Essay, Research Paper: Catch 22

Literature: Catch 22

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America has been involved in the cold war for years. The fear of communism is
ruining lives. The country moves closer and closer to the Korean war. Joseph
Heller’s Catch 22 is published. 1963- College students are seen wearing army
fatigues with “Yossarian” name tags. Reports are being made about a
“Heller Cult”. Bumper stickers are manufactured which read, “Better
Yossarian then Rotarian”. The phrase “Catch 22” has surfaced meaning a
“no win situation” it is now an excepted word in the English dictionary.
Such a dramatic change in opinion from the earlier, Pro-war society, it is
obvious that Catch 22 had some impact on the anti-war movement of the
1960’s-1970’s. Not to say the book was the one reason the movement started,
It was certainly a catalyst. A protest novel, Heller’s story portrays the
absurdity of bureaucracy, the stupidity of war, and the power they both have to
crush the human spirit. Heller uses a war zone setting, to satirise society at
large. He compares the commanding officers to Incompetent businessmen.
“Don’t mumble, and mumble “sir” when you do, and don’t interrupt, and
say “sir” when you do.” Desiring promotion over every thing else, Colonel
Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions the men of his squadron must fly.
Even though the army says they need fly only forty, a bureaucratic trap called
“Catch 22” says they can’t go home at forty because they must obey their
commanding officers. Much like the work place, the men are forced to go through
endless amounts of red tape, which hardly gets them anywhere. Yossarian tries to
pretend he is crazy to get out of fighting. He signs “Washington Irving” on
letters he censors, and walks around naked for a couple of days. If someone is
crazy he needs only ask and he can be dismissed from duty. Yet, one would be
crazy to fly, and only a sane person would ask to stop, Yossarian is therefore
not crazy and is ordered to continue flying his missions. Heller also
demonstrates the effect war has on one’s mind. All of the pilot’s are coping
(except Yossarian) with the war in different ways...The daredevil pilot, McWatt,
loves to buzz his friend Yossarian’s tent. Mess officer Milo Minderbender
turns his job into an international black-market food syndicate. Lead Bombardier
Havermeyer Zeros in on target’s, no matter how much anti-aircraft peppers his
plane. Yet the most crazy are the people in charge. A feud between two generals
makes picture-perfect placement of bombs more important then actually hitting a
target. The general in command is a recluse who orders his aide to let people in
to see him only when he is out. The use of comparison is throughout the book,
furthering the theme of military ignorance. Besides businessmen, the commanding
officers act like insane gods, while Yossarian, is a sort of reluctant Achilles.
No matter what the officers throw at him, he keeps on living. He is paranoid
that his luck will someday run out. To drive home his ideas, Heller employs
satire. He uses humour to convey situations which are utterly horrible, allowing
Heller to poke fun at authority. . The reader can’t help but be amused at the
fact that Yossarian’s parachute was taken from him in exchange for a share in
Milo’s franchise. Perhaps the most important aspect of the book, is the idea,
that individuality is more important then dying for ones country. “A second
ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you
are an old man....... You’re inches away from death every time you go on a
mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before you were
stepping into high school, ....... only a fifth of a second before that you were
a small kid with a ten week summer vacation that lasted a hundred years and
still ended to soon. Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are
you ever going to slow down?” Yossarian does not believe in what he is
fighting for, he thinks it’s all crazy, There is no point of him fighting, he
doesn’t have a problem with anybody. This book questions the individual duties
a person has to their country. Should they die for their country, or should they
question the authority? Is something right, just because everybody says it is?
By asking these questions, Mr. Heller was able to appeal to the youth of that
day who were asking just the same questions. People were able to rally around
his book, because they all could relate to what they were reading. Not to say
everyone was a WW-II bombardier, They all were having the same thoughts on war.
Mr. Heller uses a perfect blend of realism and totally unreal situations to
create his crazy world, a symbol of the absurdity of modern bureaucracy. This
novel is a far cry from earlier novels about WW-II, usually heroic with
realistic language, just concentrating on the actual fighting. This book is not
about heroism. It is about the preservation of individuality. Something that is
now important to all of us.
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