Literacy Period of the Novel Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

What literacy period does the novel Catch 22 belong too? It is easy to be mislead into believing that Catch 22 is a modernist novel by its World War II settings, B25 bombers, and common hatred of the Germans. However, the computers, helicopters and McCarthyism present in this novel alludes to the true nature of this book. Catch 22 is by no means a modernist novel, but rather an amazing work of post-modern literature. This classification is based on the common themes of paranoia, irony and faction that are common elements of postmodernist works.

Paranoid fiction defines literary works that explore reality’s subjective nature and how it can be manipulated by those in power. Anxiety is a form of paranoia that is often portrayed by characters in postmodern novels that believe society is always conspiring against them to either bring harm to the character or misfortune (Mambrol). The main character Yossarian is a soldier at war, yet he is convinced that everybody is out to kill him mainly because people are always shooting at him. Clevinger, a fellow soldier, tries to convince Yossarian that no one is trying to kill him in particular as they are at war and the same is happening to everyone, but Yossarian still sees no difference (Heller Pg. 25).

Yossarian fears that everyone is out to get him and ruin his day, even though, in reality, no one is actually trying to kill him in specific as they only shoot at him because he shoots at them. Another common paranoia for characters is the “dread that someone else is patterning your life, that there are all sorts of invisible plots afoot to rob you of your autonomy of thought and action, that conditioning is ubiquitous” (Mambrol).

A great example of this is seen during the famous catch 22, ”Catch-22…says you’ve always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to.’ ‘But Twenty-seventh Air Force says I can go home with forty missions.’ ‘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’'(Heller Pg. 68). This catch is set up in a way that characters may have the right to leave, but can’t, as they get looped right back into combat until the commander states otherwise. Furthermore, many paranoid characters in postmodernist literature begin to analyze and question whether the traditions and or the rules and laws they once believed in are either futile or illogical (Mambrol). Nately who stands strong in the common sayings of his country is given a wakeup call when an old man counters them, “Surely there can’t be so many countries worth dying for.’ Anything worth living for,’ said Nately, ‘is worth dying for.’

And anything worth dying for,’ answered the sacrilegious old man, ‘is certainly worth living for.” (Heller Pg. 247), the old man shows Nately that just because something is commonly told to you by your superiors, doesn’t means is the best and most efficient way to go about doing things. a common motif that presents itself in the novel Catch 22 is, “not everything that glitters is gold” (Shakespeare 2.7.62). This later helps to and develops the common theme of paranoia as the characters can no longer believe those around them or everything that they are told by their chain of command. This theme is one that is extensively seen in postmodern novels due to the onset of many scientific and non-scientific research/studies. This allow people to no longer rely on legends and myths but, rather the truths to why things are the way that they are or to why things have happened the way that they have.

Moreover, irony is another great example of an element of catch 22 that is frequently encountered in postmodern literature. Irony can be described as a situation that either presents a form of humor or oddness because a situation plays out in the exact opposite way of how it is expected to (Thinkmap). Yet gain, a catch is used to trap the men in a sort of paradox that prevents them from leaving,

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to (Heller Pg. 46).

This catch ruins the plans of those trying to escape because for those trying to leave the force the only way is to be insane, however; instead of just telling your officer this and getting leave, you are deemed sane and sent to fly more missions. This means that all the sane are deemed insane and are the ones left flying, even though they are the ones supposed to be granted a way out. Satire is the deliberate mockery of an individual by using exaggerated language to expose or ridicule a situation or the behavior of an individual for being stupid or ridiculous (Thinkmap).

Doctor Daneeka falls victim to such as he is a flight surgeon who hates to fly. So, he usually makes a deal with McWatt to add his name to the passenger list so that he can get his flight pay without ever having to board a plane. However, McWatt later flies into a mountain after flying over the beach. So, because based solely on military logic, Daneeka is technically still on the plane without ever parachuting out, and therefore is assumed dead. Even though Daneeka may still alive and well and trying to convince others of such, nobody believes him over the military files that have already been written about him and how he died. Due to this event, his wife receives a message from the Air Force that her husband is KIA (killed in action). Daneeka’s wife is so heartbroken that she grieves for a whole week. Yet, soon things begin to brighten up for her. She gains $200 000 in life insurance, and men begin paying her a lot more attention.

After, she leaves with the kids to Lansing, Michigan, without leaving any evidence of where she had gone, cutting off every tie that she had with her still living husband. (Heller Pg. 344). Although sad, this situation is created by Joseph Heller to ridicule the extent to which military bureaucracy often takes precedence over ones own common knowledge. In addition, black humor is another element of irony which often uses comedy in order to discuss serious subjects ( A disturbing yet great example of this is seen during Chief White Halfoat’s rant, ‘Racial prejudice is a terrible thing, Yossarian. It really is. It’s a terrible thing to treat a decent, loyal Indian like a nigger, kike, wop, or. spic “ (Heller Pg. 44). Heller uses this opportunity to discuss the controversial subject of racism in a lighthearted way and how it goes both ways, one cannot be racist to the other, yet expect different treatment when the same happens to them.

Another example of a theme that is routinely seen in Catch 22 is exposing the obscurity of war by using humor and absurd situations in an attempt to show how humorous or absurd a situation may be. This is again commonly seen in postmodern novels as video recording technology can now capture men at their worst and can be sent to others in order to critique and scrutinize. Finally, the last major theme of both catch 22 and other postmodernist novels is faction, which is when factual events are woven together in combination with fiction in a way that’s almost impossible to tell the difference. It was 1952 when IBM first introduced the 701 which ran on the 360 operating system. They later introducing the world’s first mass produced mainframe computer in 1954 (Bellis). Despite this, the novel gives evidence to the arrival of the IBM computer,

There was a urologist for his urine, a lymphologist for his lymph, an endocrinologist for his endocrines, a psychologist for his psyche, a dermatologist for his derma; there was a pathologist for his pathos, a cystologist for his cysts, and a bald and pedantic cetologist from the zoology department at Harvard who had been shanghaied ruthlessly into the Medical Corps by a faulty anode in an I.B.M. machine and spent his sessions with the dying colonel trying to discuss Moby Dick with him (Heller Pg. 24).

Catch 22 takes place around the late 1940’s, many years in advance before IBM’s computers were ever made available, however; if one did not examine closely it would have been missed as no character finds this advanced piece of technology out of the ordinary. Additionally, McCarthyism, which was a period in American history in which investigations were carried out by Joseph McCarthy and other anti-Communist occurred during the 1950s. It was so prevalent as everyone feared infiltration of communism into America. However, it later became known as a Communist witch hunt, as many wrongful accusations were made about who were and were not Communist, resulting in the ruining of many lives (Archter). Captain Black also falls victim to the above as he had hoped to be promoted to squadron commander, but later finds out that Major Major is picked over him. In an attempt to ruin the reputation of Major Major, Captain Black initiates the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade.

This act forces all the men to swear elaborate and ludicrous oaths of loyalty before performing every task. He then refuses to let Major Major sign a loyalty oath in an endeavor to make Major Major appear as a communist before all his men (Heller Pg.117). McCarthyism was a direct result of the cold war which never occurred yet in the 1940’s as both Russia and the States worked together as Allies to take down the Germans. But, yet again, no character in the novel finds this unusual. Even helicopters have been concealed throughout the novel. It was even used as a tool to circle the surface of the water in order to find Clevinger, who had disappeared without a trace (Crumley). Characters should have been extremely confused by this technology as It wasn’t until the mid-1940s when helicopters began to become technologically advanced enough to compete with their fixed winged cousins.

Before this time, helicopters were often seen as awkward, ineffective and dangerous flying machines, which now were only in their early testing stages. They would not be ready for deployment on any combat situations (Crumley). Catch 22 is a novel that contains within in it many events that have occurred such as The Allies and the Axis powers, the bombings conducted by the Allies on Bologna and Ferrara, and the major use of the B-25 bomber during World War Ⅱ. On the other hand, the novel also exhibits technology and ideologies that predates the dates of their release or conception. The author does this as it allows Joseph Heller to create an alternate timeline that can be used to explain universal events and issues such as how technology, no matter how advanced, is not all powerful and has its own set of shortcomings.

Despite Catch 22 being written on the events that occurred during the second world war, it is by no means a modernist novel. Instead, based purely on only the distrust of traditional methods, paradoxes and blended history portrayed in this book, rather than the setting, it can be concluded that it most closely resembles the cold war era. All these characteristics come together to portray the main message of the text to the reader, which is that the rules and laws set in place by society to ensure the success for the people as a whole, can sometimes either be extorted or result in contradictions and limitations that cause the opposite to occur.


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