Essay, Research Paper: Catch 22

Literature: Catch 22

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A cult classic, Catch-22 is also considered a classic in American literature. It
tells the story of Captain John Yossarian, bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Force
in the Second World War. Yossarian sees himself as one powerless man in an
overpoweringly insane situation. Heller himself was a bombardier for the U.S.
Army in the Second World War, flying in combat over Italy. He flew 60 missions
before he was discharged as a lieutenant at the end of the war. After the war,
Heller took a job as a copywriter for a small New York advertising agency. In
1953 he started working on Catch-22 --which he didn't complete until 1961. 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. Yossarian was moved
very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a
respectful whistle. "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.
"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed. One of the most
important qualities of Catch-22 is its experimentation with the experience of
time; by presenting a linear narrative in a mixed-up order, the novel both
deprioritizes development toward an end as a feature of its plot and conveys the
impression that, as Yossarian is afraid to confront a life that ends in death,
the novel itself is skittish about the idea of the passing of time, which leads
toward death. Breaking up the time flow is, in a sense, an attempt to defy
mortality. In these early chapters, Dunbar presents an important alternative to
this approach: he knows he is trapped in linear time, but he hopes to live as
long as possible in it by making time move more slowly in his perception. So he
courts boredom and discomfort, because time seems to pass more slowly when he is
bored or uncomfortable. The separation of the actual passage of time from the
experience of that passage is, for Dunbar, an attempt to regain control of a
life constantly threatened by the violence of war. ****** The first time
Yossarian ever goes to the hospital, he is still a private. He feigns an
abdominal pain, then mimics the mysterious ailment of the soldier who saw
everything twice. He spends Thanksgiving in the hospital, and vows to spend all
future Thanksgivings there; but he spends the next Thanksgiving in bed with
Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife, arguing about God. Once Yossarian is
"cured" of seeing everything twice, he is asked to pretend to be a
dying soldier for a mother and father who have traveled to see their son, who
died that morning. Yossarian allows them to bandage his face, and pretends to be
the soldier. ****** ***** Huple A fifteen year-old pilot; the pilot on the
mission to Avignon on which Snowden is killed. Huple is Hungry Joe's roommate,
and his cat likes to sleep on Hungry Joe's face. ***** ***** One evening Nately
finds his whore in Rome again after a long search. He tries to convince
Yossarian and Aarfy to take two of her friends for thirty dollars each. Aarfy
objects that he has never had to pay for sex. Nately's whore is sick of Nately,
and begins to swear at him; then Hungry Joe arrives, and the group abandons
Aarfy and goes to the apartment building where the girls live. Here they find a
seemingly endless flow of naked young women; Hungry Joe is torn between taking
in the scene and rushing back for his camera. Nately argues with an old man who
lives at the building about nationalism and moral duty--the old man claims Italy
is doing better than America in the war because it has already been occupied, so
Italian boys are no longer being killed. He gleefully admits to swearing loyalty
to whatever nation happens to be in power. The patriotic, idealistic Nately
cannot believe his ears, and argues somewhat haltingly for America's
international supremacy and the values it represents. But he is troubled
because, though they are absolutely nothing alike, the old man reminds him of
his father. ***** ** The chaplain then learns that Corporal Whitcomb has been
promoted to sergeant by Colonel Cathcart for an idea that the colonel believes
will land him in the Saturday Evening Post. The chaplain tries to mingle with
the men at the officers' club, but Colonel Cathcart periodically throws him out.
The chaplain takes to doubting everything, even God. ** More importantly, the
syndicate represents a dangerous kind of collectivity--in this enterprise
governed by amoral expediency, "everybody has a share." In this light,
the syndicate becomes almost a parody of communism: it is nominally a collective
but is actually run by a single despot; the economic rationalization of the
syndicate resembles the moral rationalization of a dehumanized collective, which
might agree that it is in "everybody's" best interest for Milo to bomb
his own squadron and kill, wound, and maim a number of his fellow soldiers.
Still, Yossarian seems to like Milo, and Yossarian is undeniably the moral
compass of the novel. But Milo is continually presented as a threatening
figure--while Yossarian sits naked in the tree at Snowden's funeral in a highly
Biblical scene, Milo almost seems like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, there
to tempt the innocent with chocolate-covered cotton and the promise of a fast
buck. The absurd chapter on the death of Doc Daneeka represents perhaps the most
extreme moment of beaureaucratic confusion in the entire novel. Paperwork has
the power to make a man who is clearly alive officially dead, and those in
charge of the beaureaucracy would rather lose the man than try to confront the
forms. Painfully, Mrs. Daneeka becomes complicit in her husband's red-tape
murder when she decides to take the insurance payments as a higher authority
than his own letter protesting that he is really alive. And so Doc Daneeka
realizes that he is actually dead; in a kind of extreme version of Mudd's case,
death is no longer a matter of biology, it is simply a matter of paperwork. The
soldiers' powerlessness over their own lives extends even to their own deaths,
which can be enforced upon them living, not only by a gun but by the fall of a
stamp.
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