Joe: The character of Hungry Joe is significant as the soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress order due to the war and subsequent senseless missions. After becoming mentally unstable in this situation, he experiences nightmares, leading him to feel suffocated. He also seems a victim of the bureaucratic system that despite the completion of his allocated share of missions, Cathcart again drags him to duties.
  8. Nately: Through Nately, the readers understand the importance of a woman and love in a soldier’s life. She attracts Yossarian when he visits her in Rome and becomes a point of contention between authorities that Cathcart also blackmails Yossarian about her. Her death impacts Yossarian so much so that he decides to flee from duty.
  9. Wintergreen: Wintergreen is a bad clerk involves in misusing his post for the wrong ends to the point that even the bureaucracy is hellbent on gladdening him.
  10. Havermeyer: Havermeyer is a friend of Yossarian and yet staying stable, though, by the end, he also expresses frustration over ever-increasing combat missions.

Writing Style of Catch-22

The writing style of the novel, Catch-22, is not a smooth narrative. It is rather a combination of several descriptions of places, characters, and narration of events joined together to make up a story that seems to point to its protagonist, Yossarian. It is mostly repetitive and seems nonsense in some places. However, in terms of sentence and diction, it follows a direct and simple pattern that makes the readers take more interesting and jot down the dots to understand the story. In terms of literary devices, the author uses irony, sarcasm, metonymy, and metaphors.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Catch-22

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the operation taken by the US air force pilots on the Italian front and the life of a pilot, Yossarian, from the war to his escape to Sweden. The rising action occurs when Yossarian is certain that he would not be allowed to go home at every cost and the falling action occurs when Snowden dies in the aircraft.
  2. Anaphora: The novel shows examples of anaphora such as,
    i. Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them. (Chapter-1)
    ii. Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all. And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier. There was nothing funny about living like a bum in a tent in Pianosa. (Chapter-2)
    The examples show the repetitious use of “jaundice” and “funny” in the beginning of the successive clauses.
  3. Alliteration: Catch-22 shows the use of alliteration at several places. Two examples are given below,
    i. To Yossarian’s astonishment, began following the falling land down as fast as the plane would go, wagging his wings gaily and skimming with a massive, grinding, hammering roar over each rocky rise and dip of the rolling terrain like a dizzy gull over wild brown waves. Yossarian was petrified. (Chapter-30)
    ii. ‘Whee!’ and Yossarian wanted to reach out and crush his idiotic face with one hand as he flinched and flung himself away from the boulders and hillocks and lashing branches of trees that loomed up above him out in front and rushed past just underneath in a sinking, streaking blur. (Chapter-30)
    The above examples from the novel show the use of consonant sounds such as the sound of /s/ and /r/ occurring after an interval to make the prose melodious and rhythmic.
  4. Allusion: The novel shows good use of different allusions as given in the examples below,
    i. Captain Black knew he was a subversive because he wore eyeglasses and used words like *panacea* and *utopia*, and because he disapproved of Adolf Hitler, who had done such a great job of combating un-American activities in Germany. (Chapter-4)
    ii. Major Major’s orderly room window months before when Major – de Coverley had returned from Rome with an injured cornea after renting two apartments there for the officers and enlisted men to use on their rest leaves. (Chapter-4)
    The first example alludes not only to Hitler but also to America and Germany, while the second alludes to the military and Rome.
  5. Antagonist: WWII appears as the real antagonist. However, characters also show themselves working as antagonists among whom Colonel Cathcart is at the top who does not leave any chance of torturing Yossarian.
  6. Conflict: The novel shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Yossarian and other pilots and the German forces. However, the internal conflict is going on in the mind of Yossarian about his moral duty, patriotism, and his commitment to his life.
  7. Characters: The novel shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young pilot, Yossarian, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the novel. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Colonel Cathcart, Milo Minderbinder, Doc Daneeka, Nately, and Orr.
  8. Climax: The climax in the novel occurs when Yossarian faces the choice of supporting Cathcart or facing court-martial, and second when Snowden dies.
  9. Foreshadowing: The novel shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the below examples,
    i. After he had made up his mind to spend the rest of the war in the hospital, Yossarian wrote letters to everyone he knew saying that he was in the hospital but never mentioning why. (Chapter-1)
    ii. Hungry Joe was crazy, and no one knew it better than Yossarian, who did everything he could to help him. Hungry Joe just wouldn’t listen to Yossarian. Hungry Joe just wouldn’t listen because he thought Yossarian was crazy. (Chapter-4)
    The mention of war and crazy show that WWII is going to show its toll on the soldiers’ minds and lives.
  10. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. Orr had buck teeth and bulging eyes to go with his big cheeks and was even smaller than young Huple, who lived on the wrong side of the railroad tracks in the tent in the administration area in which Hungry Joe lay screaming in his sleep every night. (Chapter-3)
    ii. Colonel Cathcart cracked his knuckles violently. Colonel Korn, a stocky, dark, flaccid man with a shapeless paunch, sat completely relaxed on one of the benches in the front row, his hands clasped comfortably over the top of his bald and swarthy head. His eyes were amused behind his glinting rimless spectacles. (Chapter-13)
    These two examples show images of sound, sight, shape, and color.
  11. Metaphor: The novel shows good use of various metaphors as given in the below example,
    i. To German intelligence, Major – de Coverley was a vexatious enigma; not one of the hundreds of American prisoners would ever supply any concrete information about the elderly white-haired officer with the gnarled and menacing brow and blazing. (Chapter-13)
    ii. Kid Sampson’s cry turned Yossarian to ice. (Chapter-14)
    iii. Orr was one of the homeliest freaks Yossarian had ever encountered,
    and one of the most attractive. (Chapter-22)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the novel such as the first shows the major to an enigma, then Yossarian to ice, and Orr to a freak.
  12. Mood: The novel shows various moods; it starts with quite a somber and bitter mood but turns out to be highly exciting at times and tragically humorous but ends on a bitter and ironic note.
  13. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel are hospitals, bombing missions, and pilots’ conditions.
  14. Narrator: The novel is narrated from the third-person point of view, who is the author himself.
  15. Oxymoron: The novel shows the use of an oxymoron as given in the example below,
    i. The dead man in Yossarian’s tent was simply not easy to live with. He even disturbed Orr, who was not easy to live with, either, and who, on the day Yossarian came back, was tinkering with the faucet that fed gasoline into the stove he had started building while Yossarian was in the hospital. (Chapter-3)
    These lines from the novel show contradictory ideas of the dead and the living together.
  16. Personification: The following scenes are good examples of personification,
    i. They couldn’t dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn’t keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. (Chapter-17)
    ii. The borders of the two tents in the clearing stood no more than four
    or five feet apart. (Chapter-20)
    These examples show as if the death and the tents have life and emotions of their own.
  17. Protagonist: Yossarian is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his entry in the story and moves forward as he becomes disenchanted with the war and decides to flee.
  18. Setting: The setting of the novel is Pianosa, an island in the Mediterranean.
  19. Simile: The novel shows excellent use of various similes. A few examples are given below,
    i. She was built like a dream and wore a chain around her neck with a medal of Saint Anthony hanging down inside the most beautiful bosom I never saw. (Chapter-5)
    ii. Actually, Captain Flume slept like a log most nights and merely *dreamed* he was awake. (Chapter-7)
    iii. Milo sniffed in consternation twice, like a shaggy brown hare. (Chapter-7)
    iv. Her virtuous, pale-blue, saucerlike eyes flooded with leviathan tears on unexpected occasions and made Yossarian mad. (Chapter-17)
    These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things such as a woman is compared to a dream, a captain compared to a log and Milo has been compared to a hare.

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