Leading Themes in Catch 22 And Hamlet, Novels
Mortality, especially suicide, is a leading theme for both the novel Catch 22 and the play Hamlet, for both works of literature emphasize on the thoughts of the individual on self-inflicted death. Death is looked at from alternative points of view in both works, it is seen in positive manners, as an escape, as a helping hand in a cruel world, and this makes suicide a pivotal theme for both works although only one character per work actually goes through with it. In Catch-22, death is presented as both the most frightening enemy and the most charitable friend of the soldier. In Hamlet, death is presented as the mysterious alternative to life’s misery. In both works, suicide as a theme serves to show how humanity can be pushed to a certain point in which life itself seems like the worst option.
One of Catch 22’s most valuable messages is that which it states about the value of life during violent war. In the novel, symbolism is used to show that the life of the soldier is devalued and completely put to the side by the authorities in war. Men stop being men, and they become weapons, tools for winning battles and increasing the ranks of officials. When the lives of these men are regarded in such low standards, questions about the subject of suicide arise in their minds. Being alive, for these men, is suicide, they go off into war and know they are exposing themselves to thousands of deadly weapons, “They are inches away from death every time they go on a mission.” Chapter 4, pg. 48. Death is creeping up to these soldiers, and ironically, death seems to be the only way to escape death, it is a Catch-22. It is only explicitly stated in the book that a single character, McWatt, commits suicide, but suicide is in the mind of every soldier in Catch 22, they are all trying to cheat death every day of their lives, the only way to end this battle with death is to actually give in to it.
In Hamlet, death is a major theme since the beginning of the play. Hamlet’s (the main character’s) father has died, leaving him in severe distress. Hamlet begins to contemplate mortality, reaching the conclusion that death is something to be desired, for it is the only way one can escape the torture that is inherent to life. “To die, to sleep–No more–and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” says Hamlet in his famous soliloquy, showing how suicide was going through his mind, seeming to be the only way to fight against the cruelty in life. In the play Hamlet, only Ophelia, a secondary character, commits suicide, but the main character Hamlet, plays with the idea of it in his mind, making conclusions about how despite its obscurity, it seems to be the best option. For Hamlet, the only aspect contradicting self inflicted death is that such an action is prohibited by the church. Hamlet states that if it wasn’t for the fact that “that the Everlasting had fix’d His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter!” he wouldn’t have thought twice about committing suicide. In the play, death is the only promising future, the only saviour for the suffering human.
Many similarities can be found within the two texts in what was previously stated about the theme of suicide. Both works present death as the only alternative to the never-ending cycle of suffering in life. In both works, suicide is seen as more of a recurring idea than an actual action, since only one character per play actually commits suicide. Although the concept of Catch 22 wasn’t around at the time Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare, there is definitely a catch-22 concerning suicide within the play: Hamlet wants to escape suffering in life, but the only way to do this is to escape life itself. However, committing suicide leads to hell, for it is prohibited by God, so escaping suffering can only bring more suffering, and therefore there is a catch, there is no escape. The intertextuality between these two works provides an interesting viewpoint on death: that which is desirable and unreachable, even though it happens to everyone. But despite their similarities on the subject of suicide as a theme, Catch 22 and Hamlet have some differences in their expression of the subject. In Catch 22, death and suicide are expressed through symbols. The hospital is a symbol of a dignified death, soldiers become a symbol of inevitable homicide, Bologna becomes a symbol of a threat to life. In Hamlet, instead of death and suicide being expressed through symbols, they are expressed more crudely, directly. Hamlet talks about his father’s death and his own possible death as something real, without euphemisms or metaphors. Death in Hamlet is the most undeniable subject in the play.
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller and Hamlet by William Shakespeare both show their main characters in infinitely distressing situations, making suicide a necessary subject of thought for them. Both works expose the subject of suicide and death as an escape from suffering, a form of redemption. Either by using symbolism or directly stating the importance of having the option of death, each work makes it clear that to die is the most desirable and undesirable, obtainable and unobtainable alternative to life.
My Personal Attitude to Catch 22 Novel
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller takes place in the island of Pianosa near Italy during the Second World War, in the early 1940s. The group is stationed in an Air Force base, and some of the scenes in battle are above Italian cities.
I really enjoyed this novel. Catch 22 is chocked full of irony and humor, from the paradoxical leaderships of Yossarian’s Air Force to the circular reasoning of much of the characters. Heller’s writing style is very absorbing, and he is a master in describing things in clever ways without being cliche. One example is at the beginning of the novel. Yossarian, bored with the duties of censoring letters, starts censoring the address of the letters. The narrator describes this as obliterating whole towns and cities with the “flicks of his wrist as though he were God”.
A lot of the entertaining humor comes from the ridiculous situations in the novel. For example, some of the enlisted men thought that Ernest Hemingway was a spy because their Major, Major Major, started signing letters with Hemingway’s signature him so they couldn’t be returned. Another is the subplot of the C.I.D. spies looking for traders, who end up suspecting each other of being a trader.
The narrator uses comedy outside of just plot devices as well. The narrator uses plenty of repetition, like in this exchange on page 41:
“White Halfoat would tiptoe up to his cot one night when he was sound asleep and slit his throat open for him from ear to ear. Captain Flume had obtained this idea from Chief White Halfoat himself, who did… hiss portentously that one night when he, Captain Flume, was sound asleep he, Chief White Halfoat, was going to slit his throat open for him from ear to ear.”
Like the quote above, much of the comedy is dark. A lot of this comes through the form of irony. Some of the soldiers that die throughout the novel actually enjoy the war a lot more than Yossarian, who hates it and survives. These people have all usually have strange personal reasons, like financial profit.
The novel has these this type of comedy on each page, which really appealed to me as a reader. Without the comedy, this book would have a completely different tone. We actually get a taste of that tone towards the end, where the narrator suspends comedy to focus on the death and destruction of the bombing raids on local villages.
I was quite surprised in how this book was written. I did not expect the book to be as much of a comedy as it was, especially with the dark tones of World War Two. This expectation quickly died within the first few pages.
I quite honestly do not think about class discussion or the assignment while I am reading, because I enjoy much more to focus on the book and find quotes, questions, or do the assignment later. This also keeps my interest on the book rather than the assignment. Therefore, my reading style didn’t significantly change.
Yossarian, who joined the Air Force only because he thought the war would be over by the time he became a pilot, grows more and more frustrated with the illogical bureaucracy of the leaders of the air force that refuse to let anyone take leave. Yossarian feels as though he is the only sane person in the army because he realizes how many people are trying to kill him. The novel jumps around time, sometimes recapping old stories with a much dimmer and more real tone. Yossarian finally refuses to fly any more missions and escapes to Sweden.
The central purpose of this work was to show the hypocrisy of the high ranking officials in war time and to expose the absurdity of war. This seemed to be a common trope in the war novels of this generation (starting with the lost generation after World War I, especially with books such as All Quiet on the Western Front).
This purpose was accomplished significantly in Catch-22. One does not even have to cite the historical context and reception of this book by the public for evidence. The text itself gives countless examples of the hypocrisy and absurdity of war, right up to the name of the book. The Catch-22 refers to the policy in which a man must be insane to leave the Air Force, and any man who requests to leave due to insanity is therefore sane because only a sane man would choose to leave the Air Force.
Throughout the novel, the minimum number of required missions to leave the army is continually raised to the point where the protagonist realizes he will never reach the required missions. Other hypocrisies emerge in the reading, such as the accused being denied fair trial to defend themselves because, as the accusers state, if they were innocent they wouldn’t have been accused.
The importance of this type of literature cannot be overstated. We have a lot of empirical evidence for how types of literary movements changed the stigma behind war. In World War I, for example, French troops were going into battle on horseback in full traditional military uniform. By the years soon after, they adopted the standard 20th century grey uniform. This is a parallel to the public’s opinion of war throughout the former half of the century. Perceptions that war was a place for brave men to gain honor were quickly eroded as young men were thrown into what were dubbed “meat grinders”. The public’s opinion of war were permanently shifted by battles like Verdun and the fascism in World War Two associated with wartime. I believe it is a mistake here to note only correlation between the public’s perception of war and the literary movements around them. Books like Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse Five brought the home front onto the front lines, and recorded it for future generations to see. The importance of the public realizing the horrors of war is extremely important today, where drone operations and permanent hegemony make war easily forgettable.
The ideal reader of any work is whose persuasion will be most important. Therefore, the ideal reader of this work would be anyone shielded from an ongoing war. Anyone who is in a war would already have much of the knowledge of war’s injustice having endured it, so they would obtain less unique information from reading it. The interest brought by someone ignorant of the war front but willing to learn would most likely be curiosity. The effect of the novel would be a shift of opinion on the matter of war from something honorable, or at least necessary, to something that should be avoided at all costs due to war’s inherent tragedy.
I do not think I am personally the most ideal reader of this work because I already recognize how terrible war is. I may not know it as fully as someone in a war would, but due to the internet age where information is easily accessible, I know it enough to decide that it is a bad thing. My generation as a whole, however, would be an ideal reader because many still support wars the US is engaging in (even in situations of a proxy war). The fact that some people do not even know we are currently engaged in a war because it is shielded from the American people or not officially ratified by congress means people can block it out completely, so books like this who bring it to the attention of the American people are important.
War As a Crucial Element in Catch 22 Novel
The ability to think both rationally and irrationally is simultaneously a blessing and a curse for the human race. In the satirical novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, this bittersweet power to reason and think logically proves to be the source of conflict for the protagonist, Yossarian, as he struggles to survive in combat. In the backwards, militaristic world that Yossarian is a part of, the absurd clause of “Catch-22” keeps him from escaping combat missions because of his sanity. Throughout Yossarian’s comical journey, we are exposed to the illogical machinations of the military, absurdities that attest to the imprudent philosophy that war is a necessary prerequisite for peace. By employing literary devices such as irony, characterization, and satire, Heller purposefully makes statements from his own experience concerning the objectives of war. Heller successfully proves that the idea of war as a means for establishing peace is a conundrum on both a philosophical and a personal level.
In order to understand the author’s implications in Catch-22, we must first grasp the extent to which his work subtly influenced modern American society. Nowadays, the term “catch-22” has become a common term or phrase in the American lexicon. The novel itself coined the term and inspired its widespread popularity. With the publishing of Joseph Heller’s novel in 1961, popular culture was exposed to the phrase and it has since grown to be a misunderstood, yet commonly used, term in our language (Martin np). Interestingly enough, the title of Heller’s novel was originally Catch-18, but the novel Mila 18 was published around the same time and Heller was asked to change the name to prevent mix-ups between the two (Zotti np).
Although the phrase has spread like wildfire since the publishing of Catch-22, it has grown to take on a different meaning than originally intended. According to the novel, the clearest definition of a “Catch-22” can be found through the narrator’s explanation on page 47:
“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 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.”
The text makes it clear that a “catch-22” is a paradoxical, illogical situation. Yossarian is restrained by the subjective demands of his superiors because his mental state, whether it be sane or insane, would preclude him from being grounded. Fortunately for the courageous individuals who serve our country, the illogicality of war is not vocalized in a law as ridiculous as the theoretical clause of Catch-22.
Although it is clear that these circumstances do exist in reality, the phrase “catch-22” is often over-generalized to apply to situations in which a person has to make two bad choices. In psychology, the state of being faced with two difficult choices is actually called an “avoidance-avoidance conflict” (Merriam-Webster np). The confusion between an “avoidance-avoidance conflict” and a “catch-22” is unfortunately quite common and it takes away from the sheer brilliance of the phrase that endows the eponymous novel.
Armed with a greater understanding of the term “catch-22”, it is easy to see how fitting it is for the phrase to be so broadly used. The universal usage of this term parallels the ubiquitous existence of war and conflict in our society. Organized military structures can be traced back as far as 2700 B.C.E. in Sumer (Gabriel, Metz 1). For thousands of years, war has been closely tied with humanity in general. Whether it is a result of theological, economic, geographical, or familiar disputes, war is used as a barbaric method for solving problems. Realistically, it is impractical and illogical to propose violence as a solution when peace is the ultimate goal. In order to resolve a conflict, the opposing parties should not exacerbate the dispute; rather, it is logical and beneficial to both sides if the opponents work towards achieving peace directly.
The author, Joseph Heller, was familiar with this absurd philosophy of using war to engender peace because he was a World War II veteran himself (Plimpton np). Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier for the United States. According to the 5% death rate associated with these missions, Heller should have been killed three times, but he was fortunate enough to survive and recount his anti-war sentiments by writing Catch-22. Not only are some of the scenes in the novel taken from his own experiences, but also others are references to the wartime memories of his peers. For example, the scene in which the psychiatrist, Major Sanderson, discusses Yossarian’s dream of holding a fish on pages 302 to 305 was inspired by a similar war story that George Mandel told to Heller. Essentially, it is clear that Heller’s anti-war sentiments and jabs at the illogical nature of the military, bureaucracies, and combat in general are more than presumptions; they are justified statements for which Heller has the necessary ethos to write. His first hand experiences with flying combat missions in the war enabled him to speak passionately, lucidly, and satirically about the confusing nature of war.
Throughout the novel, the author employs irony to symbolically illustrate the ridiculous nature of war. The specific situations he proposes are meant to represent the universally illogical ideas behind war. For example, rather than being reprimanded for his failure to bomb the target at Ferrara, Yossarian is honored with a medal and promoted to captain for flying over the target twice, even though his actions resulted in the death of Kraft (141-144). Colonel Cathcart rewards Yossarian for his incompetence during the mission even though it would traditionally be expected that Yossarian be punished. This scene is a testament to Heller’s points about the absurd nature of war.
Another ironic and absurd situation involves the actions of a character known as “Nately’s whore” (463) throughout the end of the novel. Nately, a friend of Yossarian’s, had been showing his affection for a particular prostitute. She rarely offered him any reciprocated attention, unless he was paying her, but she began to love him during their last encounter. She valued the attention he gave her, so when Yossarian informed her that Nately was dead, she vigilantly fought to murder Yossarian since she thought he had been Nately’s killer. Although she gave Nately little attention until shortly before his death, she was violently distraught over it when Yossarian broke the news to her. Her anger continued throughout the remainder of the novel, as seen through her relentless attempts to murder Yossarian.
On page 439, Nately’s whore attempts to kill Yossarian with a kitchen knife while he is at camp. Several pages later, ironically, he is lauded for supposedly saving Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn from a Nazi assassin as part of a deal (443). Once again, Yossarian is being recognized for something negative; in this case, he is made out to be a hero by the Colonels since they have made an arrangement to send him home after boosting his reputation. Yossarian’s incessant resistance to authority and his stab wound are turned into positives as he is put in position to be sent home as a hero. Eventually, Yossarian chooses to desert instead of following through with the deal, and he narrowly escapes another assassination attempt by Nately’s whore as he leaves. Her continued violent reaction was drastically different from her original feelings towards Nately, making another ridiculous moment in the novel that shows how backwards the world of Catch-22, and ultimately our world, tends to be.
The situational irony that relates to the absurdly named Major Major Major Major is that is unwarranted promotion to squadron commander on page 91. Colonel Cathcart informs Major Major Major that he is the new squadron commander, earning him the title Major Major Major Major, but clarifies this achievement by saying, “’But don’t think it means anything, because it doesn’t. All it means is that you’re the new squadron commander’” (91). Ultimately, this position of authority results in Major Major Major Major actually losing respect, contrary to what most people would think should happen. He becomes so alienated from his old friends that he decides to only allow people into his office when he isn’t present, preventing them from entering until he leaves. Sergeant Towser is placed in charge of regulating this irrational policy on page 102 by being told that he must make certain that Major Major Major Major has left before he can let anyone into the office. The ironic loss of respect that Major Major Major Major faces and his consequent construction of a paradoxical meeting policy make evident the author’s negative views on the inconsistencies, contradictions, and complexities of the military and its ventures.
There is abounding evidence of verbal irony in the text as well; for example, on page 36, Colonel Korn is said to have a “stroke of genius” (36) when he creates a rule that only allows questions to be asked by the people who don’t ask questions. This rule, which is clearly illogical, is praised unconditionally. On page 28, an entire paragraph is dedicated to the sarcastic lauding of Colonel Cargill for his phenomenal ability to ruin enterprises and fail miserably. The entire paragraph is phrased as a compliment to Colonel Cargill, but the actual intention is to deride his lack of intelligence and his shortcomings as a marketing executive.
While various forms of irony are prevalent throughout the novel and serve to bolster the author’s points about war, the direct and indirect characterization of figures in the novel has a clearer association with the purpose of the novel. Our protagonist, Yossarian, is cast to be the only character in the novel with some semblance of rational thought, for he recognizes the inherent unfairness in Catch-22 and he yearns endlessly to be sent home. Disparaging conversations about Yossarian that are held between Colonel Cathcart and other officers enable the author to directly characterize Yossarian as a nuisance to the military due to his constant fear of dying on missions. Yossarian and his friend, Dunbar, often seek to escape from combat by feigning sickness and going into the hospital. Conveniently, Yossarian’s fake illness becomes a catch-22 on its own; his liver pains are not severe enough to be considered jaundice, a condition that can be treated, but they also aren’t meager enough to have him sent back into combat (7). In order for Yossarian to be treated, his “illness” has to get worse, but since it doesn’t get worse, he can’t be treated and made healthy enough to return to combat. Yossarian briefly succeeds at using the same logical fallacies that keep him in the war to his advantage, demonstrating his own intelligence and becoming a subtle form of irony as well.
While his sarcasm towards other characters throughout the novel and his understanding of his own desires are evidence of his sanity, he tries to portray himself as an insane person. In an argument with Clevinger on page 20, Clevinger calls Yossarian crazy for being paranoid and thinking that everybody was out to get him. On page 46, Yossarian argues with Doc Daneeka in an attempt to justify his own insanity. A prostitute, Luciana, calls Yossarian crazy on page 164 when he asks her to marry him.
Evidently, Yossarian contrasts his rational thoughts with his desire to be considered ostensibly insane. It seems as if he is attempting to comfort himself by conforming, but ultimately, it is to no avail. On page 455, a conversation between Major Danby and Yossarian illustrates Yossarian’s desire to stand up for himself: “’From now on I’m thinking only of me.’ Major Danby replied indulgently with a superior smile, ‘But Yossarian, suppose everyone felt that way’” (455). Yossarian’s witty response confirms his logical sanity: “‘Then I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way, wouldn’t I?’”(455). According to Catch-22 and clear to see the reader, Yossarian’s concern for his wellbeing is a sign that he is sane, but he is viewed as completely and almost humorously discontent with his life. Yossarian’s witty remarks, safety worries, and falsely nonsensical behaviors all contribute to the indirect characterization of Yossarian as a sane man who is pushed to his limits in an insane world.
In contrast, several of the other characters are directly and indirectly described as insane without having to prove it themselves. Aarfy pretends to be unable to hear Yossarian’s demands for his cooperation during a mission, even when their lives are in danger (152). He playfully pokes Yossarian in the ribs and displays no regard for the dire situation they are in, prompting Yossarian to fittingly ask of him, “’Are you crazy?’”
Similarly, the actions of Orr characterize him as insane on a variety of levels. On pages 23 and 24, Orr describes his old habit of placing horse chestnuts or crab apples in his cheeks. Later on, Orr claims that Appleby has flies behind his eyes, prompting Yossarian to break the news to Appleby and resulting in some clear confusion (47). Other characters, including Havermeyer on page 32, claim that Hungry Joe is crazy. Yossarian openly agrees with Havermeyer’s statement as well (32). Even Chief White Halfoat demonstrates some behaviors that make his sanity questionable; his apparent decision to die of pneumonia and his claim to slit Captain Flume’s throat are worrisome and unnatural.
Clearly, the themes of sanity and insanity play a major role in the characterization of figures throughout the novel. This focus on the mental state of characters is not only central to the author’s points about the nonsensicality of war, but it also has a strong basis in reality. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is an illness that afflicts many individuals who have had shocking experiences due to their military backgrounds. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder np). It also states the exposure to combat, being threatened by armed individuals, and being physically assaulted could be causes of the disorder, which includes other symptoms like aggressive outbursts, constant fears of danger, depression, difficulty sleeping, and sensitivity to frightening situations. These symptoms are evident in the anxiety of Captain Flume, the nightmares of Hungry Joe, and the fervent concern for safety of Yossarian. They can all be attributed to the aforementioned, conflict-related causes as well. The overbearing effect of the war on the bombardiers in Yossarian’s squadron is directly described on page 27:
“There were more of them now than when Yossarian had gone into the hospital and they were still waiting. They worried and bit their nails. They moved sideways like crabs. They were waiting for the orders sending them home to safety to return from Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters in Italy, and while they waited they had nothing to do but worry and bite their nails and find their way solemnly to Sergeant Towser several times a day to ask if the orders sending them home to safety had come.”
Besides the intrinsic illogicality of war on a philosophical level, there are also consequences that damage individuals on a personal level, as seen above. The effect of war on the characters in Catch-22 plays a significant role in the way they are portrayed by the author and contributes to the author’s overall perspective on war.
An important aspect of the novel to consider is its genre; Catch-22 falls under the category of a satire. A satire is defined as “a literary work in which human foolishness or vice is attacked through irony, derision, or wit” (“Satire” np). They comically criticize the values of individuals, organizations, or humanity at large in order to make declarative statements about the issues they address.
The characterization of the officers as unintelligent and nonsensical contributes to the satire found in the novel, which serves to present the war as an idiotic conflict spurred on by unnecessary bureaucracies and unresolved issues. The authority figures in Catch-22 are mostly portrayed as power-hungry, absentminded individuals. Several scenes, such as the unjust, comical trial of Clevinger on pages 76 to 83, Colonel Cargill’s assumption that “T.S. Eliot” is a secret code on pages 37 and 38, and Colonel Cathcart’s obsessive analysis of Yossarian from pages 213 to 219, are meant to illustrate just how little common sense these high-ranking officers possess. The ridiculous actions and statements of the officers and administration are meant to represent the overarching ridiculousness that the author sees in war. Ineffective bureaucracies, incompetent officers, and useless wars are all corruptions that the author seeks to unveil. Colonel Cathcart’s continuous raising of the required amount of missions and the failure by all officers to acknowledge the luggage of a deceased soldier that remains in Yossarian’s room are just two examples of the militaristic inadequacies that make unjust wars even worse. It’s as if the socially accepted status of war and militaristic administration are drastically askew, but they have yet to be universally seen as issues; this idea is expressed concisely through a single quote in the novel: “He woke up blinking with a slight pain in his head and opened his eyes upon a world boiling in chaos in which everything was in proper order” (148).
An interruption to the brutal sarcasm and mockery of Catch-22 can be found on page 175, where we find Yossarian and several others considering the unfairness of our world. Malaria strikes a warrant officer for no apparent reason and a father who worked tirelessly for years died without sending his children to college, but a young man who admits to laziness has a $300,000 fortune waiting for him back home. People don’t get what they deserve; illness, misfortune, and death strike those who’ve worked endlessly to succeed, but success and riches are thrown haphazardly into the arms of some who haven’t labored a single day. This reflective section of the text alludes to the general unfairness of life and war especially; innocent men and women lose their lives after valiant attempts to serve their countries and the casualties of vulnerable laypeople are equally disturbing consequences. Heller uses fragments of chapters like this one to propose poignant statements about the pointlessness of war, sprinkling them throughout the novel in order to break up his satirical mockery with some more emotion.
Outside of the novel, Heller is not a maverick in his views; a wide variety of individuals feel similarly about the futile nature of war. Gregory A. Daddis analyzes the question of why we go to war in an article for the LA Times (Daddis np). His article asserts that war is not only lacking in political value, but also falling short of attaining its apparent goal- to establish peace. The idea of exacerbating a conflict in order to resolve it seems quite counterproductive, but surprisingly, it has been a practiced tradition for far too many years. Daddis closes his article with a reference to the song “War” by Edwin Star, in which the lyrical question “War, what is it good for?” receives the answer “Absolutely nothing” (Daddis np). This view of war as an ineffective and illogical tool is a perspective shared by a man who is arguably one of the brightest minds to ever walk this Earth. That man is no other than Albert Einstein, the world-renowned physicist whose theory of relativity was used for the construction of the nuclear bomb (Jha np).
An obscure correspondence between Einstein and a fellow genius, psychoanalytical psychologist Sigmund Freud, was conducted to discuss their views on how to rid humanity of war. Einstein disapproves of war and, at one point, he proposes that a supranational organization be established to settle disputes diplomatically. Freud, in response, attempts to explain this human tendency to engage in war as a natural behavior and he states that unity and community are forces strong enough to overcome the desire for war in order to resolve conflicts. It is clear that even two of the world’s brightest thinkers have agreed with the impracticality of war as a means for engendering harmony. Entire organizations, such as the World Beyond War movement, are dedicated to pushing our society to become a civilization in which war is no longer relied upon (World Beyond War np). The movement’s website debunks certain “myths” about war, including the ideas that “War is necessary” and “War is beneficial” (World Beyond War np).
In retrospect, it should have been clear to our civilization that war is in fact an unnecessary, avoidable hindrance to the betterment of society. It is nonsensical to engage in combat, risking innocent lives and causing widespread destruction, when the ultimate goal is to attain peace through such bloodshed. The continuation of this illogical heuristic for finding peace is spurred on in part by the overly bureaucratic and insensitive military administrations, according to Joseph Heller. His satirical novel Catch-22 is one that delves into the paradoxical nature of war and insanity, illustrating his anti-war sentiments through the use of irony, characterization, satire, and the confusing scenario of catch-22s. Ultimately, Heller was successful in proving that war cannot be a just means for establishing peace. With the widespread reach of his groundbreaking novel, this notion has reached individuals across the world, hopefully inspiring them to see the detrimental and nonsensical consequences of war.
Catch 22: The Consequences Of Characters’ Actions
Almost all characters in Catch 22 made decisions on behalf of the society, which in return came back to haunt the society. American society had its values and ethics, but the novel demonstrates how the dehumanization, greed, and evil was brought about by individual interest. These actions have undesirable consequences for the nation. The role of the military is basically to protect its people and not to turn against them. The military turned out to be the most unethical unit portrayed in the novel. Just like any other novel, the characteristics of the Catch 22 actions come up with dire consequences to American society.
John Yossarian, one of the captains in the army air forces, was obligated to fight against Nazis but instead sacrificed his life on the altar of all-absorbing wars. This was his personal decision that he was to stand alone and not on the interest of the many citizens and the nation which entrusted him in the war that he was going to deliver the best in that he said: ‘ That’s some catch, the catch 22’. Yossarian was a protagonist and was also an active member of the Squadron’s community. Catch 22 gives a good and clear illustration of how to become a betrayer in the community by not doing what you have been sent to do but instead focused on what is good for you.
However, anyone in the military was then obligated to ensure that they submit to what the authority obliges them to do. It is not yet clear whether there is good evidence as to why they are on one side, which is on the military and not on ordinary people. The role of the military is to protect, not to kill and do other evil things to society. The impact this action had shown the time Yossarian went to Rome and talks to old women; their conversation indicated that police had ruined the town. ‘The police run the girls who were in the brothels and run-away’ meaning that there was a lot which happened and impacted the social life of the girls who believed to be there forever. Self-perseverance then created a conflict for Yossarian is such a way that he overlooked his own life. Even though he was much more determined to save his own life in whatever way, he never minded the other members of his group who were traumatized by the deaths. His actions were in many ways far from the literary expected, and that is the reason why he was not ready to face the people in return. His actions depressed his people to the sense that they installed trust and hope in him but went ahead to let them down by not protecting them.
Moreover, the actions of characters like Milo, who was an extreme version of capitalist, really hurt his people. At first, he comes up with something like a business deal which he was much contented with using to make a profit. He then he used his knowledge to make sure that he is in the best position with the expense of the people who are looking over him “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”. The business in the black-market was all that he wanted to see even though many others could argue that there is a need to elaborate on the system of governance. Instead of being a soldier and stand firm for his people, he was engaged in a business which he used to exploit them. The bureaucratic system of governance as well was not in line with what was required by society. The outcome was not what was expected, the government then misused the powers in the name, ensuring that its people are safe but in a real sense, they meant no good for them. All they wanted was to benefit some few individuals who have been in the military, and life was not important to them. It is the obligation of the society and the government to make sure that life is protected and guaranteed; the government is using its powers to oppress its people.
Milo’s actions took a sinister air when he decided to Bomb his Squadron as part of a deal he literary signed with the Germans. It was because of his decisions, which are then believed to be inhumane and evil for people to be killed. “It doesn’t make a damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone dead’. Many people lost their lives, whereas many were unable to even trace their families and relatives due to the scatter and separation they have gone. All this with the expense of a black market and shows how hurdles he was not to think about the impact he had on his people. ‘This was like an evil force which no man could avoid’ illustrating how deadly the bombs and the killings were bythen.
Nevertheless, the consequences of his greed for money and high profits landed his people into trouble because many men and women lost their lives. It was through these deaths that he celebrated his victory or achieving his desired profits. It is inhuman and evil for somebody to use his powers to oppress others or to gain on behalf of others. The best he could have done was to use other means but not necessarily signing a deal with the Germans to see his people dead. He never felt the consequences, but instead, his people felt the consequences. Milo’s actions were more rational that what Cathcart’s has done in the past because, to some extent, he is seen as liberal in the eyes of the society.
Religion was also compromised by the action of the chaplain to Adhere to all the rules of the authority that religion does not matter. He was the chaplain whom people believed in and have a home in him that he leads them to the right way of faith. He betrayed his people by allowing Colonel Cathcart to use the letters to gain popularity. Cathcart believed that “anything worth dying for … is certainly worth living for”. His actions affected his believers because their faith was now compromised and all that they believe is that God does not give strength but the power of people. This then can be treated as evil.
The character of the chaplain shows the extent of the impact of war on morality and ethical codes. It was due to the impacts of the war that they had to undergo the same transition of changing theirs believes to that which they believe could not suit the not knowing how much it will cost them in future. Just the same way, Doc Daneek confused his role as a doctor in a world where the goal of a man was primarily to cause injury and death. The military has caused all this, and society is now facing isolation on its part which is a direct consequence caused by the military and its leaders through unethical ways.
Individual or groups actions normally tend to have consequences in return. The actions of the three main characters in the novel have hurt American society in return. The military was subjected to protecting the citizens, but in return, most of its members began to engage in immoral activities which hurt them. A leader in any group setting is expected to have people he or she leads interest first. In situations where a leader is not accountable to his actions or make decisions at the expense of his people, there is likely to be consequences.
Critique Of Bureaucracy And The Government In Catch-22 By Joseph Heller
The book I am researching is ‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller. It is a book set in WW2 and focuses on the terrifying aspects of the war and how the soldiers had no power or control over anything they did or even whether they lived or died. The main character is Captain John Yossarian, a bomber that is stationed on a small island outside Italy called Pianosa. A lot of the book sees Yossarian try to escape the army as he is stuck in a ‘catch-22’ that means he cannot leave or be discharged.
A catch-22 is a ‘paradoxical loop that a person cannot escape because of contradictory rules’. An example of this in real life is finding a job. How can someone gain experience to get a job if they are constantly turned away for not having any?
There are many themes that run throughout this book. For example, the loss of religious faith or the impotence of language. The main theme that I will be focusing on is the absolute power of bureaucracy and their abuse of that power. This theme is the most influential one in the book and it gives the reader a sense of what WW2 was like and how the soldiers were governed by their superiors who had no concern for their safety. Along with this theme, I will also be focusing on the catch-22 motif that runs throughout the book. This motif links to the theme of bureaucracy because Yossarian and all his co-pilots are caught in a catch-22 by the bureaucrats. As well as this, this motif is one of the most important features of the book as it is the title and also the most well-known thing about it.
Bureaucracy is ‘a system of government in which most of the important decisions are taken by state officials rather than by elected representatives’ and the bureaucrats are the officials of that government.
In this piece of writing I want to show how Joseph Heller criticises bureaucracy and the government using catch-22s and other clever techniques. He also shows the effect that bureaucracy has on the characters within the book which reflect the negative impact the power of bureaucracy has in society. I will do this by giving examples of these techniques with explanations that help to prove my point.
Main Body of the Research
Throughout this book Heller shows the power of the bureaucracy and presents it as unfair and selfish, abusing their power for their own gain and having no care for the well-being or lives of their soldiers. He uses this to criticise and ridicule governments and bureaucracies in our society for having the same qualities, others have described the book as a satire on war and bureaucracy. He specifically focuses on how the American government abused its power during WW2, repeatedly putting their soldiers in danger for no good reason.
The bureaucrats are controlling and have little care for their soldiers
“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.”
This catch-22 has been put in place by the bureaucrats in order to stop the soldiers being able to be discharged. If they were crazy they could be discharged but if they said they were crazy, that meant they were not. The repetitive use of this motif throughout this book allows the reader to be put in Yossarians position. He is trapped, surrounded on all sides by people who want to kill him and people who want to send him to his death. The use of this motif also highlights the extent to which the soldiers are controlled and manipulated by the bureaucrats. This shows how the bureaucrats will do everything in their power to stop people from being discharged. It presents the bureaucrats within this book as being selfish and having complete disregard for any of the soldiers’ lives and reflects what Joseph Heller thinks bureaucracies and governments are like in our society.
The bureaucrats abuse their power for their own gain
“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.”
This is one of the biggest catch-22s in the whole book. Colonel Cathcart wants to be promoted so he keeps ordering his men to fly more missions before they can be discharged. This catch-22 Is the biggest thing that keeps this soldiers from escaping because every time Yossarian comes close to the required amount of missions, the colonel raises it again. The use of this motif shows the absolute disregard the bureaucrats have for the lives of their soldiers, they will put their lives in danger over and over again just because they want to be promoted. This also makes us feel sympathy for the soldiers because of the utter futility of attempting to escape the system the honest way.
The bureaucrats are unfair, people gain power and ranks not because of merit but because of luck or money.
“General Dreedle stepped up to pin a medal on him for his heroism over Ferrara”
This is the main character in the book, John Yossarian receiving a medal for his so called ‘heroics’ in one of his missions. However, the use of the abstract noun, ‘heroism’ is ironic because all he actually did was make a mistake that caused one of his comrades to be killed. Here he learns the true nature of the bureaucrats. He begins by having confidence in his actions however his actions cause other people to die and he quickly loses the confidence. When he is awarded this medal, it shows Yossarian and the readers how unjust the bureaucrats are and makes him decide that he must find any way possible to leave the army. It also shows how the bureaucrats have absolute power. You could be the bravest and most heroic soldier in the army, but the bureaucrats decide that the officer who caused people to die gets the awards for bravery and honour. This is shown again in the book when a soldier called Major Major is promoted simply because of his name. These are the messages Heller was trying to get across about the unfairness of bureaucracy.
Heller criticises real world governments because of their manipulation and abuse of their power
“‘The important thing is to keep pledging,’ he explained to his cohorts. ’It doesn’t matter whether they mean it or not. That’s why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what ‘pledge’ and ‘allegiance’ mean.’ ‘
Here, Captain Black shows his jingoism (extreme patriotism) by forcing officers to sign ‘loyalty oaths’ and claims that the more loyalty oaths an officer signs, the more ‘patriotic’ the officer was presumed to be. Heller suggests that the loyalty oaths are meaningless when he says that the officers later became forced to sign these oaths in order to be served food and granted other basic human rights. Heller’s authorial intention here is to criticise the pointlessness of American patriotism and gives the example of the pledge of allegiance, in which many young students do not even understand what they are saying. Heller is also criticising the American government for brainwashing their soldiers into accepting every order without question, allowing the people in charge to have complete power over them.
In conclusion, Joseph Heller uses the motif of catch-22 and different characters such as Captain Black and Colonel Cathcart to criticise modern bureaucracies and governments for their abuse of power, especially during WW2. He presents the bureaucracy in catch-22 as having no concern for anyone but themselves, this is supposed to be a reflection of bureaucracies and governments in society. He also uses the theme of the absolute power of bureaucracy to give the reader a sense of what life was like in WW2 and how soldiers had no control over their lives.
Depiction Of War In Joseph Heller’s Catch 22
Joseph Heller’s most famous novel, Catch-22 was published on November 10, 1961. The novel was so successful the title even got a spot in the dictionary as a catchphrase. Catch-22 is a satirical war comedy that shows the times Heller had when he was in the war. Although Heller actually enjoyed the war, he uses the experiences he had to write the novel Catch 22 to become successful and popular among the anti-war community. Many people question what changed Heller’s opinion on the war.
Joseph Heller was an American author who was born on May 1st, 1923 in Coney Island, New York. His parents are Isaac and Lena Heller, and he has two siblings named Lee and Sylvia Heller. At the age of 19, Heller joined the war and became a bombardier during World War II. After the war, he went to Columbia University to receive his bachelor’s degree in English.
There are no statements from Heller as to why he changed his opinion on the war. Regardless of his opinions, Joseph Heller became popular among the anti-war community. Heller had many instances where he made jokes throughout the story, which caused it to make people laugh, and believe it was an anti-war novel, which it was. This is not the only reason though. In an article by Charlie Reilly, he interviewed Heller and asked him a few questions, but before that he stated “Heller composed a brilliant attack not only upon the horror and lunacy of a just-completed war but upon the hypocrisy and savagery of the ongoing McCarthy witch-hunts.” The McCarthy witch-hunts were an instance where the Senator composed an idea of searching for people who were practicing communism, and send them to prison, or back to Russia. Heller wanted to point out how this stripped away peoples’ First Amendment rights. Not only did he focus on the McCarthy witch-hunts, but he also mainly focused on the war and how terrible it was. He told stories of instances in the war that were brutal, and he also told of instances in the war that made the American military look childish. His goal was to not only show his thoughts on war, but also show his experiences he had from the war. In the interview, Heller said “ I never wanted to write an autobiography, but part of my plan was to write a novel which contained autobiographical elements”. This quote from Heller tells us that a good bit of his novel is based on true facts that he had experienced when he was in the war. Knowing this, we can see how bad the war and military seems to either act towards other military members, or how it can drive people crazy. Even though at first he enjoyed the thought and just war itself, Heller saw how everything could change in an instant on the battlefield and he decided to base his novel off of it.
One peculiar thing that somehow made Heller’s book so successful was that he never followed a specific story line. All Heller told were stories of instances that had knew had happened during his war experience. One critic explains the situation in this quote, saying “The chapters follow no evident plan; time in the novel is confused because there is no narrative line”. Muste said that readers would get confused, which could also mean readers would get hooked on the novel and keep wanting to read it until they understood the whole novel. This is how the novel became so successful, because many readers enjoyed the cliffhangers that were left in each chapter. Another reason this novel became so popular is because Heller planned on writing it similar to an autobiography. Robert Merrill explains this in one of his critical essays on Catch-22. He says, “there is the peculiar nature of Heller’s flashbacks. Indeed, to use the term “flashback” is a bit misleading, for the word usually implies an episode rendered dramatically and at some length. In Catch-22 there are a number of such episodes, but Heller presents much of the relevant material in oblique references, radically truncated scenes, and passing remarks in the dialogue”. In a more simplified version of this quote, Merrill is explaining how experiences that Heller had written about were exaggerated. This really caught the eye of the anti-war community mainly because people did not see it in an exaggerated way, but they saw it in a way that made the war seem crazy. This made the novel very popular among the anti-war community because it showed, in their opinions, how their beliefs about war were correct.
War has many tragedies, and Heller uses this in a few instances in his novel to show how unpleasant the war could be. Tragedies in World War II were absolutely devastating to each country that had fought. 1,218,820 tragedies happened in World War II for the U.S army from deaths to injuries (Kohler). World War II spread death and devastation through the entire world. Although Heller did not use statistics to explain the tragedy of war in his novel, he did use stories of tragedy from different instances in his novel. One story of tragedy from the novel is when a character names Snowden dies. Heller says “I’m cold, Snowden whimpered feebly over the intercom system then in a bleat of plaintive agony, Please help me I’m cold”. Snowden was a young man who got injured when Dobbs went insane and tried to take over the plane. The plane stalled and knocked everyone over, and it managed to cut Snowden’s leg. The saddest part is his crying for help saying he is cold. Yossarian, who is the “main character,” one could say, of the novel, rushed to him, but by the time he got there it was too late. Even though one is not sure if this is one of the experiences Heller experienced in his time, it still feels real to the reader.
Heller also uses the theme of the inevitability of death so show how dangerous war can be. Yossarian’s main goal is to stay alive, or to die while he is trying to stay alive. There were many times where he almost died, and where the people he was close to died. He was the only one lucky enough to escape death. Yossarian then gets out of the war, and Heller has an opportunity to show how instances of death can be with you, even if you are not in the war anymore. Yossarian takes a rest in Rome, and he attempts to tell a one dying in the war. The woman then blames Yossarian and tries to kill him with a knife. This is a great reason as to why Heller’s book became popular. He showed how no matter you are, death will still follow, even if death will not get to you at that moment.
Catch 22 was written as an anti-war novel by someone who used to enjoy the war, and fighting in it. At first Joseph Heller enjoyed the war, but he wrote his novel making fun of the war and became very popular among the anti-war community. The main question was how, or what, changed Joseph Heller’s mind about how he felt about the war. It is really simple, looking back on how Heller had made this satirical novel, which has been stated in the previous paragraphs, anyone can see that war is what changed his mind about war. Each chapter that was written in Catch-22 was based off of similar experiences Heller had when he was in the war. Heller experienced tragedy, near death, and corrupt people during his time spent in the war. From experience of all this, he wanted to write a story based off of fictional experiences to show the world the problems that war can cause. At first, his plan did not work out how he expected. Most of the critics did not like the novel in his time, but in the long run, his plan was a major success.
Literary Analysis of Catch 22 by Joseph Steller
There is much literature on the subject of World War II. Catch-22 by Joseph Steller, published in 1961, expressively describes this nerve-racking, gruesome, and turbulent era. The story is centered around a paranoid and homesick Yossarian who is fed up with his military career as an air force bombardier. Through imagery, allusions, and mystery the author carefully crafts the storyline and each character to fit in with the surrounding events. The malingering Yossarian who is considered a hero is furious because he thinks “Every one of them, enemy forces, is trying to kill him”. Although he is a soldier in war, the main problem is not the opposing Central Powers, but is in fact his own army whose leaders keep increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their duty to the United States. Yossarian faces Catch-22, an ironic and sinister bureaucratic rule, where one is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, yet if he requested to be removed from duty, he is proven to be sane; therefore, ineligible to be relieved from service.
As Yossarian grow certain that he will not be able to leave his comrades venture on different experiences of their own from near-death missions to running fraudulent business ventures. The first climax occurs when Colonel Korn and Colonel Cathcart offer a despicable deal to Yossarian: he can either have a court martial (getting sent to prison) or be sent home. As a always there is a catch, meaning that Yossarian once after arriving to the United States has to boast about the administration and the colonels fighting the war. Colonel Korn and Colonel Cathcart are all in for this as it may get them promoted. Another sub climax occurs when Yossarian has a flashback of Snowden’ death while he was trying to treat him on a bombing run. This leads Yossarian to not betray the men of his squadron by making others fly his missions. The only option he has left is to “turn his back on the whole damned mess and start running” off into a desert in attempts to go to Sweden. How the plot unfolds can be credited to the author, Joseph Heller. As a child of Jewish immigrants from Russia, Heller recognizes what it means to be American and explores American values of liberty and war. It is said that Heller was interested in socialist politics: socialist at the time were one of many groups who were quite vary of entering WW1. This reveals one reason why the main character, Yossarian, is determined to leave the war as soon as possible. As a bombardier himself, Heller understands the pressure and tragedies that one might encounter on missions.
One of the most traumatic and life changing experiences of Heller’s life is portrayed in the book when “Yossarian crawled into the rear section of the plane…to help the gunner”; thus, this reveals Heller’s powerful indictment of the world’s most insane practice: war. Heller’s views of the nature of war is achieved through the satirical tone and fractured narrative. Heller’s personal criticism of events during the postwar years such as the Cold War, the Red Scare, nuclear anxieties, and the possibility of loss of oneself in a large corporation/organization are apparent in the book. Heller tries to target a multiple of groups: the American society, military, and large corporations. The author attacks large corporations for being greedy and degrading America’s ideals only for the sake of wealth as “someplanes were decorated with flamboyant squadron emblems illustrating such ideals as Courage, Might…that were painted out at once by Milo’s mechanics…with the stenciled name M & M ENTERPRISES…”. Among American audiences, the youth, especially men seemed to gain the most inspiration. Heller tries appeals to these to young Americans who are potential draftees for the war, by pointing out and warning about the harsh regulations how one like “Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly. 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”. This irony of Catch-22 is throughout the story and contributes to his message of how numbing war is.
Heller achieves the goal of showing the desensitizing nature of war is achieved through the rhetoric he uses. His use of ad hominems makes the reader make a generalization about the “uncompromising” character of the colonels rather than their opinion or argument. Using this Heller makes some people look “more ‘sane’ than those who willingly die for Colonel Cathcart or for a tighter bomb pattern”. Heller’s mocking tone matches the ups and downs of the storyline which also describes the absurdity of war. Once the reader become adept at understanding Heller’s style of writing to becomes easier to notice the underlying symbolism used. “The soldier in white who had been filed next to the Texan” is seen multiples time throughout the story, but it is a different human being every time despite Yossarian and Dunbar not discerning that. Heller uses this to show the indifference the government shows to its soldiers, as the soldiers may seem like basic units which can be swapped out at any time without anyone batting an eye. The author’s use of rhetoric effectively communicates his intents and dislike of war by attempting to persuade the reader to be fully aware of the corruption in this time period.
Review of the Book Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Written by Joseph Heller in 1961, Catch-22 is an absolute masterpiece of a novel that rivals giants such as Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Susanna Collins’ The Hunger Games even to this day. Amongst the mass of characters and their individual stories, is understandably a plethora of themes that conglomerate into this novel. This, is perhaps one of the major reasons for Catch-22’s seemingly everlasting success and fame as a narrative. As a result there is a colossal amount of information to unpack and simply cannot be all thoroughly explored in one review. Therefore, only the major and most evident themes and will be explained.
The story follows WWII bombardier Captain John Yossarian and his fellow officers stationed on the Italian island of Pianosa. An individualist prioritizing his own life and interests before that of others, he seeks shelter from the dangerous duty as a bombardier in a military hospital by pretending to have a pain in his liver. After being sent back to Pianosa’s front (much to his annoyance), Yossarian meets with other equally strange and interesting characters. The remainder of the novel takes place in the current year (1944), with two exceptions that both dart back a few years or so, the first to the ‘Great Big Siege of Bologna’ and the second for the sake of backstory towards Milo and his organization. Other than that, the progression of the novel is relatively straightforward – had it not been for the occasionally confusing and misleading writing (this is likely intended on the author’s part). Contrary to most novels, Catch-22’s finale is one of a rather dark and unfortunate tone with Yossarian simply unable to fly any more missions after one of his closest friends: Nately, is killed. In order to escape being court-martialed and being murdered by Nately’s prostitute, Yossarian runs away from Pianosa’s military base with everything still as hectic and dysfunctional as when the novel began. Nevertheless, the novel finishes on a good note with Yossarian hearing of his friend Orr’s survival and his successful escape to Sweden (with Yossarian swearing to reunite with him).
There is no one clear moral to Catch-22, unlike some narratives, and therefore the novel’s moral is subject to debate. This particular review will explore the following interpretation of the novel’s message: ‘Your enemy is not necessarily the person you are officially pitted against, rather, it is whomever puts you in danger in the first place’. This is highly evident throughout the novel. Particularly in Yossarian’s arc who could be much safer from the German war effort, if it was not for his greedy superiors such as Colonel Cathcart who kept increasing the minimum amount of potentially life-threatening missions before being relieved of duty and always put his squadron in the deadliest bomb runs possible. The above lesson is especially useful for students critically analyzing both present and past political and social issues. Particularly with conscription laws and the actions of political leaders. What is unfortunate though, is the fact that Heller decided to never resolve this issue, as the world war rages on with countless other implied officers just like the colonel long after the novel ends.
However, this would not be a review of Catch-22 without touching on the elephant in the room. Known literally as ‘Catch-22’, the dilemma was first described by Heller in his novel of the same name. Later adopting actual use as a concept in the real world, Catch-22 was used by the fictional military officers of the novel to prevent cowardly pilots and bombardiers from escaping their duty in the war effort. It was explained by Doc Daneeka (the squadron’s medic) in the following extract:
‘(Yossarian) ‘You mean there’s a catch?’
(Doc Daneeka) ‘Sure there’s a catch,’ Doc Daneeka replied.
‘Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.’ 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 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.’
With that in mind, the actual the final thoughts of the novel can be expressed. One of the major themes in Catch-22 is miscommunication (e.g. Yossarian censoring letters in the hospital to his preference rather than using the specified procedure; likely causing much misunderstanding between the sender and recipient, Yossarian pushing the bomb line on a target making his superiors think it was already bombed – sparing him from danger, etc.). Not only is it a strong theme for the progression and discussion of the narrative, it also functions as a perfect complement to Heller’s writing style – which proves to be quite convoluted, misleading and confusing at times (providing flavor for certain scenes). Heller’s writing style, misleading and deeply hidden morals, initially confusing – yet conceptually simple dilemmas and the novel’s drastic change in heart from a relatively optimistic satire to a much more depressing and nihilistic tragedy sparing little horror from audiences provides the novel with the perfect formula for unparalleled success, fascination and thought provocation. Due all the reasons above, whether in the final thoughts or general description and unpacking of the novel itself, Catch-22 is an absolute masterpiece and optimal for year nine students to read and later discuss – both for general enjoyment of reading and educational value.
Satire In Catch 22 By Joseph Heller
When people hear the words war, death, mental health, and pain, the last thing you would probably think about is satire. However in the book Catch 22, author Joseph Heller uses satire to bring light to all of these subjects, point out flaws in characters, and provide comedic relief. Heller revolves his book around satire, in a time when nobody had really used, or even knew, what satire was. Heller’s writing introduced readers to a new way to express humor while also shedding light on the tragedies of war and changing people’s ideas on how they view war. Satire is truly a remarkable literary element which was used perfectly in the book Catch 22. Heller would forever change the way Americans view warfare, the government, and as time went on would slowly change people’s understanding and appreciation for satire in literature and still continues to even to this day. The lessons and messages in Catch-22 are still used and are relevant even to this day, it’s truly remarkable the insight and knowledge Heller had on the world even before everyone else realized these things.
While satire and dark humor may be somewhat commonplace in today’s society, at the time of Catch 22’s release it was seen as gross and immature. Writer Whitney Balliett writing for the New Yorker described this style of comedy by saying “Heller uses nonsense, satire, non-sequiturs, slap-stick, and farce. He wallows in his own laughter and drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention.” It’s clear to see that at the time most people saw Heller’s form of comedy as a nasty grab for attention, rather than what it actually was; showing the dark ways that us humans use to cope in dark times like Yossarian does in the book to diminish and down play how bad the war actually is. The humor of the book is not the safe PG comedy people were used to at the time, it was a harsh, gritty, and coded humor with hidden messages and motivations behind each joke. However with time and the evolution of comedy, people have learned to appreciate Heller’s genius, comedy today has evolved so much in the last 50 plus years since the release of Catch 22.
Humor is subjective, and what the masses find funny is constantly evolving and changing, what people find funny will never stay the same and there will never be one thing that everyone finds funny. Catch 22 was without a doubt, ahead of its time. People were turned off by the crude humor and didn’t care enough to find the deeper meaning and loneliness behind the humor. The book is also very anti-war, now a days most people are actually opposed to war and while people at the time of Catch 22’s release didn’t necessarily want to go to war, there was definitely a different culture in people’s pride and passion for our military than we have today. This is a big reason as to why as time goes on, the book only gets more popular and the messages that it has hidden in front of our faces only ring truer. Just looking at one of the first reviews that mentioned earlier compared to a quote from a more recent review from 2011 by Chris Cox for The Guardian there is a noticeable difference in the understanding of the humor and satire. Cox says “The power of Catch 22, for me, is the way in which it plunges into that emptiness at the end of the novel, when the source of its comedy is finally revealed. Throughout, the novel’s comic surface has been punctured by shards of Yossarian’s traumatic memories of a bombing raid in which a young, enlisted soldier bled to death from flak wounds. There seems to be something up for grabs in Catch 22’s circular logic – where madness begets laughter, and laughter begets madness.” The appreciation Cox for the hidden messages behind the satire is obvious.
The use of satire and irony in Catch 22 is truly amazing, there are some many great examples in this novel of Heller’s writing genius, using his pasts experiences and hatred for war as well as his witty and dark sense of humor to do so. He uses the ignorance of characters to express their naivety and hypocritical stances shining light and mocking modern America at the time. For example Major Major, a man who always did exactly what his elders told him was described in this way by characters in the book “He never once took the name of the Lord his God in vain, committed adultery or covered his neighbor’s ass. In fact, he loved his neighbor and never even bore false witness against him. Major Major’s elders disliked him because he was such a flagrant non-comformist.” Major Major did everything right and loved everyone equally but was still disliked by people because of beliefs. Shining light on the fact that society in America is so self-centered that people will find a way to dislike even the good men in this country because everyone is so bitter and further proves the idea that in America we have a huge problem where if people do not thing like the majority they will be disliked and ridiculed for their beliefs no matter what kind of person they actually are. Other good examples of the satire as well as Heller’s masterful way to express imagery through words in the novel are expressed through many traumatic experiences of Yossarian. Like the moment when he makes the gruesome discovery after opening Snowden’s flight jacket and Yossarian standing naked in a tree at Snowden’s funeral. Heller’s goal here is to undermine the serious threats to not only Yossarian’s life but the lives of those around him, putting those threats behind Yossarians crisis of the paranoia that everyone is out to get him and that he’s living in a catch 22, a reality where nothing he does is right, and any decisions he makes just result in more pain, death, and suffering.
The way that Heller is able to use his past experiences with being a pilot in the war and use that to transition these experiences into creating the character Yossarian is remarkable. Heller perfectly mocks and pokes fun of the laughably corrupt and hypocritical society in America. And how quickly people are to happily jump into the machine of the military and die for silly reasons that they aren’t even aware of for a completely corrupt government. He expresses the flaws in people overly praising the military and having blind patriotism. He shows flaws and hypocrisies in religion and teachings in society as to what people should be. An article published by The Pennsylvania State University Press called Studies in American Humor describes the humor and satire of Catch 22 perfectly by saying this: “Perhaps the most significant dimension in which it is important to distinguish the humor of Catch-22 from simple comedy is that of the normative values which are essential to satire. As Northrop Frye points out, unlike a comedy, a satire’s ‘moral norms are relatively clear, and it assumes standards against which the grotesque and absurd are measured.’” This point of view of what a satire is perfectly portrayed by Heller in Catch-22 as he formulates and describes norms in America while exposing the ethical conflict behind those norms. Catch-22 is a gritty book that holds no punches in describing and exposing the atrocities of war, the corruption of our government, and forever changed the way satire was used in literature, as well as change the way people view government and war, and author Joseph Heller did all of this by using the amazing tool of satire.
"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller
When exploring the concept of moral appropriateness in a text, one seeks out what could be considered as what would be right, judging the situation by hand. Generally speaking when seeking out the right in circumstances the decision comes from analyzing the physical and emotional outlooks on a character in text. In this case what is being disected in terms of moral appropriateness is one of the characters from the satirical novel by Joseph Heller; Catch-22.
Nately is young man of age who resides as a not commonly character in Catch-22. He is known for being someone who is sensitive and who comes from a wealthy family. According to Catch-22; His nature was invariably gentle and polite (Heller 248) and His childhood had been a pleasant, though disciplined one (Heller 248). In terms of exploring moral appropriateness with this character, the entirety of Nately’s context revolves around another character. The whore or Nately’s whore is a prostitute from Rome that Nately falls in love with in Catch-22.
When analyzing the situations of Nately in Catch-22 , dissecting Nately’s background, and what his actions are in the novel we can conclude distinctions on what others or the readers might see as morally inappropriate. For example, Nately comes from a family of wealth yet has fallen in love with a prostitute. A prostitute in the eyes of society is looked upon lowly. This is because their profession involves committing intimate acts with strangers in exchange for money. Usually a woman who does this in the place of poverty. Without knowing that Nately comes from a rich family, there would be no way in pointing out the moral inappropriateness between him and his whore. The appropriateness lies within their personal context that Heller has inputted in Catch-22.
It is not only the scandal between Nately and his whore that is morally inappropriate but what his intentions are revealed in Catch-22. After confessing his love to her with Yossarian and Arfy, Nately says that his intentions lie in the means of marrying the whore. The moral inappropriateness is what Nately believes to be morally appropriate. What Nately believes to be morally appropriate is to be together with the whore in terms of marriage. The character stresses out his defiance when other characters such as Arfy, opposed to his idea of being in love with the whore. In response to his statement, Arfy says I can just imagine what your father and mother would say if they knew you were running around with filthy trollops like that one. Your father is very distinguished man, you know (Heller 288). After Nately declares that he shall be marrying the whore as well Arfy responds with Ho, ho.ho,ho,ho! Now you’re really talking stupid. Why you’re not even old enough to know what true love is (Heller 288).
However there are instances in Catch-22 where readers will suggest Nately and his actions are more morally appropriate rather than inappropriate. For instance, after the whore had slept for eighteen hours, satirically it was that that made her fall in love with Nately. It is satirically in a sense that after longing for the whore to love him, it only took her sleeping for while to fall in love with Nately. Furthermore, Nately felt authority over her and the whore’s kid sister, leading to him developing a demanding side over the whore in Catch-22. Get dressed (Heller 356),Because I don’t want them to see you without any clothes on (Heller 356) are things that he ordered the whore to do. When the whore questioned him, his response was Because I say so! (Heller 356). Readers would analyze his behavior to be morally inappropriate. This is due to the fact that he is forcing her to do things out of her will only because she has fallen in love with him. It is suggesting that her returning her love gives him the right to show authority over her. Generally, others would suggest that this shouldn’t be the case and that the whore should be free to do as she pleases. On another hand, what Nately demanded of her wasn’t to suit his personal interest but rather, he was configuring her image. When he tells her to put her clothes on he says this because he does not want other men to see her in a vulnerable state that would otherwise be
inappropriate. For instance, if he didn’t tell her to cover up then the whore would continue to go her way. That way being the image of a whore. However, when it comes to moral appropriateness, one has to think that what would be best is if neither character acted upon their actions. Nately needn’t tell his whore what to do out of his will because he should not have authority over another human without their consent. The whore should not continue to act scandalously otherwise her relationship with Nately would be unbalanced in terms of class.
The reasoning behind Nataly’s actions are simple enough. He grows authoritative with the whore because he does not want her to be seen in the same way she is seen by him in the eyes of other men. He wishes to marry her because he loves her. Although despite the drastically different characteristic he develops, it can be be easily justified if one focuses on the whore’s background more than his. Nataly’s actions can be justified good in the sense that after the whore falls in love with him, he suggests that They made a wonderful family group, he decided (Heller 356). In reference of the whores sister he thought; The little girl would go to college when she was old enough, to Smith or Radcliffe or Bryn Mawr—he would see to that (Heller 356).
Overall, these actions make create a balance with this character. On one hand, Nately, like any other person contains flaws that may contribute to their moral appropriateness and then others will lean forward to inappropriateness. In this case, Nately’s ideas and what he believes to be right in overall can be considered good. To validate this statement, further into the satirical text it is discovered that Nately wishes to obtain more missions, stating in the process that I don’t want to go home until I can take her back with me (Heller 368). Following these events it is later found that Nately has died while in another mission and it was caused by Dobbs.
That being said, going back to when Nately desired to have more missions in order to be with the whore, Yossarian questioned; She means that much to you? (Heller 369). Nately agreed and responded with I might never see her again (Heller 369). What is considered to be right by Nately could not just be seen morally wrong in the eyes of the reader but other characters he interacts with. Yossarian whom is another character from Catch-22 plainly opposes to what Nately believes in. In Nately’s case it would be morally appropriate, which is to engage in more missions.
Catch-22 references ‘For the first time in his life, Yossarian prayed. He got down on his knees and prayed to Nately not to volunteer to fly more than seventy missions after Chief White Halfoat did die of pneumonia in the hospital and Nately had applied for his job (Heller 368). The negative outlook Yossarian has on Natley’s beliefs can have readers on the same terms. Morally speaking, Nately’s death can not be justified as good in any way. Although one can draw emotional pity from the event, they can also draw the conclusion that Nately did wrong in applying himself for more missions. Why he did wrong in applying for more missions mainly revolves around the fact that by doing this he died in the process. His death could have been avoidable but it all relied on Nately to realize this.
Nately could have realized his mistake by simply taking Yossarian’s advice in consideration. Others could argue that what Nately did was morally right. The idea that what Nately did was morally right can be argued because he went forward with these missions for a good cause. The good cause being that he did not want to leave the whore and her kid sister alone and wanted to take them with him. Although he did suffer death in the end, there is no other motive that can oppose to the good moral of the circumstances other them his death.
The idea of what is morally appropriate and what is not comes in the hands of what most individuals believe, or majority. Often many may see certain actions as the right thing to do while others that are not majority will think the opposite. In this case, while exploring the context of Nately, it can be concluded that this character is specifically drawn to moral appropriateness
Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2011.