Meanings of “Catch-22”

The phrase “catch-22” means a paradoxical situation in which an individual finds himself trapped in a way that he does not have any escape. It is quite similar to the phrases -the devil and the deep sea, between a rock and a hard place, and between Scylla and Charybdis.

Origin of “Catch-22”

The phrase “catch-22” is stated to have been coined by a popular novelist, Joseph Heller, who has used it in his novel titled with the same phrase. The character of Dan Daneeka uses this phrase thus;

“You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Catch 22 by Jeff Bresee

And if forever starts to pound
Hard on the door to knock it down
I’ll stack the furniture
Up high and deep

I’ll nail some boards
Ill brace, I’ll wedge
I’ll cross my heart
I’ll make a pledge!
That, “While forever’s there
I’ll never sleep”

For in the end I know I’ll win
I’ll never let forever in
Nor ever let it have
Its way with me

And I’ll not step
Outside again
Yes, can’t you see
I’m bound to win
Forever locked inside…
Is where I’ll be

These are the last four stanzas of the poem. Although the first three stanzas do not highlight the issue with “forever” as its small-lettered initial shows, the final stanza portrays  Forever, as a specific person or thing. The poet states that if Forever is locked, he will also be there locked inside the room. This struggle of the poet with this ‘Forever’ starts from the very start of the poem and continues until the end, reflecting his catch-22 situation in which he is bound to stay, having no escape. Therefore, the meanings of the phrase have been highlighted through this metaphorical representation of time.

Example #2

The Odd Nostalgia of a New “Catch-22” By Troy Patt from New Yorker May 18, 2019

“Catch-22,” on Hulu, based on Joseph Heller’s novel, stars Christopher Abbott as John Yossarian, a U.S. Army bombardier whose serial failures to escape the Second World War exemplify the madness of combat, military bureaucracy, and everything else. The fame of the title, of course, has outlived the renown of the book. The catch, as the squadron physician explains to the protagonist, is that, although a flier can be grounded if he is crazy, to announce oneself to be crazy is to demonstrate one’s sanity. The show—which is written by Luke Davies and David Michôd, and has episodes directed by George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and Ellen Kuras—dramatizes this defining paradox, and many subsidiary ironies, with warm absurdism.

Highlighting the stage arrangement of the popular novel, the writer says that the show of Luke Davies almost presents the same ironic situation which points to the meanings of the phrase as given in the title. Here, the meaning is just as mentioned in the description. The discussion was mainly about the book made into the film and how the characters were impacted by the book’s theme.

Example #3

Catch 22 by Illy

Some paint the town (some paint the town)
Some sing the blues (some sing the blues)
Oh some you win, oh some you lose
It’s all a catch-22

This refrain is repeated several times in the entire lyric showing the situation of catch-22, as the title of the lyric implies. The singer clearly describes the situation saying some lose, and some win. It happens almost in every situation and everywhere. Therefore, it is all catch-22 everywhere.

Example #4

From Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

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 were 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.

This paragraph occurs in the fifth chapter of the novel, where Don Daneeka is stating the situation of catch-22, explaining that Orr’s situation is the same and that he has to fly the plane willy-nilly. The explanation of the phrase is very beautiful in that the characters have no escape from this bureaucratic setup.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “John found himself in a catch-22 situation. He had to choose between to big companies, one offered him the highest position and the other offered a higher salary.”

Example #2: “Students who want to give the test were in catch-22! The teacher would not give extra grades even after they submitted the assignment before the deadline.”

Example #3: “Manny was in catch-22, he needed money. He had to take the job he hated the most because of the pandemic.”

Example #4: “Don’t get into catch-22, father warned his son. The right choice was to walk about from both situations.”

Example #5: “The detective was catch-22, the culprit was his best friend and the victim was his brother. He had to save one of them.”