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.
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