Quotes or quotations are significant phrases and sentences or lines that show the universality of the message of a literary piece. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has quotes which show the themes of war, destruction, bureaucracy, and effects of war. Some of the important quotes have been discussed below.
Quotes from Catch-22
They’re trying to kill me,” Yossarian told him calmly.
“No one’s trying to kill you,” Clevinger cried.
“Then why are they shooting at me?” Yossarian asked.
“They’re shooting at everyone,” Clevinger answered. “They’re trying to kill everyone.”
“And what difference does that make?”
In the officer’s club, Yossarian speaks about his fear and imagines that everyone is shooting at him and trying to kill him. At this, Clevenger tries to console him by saying that death and killing are common during the war and they are shooting at everyone. Yossarian, being a fighter pilot, should not allow death to get on his nerves. This quote shows how war affects people’s psychological state as soldiers live every moment in fear of death.
“He had decided to live forever or die in the attempt.”
The narrator is describing the guiding principle of Yossarian’s life. Obsessed about his death, he wants to avoid combat missions and longs to get out of the war. It is his fear of death that never allows him to perform courageously in the combat. He is afraid that he may be killed while flying a combat mission. He is engaged in the struggle for survival. This quote is significant in that it shows that people who are unwillingly projected in wars never perform their duty actively.
“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.”
Doc Daneeka explains why Yossarian will never be able to come out of combat missions. He tells that Yossarian can only be grounded if he is crazy, but wishing to be grounded proves that he is sane. Therefore, he has to fly combat missions. The phrase, Catch-22 defines the lunacy of military life where there is not only one catch but also continuous challenging missions. As a result, the characters find themselves in ambiguous situations that are impossible to tackle rationally.
“But they don’t say you have to go home. And regulations do say you have to obey every order. That’s the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you’d still have to fly them, or you’d be guilty of disobeying an order of his. And then the Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters would really jump on you.”
Yossarian and Doc Daneeka discuss that Catch-22 was just a concept, which illustrates how the system works. However, to the officials, Catch-22 is a principle that allows them a free hand to take any action they want. According to the commands of Twenty-Seven Air Force, the accomplishment of forty combat missions is a must for every fighter pilot. Therefore, after completing the required tasks, Yossarian intends to return home, and the officials do not grant his request. Here, Doc Daneeka is reasoning that soldiers cannot go against the official orders. If they do, they are guilty of negligence. This quote shows the bureaucracy of the military.
“The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with.”
The writer discusses an important incident with a touch of black humor. This quote relates the incident of Clevinger’s arrest at the cadet school. Although he had no idea why he was arrested, his commanders have already decided his fate before he faces the trial. This quote shows the backward mentality of the military officials who assume that their principles are right.
“Ex-PFC Wintergreen accepted the role of digging and filling up holes with all the uncomplaining dedication of a true patriot.”
Clevinger speaks these words for Wintergreen, a mail clerk. He wants to become a general but remains absent without leave during his military service. Whenever he goes absent without leave, he is caught and punished to dig and fill holes. And, he readily accomplishes this task with no objection. Therefore, Clevinger suggests that the way he performs this duty shows that he is a true patriot.
“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 if we can.”
The chaplain was apologetic. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m afraid all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God.”
“Then let’s get some new ones.”
Colonel Cathcart and Chaplin are talking about saying a prayer before undertaking each mission. According to Cathcart, religion serves as a tool to get benefits without understanding its real spirit. Hence, he asks the chaplain to tell a joke. It seems that he can do anything to preserve his strategic outlook without faith in God. These lines explain that not everyone has faith in God who invisible. Instead, they trust in their skills.
“What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany and Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many counties can’t all be worth dying for.”
The old man, who runs the Roman Brothel, speaks these words. Nately and the old man plunge into a long debate about the principles. Here, the old man is trying to explain what a country is and why people wage wars. He argues that everyone jumps in the war to preserve the name of his own country. It means that wars are fought on the abstract notion of patriotism without foreseeing its consequences.
“Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.”
The protagonist, Yossarian speaks about the manipulating power of the military and the malfunctioning of bureaucracy that allows the officers to misuse it. The concept of catch-22, on account of its unclear nature, allows the officials to do anything they want. Since it is not an official document, it cannot be challenged or disapproved. Its existence enables the officials to expand their rule and exploit others. This quote confirms that power corrupts people.
“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.”
This passage explains the horrific death of Snowden. His death makes Yossarian realize the reality of life. He feels that man, without a spirit, is nothing but only a matter. This incident also allows him to foresee his own death. The final sentence, “Ripeness was all” is highly symbolic as it contains a message of hope, implying a man can be truly alive for a short period. Yossarian holds on to this hope and leaves the army to live.