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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.
Catch 22 Joseph Heller satirizes, among other matters, red tape and bureaucracy in his first novel, Catch-22. The novel concerns itself with a World War II bombardier named Yossarian who suddenly realizes the danger of his position and tries various means to extricate himself from further missions. Yossarian is driven crazy by the Germans, who keep shooting at him when he drops bombs on them, and by his American superiors, who seem less concerned about winning the war than they are about getting promoted. Heller spent eight years writing Catch-22, is a former student at three universities–New York, Columbia and Oxford–and a former teacher at Pennsylvania State College. From 1942 to 1945 he served as a combat bombardier in the Twelfth Air Force and was stationed on the island of Corsica where he flew over 60 combat missions. That experience provided the groundwork for this novel. (Way, 120) (Usborne) The protagonist and hero of the novel is John Yossarian, a captain in the Air Force and a lead bombardier in his squadron, but he hates the war. During the latter half of World War II, Yossarian is stationed with his Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa, near the Italian coast and the Mediterranean Sea. (Heller) The squadron is thrown thoughtlessly into brutal combat situations and bombing runs on which it is more important for them to capture a good aerial photograph of an explosion than to destroy their target. Their colonels continually raise the number of missions they are required to fly before being sent home so that no one is ever sent home. Heller’s satire targets a variety of bureaucrats, the military-industrial complex, and the business ethic and economic arrangements of American society. Humor rising out of the crazy logic of modern warfare hits squarely on the mark. (Hicks 32). The following passage demonstrates the humor and enlightens the reader about the book’s title and the major cause of Yossarian’s problems: Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. ” Is Orr crazy?” “He sure is,” Doc Daneeka said. “Can you ground him?” “I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That’s part of the rule.” “Then why doesn’t he ask you to?” “Because he’s crazy, ” Doc Daneeka said. ” He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he’s had. Sure, I can ground him. But first he has to ask me to.” “That’s all he has to do to be grounded?” “That’s all. Let him ask me.” “And then you can ground him?” Yossarian asked. “No. Then I can’t ground him.” “You mean there’s a catch?” “Sure there’s a catch,” Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.” Most of the supporting characters in Catch-22 are cardboard figures that are only distinctive to the reader by their inane obsessions. Each lives with a particularly contorted view of the war in which he believes that he can function in the world as he pleases and that his dealings will achieve his objectives. (Kennard 83) The fantastically powerful mess officer, Milo controls an international black market syndicate and is revered in obscure corners all over the world. He ruthlessly chases after profit and bombs his own men as part of a contract with Germany. Milo insists that everyone in the squadron will benefit from being part of the syndicate, and that “everyone has a share.” The ambitious, unintelligent colonel in charge of Yossarian’s squadron, Colonel Cathcart, wants to be a general. He tries to impress his superiors by bravely volunteering his men for dangerous combat duty whenever he gets the chance. He continually raises the number of combat missions required of the men before they can be sent home. Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer, is the supreme champion of the profit motive and free enterprise. He knows how to buy eggs for 7 cents and to sell them at a profit for 5 cents. He contrives with Axis agents to bomb his own airfield when the Germans make him a reasonable offer: cost plus 6 per cent. He does this because he desperately needs more funds in his misguided quest to corner the Egyptian cotton market. Milo’s loyalties lay in general with capitalistic enterprise and specifically with M & M Enterprises. He lives by the principle that “what’s good for the syndicate is good for the country,” despite the diametrically opposed arrangement of his position and his philosophy. (Seltzer 298-99) Colonel Cathcart tries to scheme his way ahead; he thinks of successful actions as “feathers in his cap” and unsuccessful ones as “black eyes.” For example, as the commanding officer, he keeps raising the number of missions a man has to fly before becoming eligible for leave back to the US, and this number keeps increasing as the men keep going out and coming back from their bombing runs. The reasoning behind this is sound: experienced pilots have a better chance of surviving and accomplishing their mission than do green airmen. However, his motivation is not. Yossarian and his friends endure a nightmarish, absurd existence defined by bureaucracy and violence: they are inhuman resources in the eyes of their blindly ambitious superior officers. Because Cathcart cannot identify for sure what the higher headquarter generals think and because they themselves loathe and oppose each other, Cathcart’s “feathers” keep turning into “black eyes.” (Lindberg 231-258) Still, no one but Yossarian seems to realize that there is a war going on; everyone thinks he is crazy when he insists that millions of people are trying to kill him. Yossarian is unique because he takes the whole war personally–rather than being swayed by national ideals or abstract principles, Yossarian is furious that his life is constantly in danger, and not as a result of his own misdeeds. His powerful desire to live has led him to the conclusion that millions of people are out to get him, and he has decided either to live forever or, ironically, die trying. In the end, he takes a possibly morally suspect, but psychologically honest choice left to him by deserting to Sweden. (Merrill 139-52) Yossarian loses his nerve for war. He is placed in ridiculous, absurd, desperate, and tragic circumstances–he sees friends die and disappear, his squadron bombed by its own mess officer, and colonels and generals who bravely volunteer their men for the most perilous battle. The paradoxical law called Catch-22, the mechanism behind this military’s abnormalities, haunts him. In the end, Yossarian decides to save his own life by deserting the army; he turns his back on the dehumanizing cold machinery of the military, and ultimately, and finally, rejects the rule of Catch-22.
In Catch-22, Joseph Heller reveals the perversions of the human character and society. Using various themes and a unique style and structure, Heller satirizes war and its values as well as using the war setting to satirize society at large. By manipulating the “classic” war setting and language of the novel Heller is able to depict society as dark and twisted. Heller demonstrates his depiction of society through the institution of war (i.e. it’s effects and problems during and after war). In the novel, the loss of individuality through the lives of the soldiers; the insanity of war and Heller’s solution to insanity; and the idea of “there is always a catch” in life is shown to a dramatic extent. Heller’s novel not only satirizes war, but all of society.
Catch-22 shows how the individual soldier loses his uniqueness not as much from the battlefield like other novels set during a war, but from the bureaucratic mentality. An example of this Lt. Scheisskopf’s obsession with parades that he sees the men more as puppets than as human beings. At one point in the novel, he even wants to wire them together so their movements will be perfectly precise–just as mindless puppets would be. This theme also appears when Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions his squadron must fly–not for military purposes, but to solely enhance his prestige. One other example of this theme is in the novel, when Yossarian is wounded. He is told to take better care of his leg because it is government property. Soldiers, therefore, are not even people, but simply property that can be listed on an inventory. In a bureaucracy, as Heller shows, individuality does not matter.
Most war novels show that such things as lying, killing, adultery, and stealing are permissible if the ultimate goal is just–Catch-22 demonstrates this idea. For example, the men pleasure themselves with prostitutes in an apartment provided by the army. Also, one of the men steals life-raft supplies to trade. Despite the suppression of these important values, those such as honor and patriotism are also suppressed in the novel. The men fight for “what they had been told” was their country, but it’s really only to make their officers look good. The officers at one point tell Yossarian that they are his “country”. Here again, Heller shows the failures of a bureaucracy–how no values remain.
Whenever the men think they have found a solution to a problem, a catch defeats them. The men are grounded if they are insane, but if they recognize the insanity of their missions, they are sane–and must fly more missions. These men are trapped in a crazy world–each searching for his own solution. Each of them has their own unique and bizarre personal insanity (e.g. The bombardier, Havermeyer, zeroes straight in on targets, no matter how much antiaircraft fire peppers his plane. Other members of the squadron seem even crazier. Chief White Halfoat keeps threatening to slit his roommate’s throat. Hungry Joe keeps everyone awake with his screaming nightmares. Corporal Snark puts soap in the men’s food. Yossarian starts signing “Washington Irving” to letters he censors, and he goes naked for a few days–even when he is being awarded a medal.)–and as Heller suggests, the only sane response to a crazy situation is insanity. When Yossarian and his friends begin asking clever questions to disrupt boring educational sessions, Colonel Korn decides that only those who never ask questions may ask questions. When they want to discuss a problem with Major Major, they are allowed into his office only when he is out. Even when Yossarian is offered an apparently harmless deal that would allow him to go home as a hero, there is a catch. He must betray his friends by praising the officers who caused many of them to die. And as Heller shows, life is reduced to one frustrating paradox after another.
In form, Catch-22 is a social satire–it’s a novel using absurd humor to discredit or ridicule aspects of our society. The target in Catch-22 is not just the self-serving attitudes of some military officers, but also the Air Force itself as a mad military bureaucracy. The humor in the novel along with descriptive styles such as:
Doc Daneeka, “roosted dolorously like a shivering turkey buzzard”; the mountains, blanketed in a “mesmerizing quiet,” Yossarian, wet “with the feeling of warm slime,” “lavender gloom clouding the entrance of the operations tent”
These descriptive styles help depart from pure realism–they serve to transcend physical reality by making sensations metaphors for states of mind and by attributing unusual qualities to objects, making the reader take a second look at familiar objects and feelings. These help to create new and altered perceptions of the world–common in satires as they try to solve the problem being satirized by having those satirized (the human character) realize its faults. One example of the absurd humor that helps to abandon realism for the reader are the deaths of some of the men–the war kills men in both expected and unexpected ways–some die through anti-aircraft fire, while others did in odd ways such as Clevinger whose plane disappeared in the clouds; Dunbar who simply disappears from the hospital; and Sampson who is killed by a propeller of one of the bombers–
this departure from pure realism (i.e. the exaggeration, the grotesque, the comic-like characters, the unusual deaths) is aimed to first make the reader laugh, then look back at horror at what amused them–and this is the technique Heller applies to satirize society.
One other obvious structural style that adds to the satirical purpose of the novel how it is organized–the novel is not organized chronologically–time is disjointed. This disjoining of time is used for effects in the novel such as deja vu to show that time equals mortality and to give the mind set and psychological impact of the men to the reader; but it primarily serves to confuse the reader–to have the reader take a second look–just as the descriptive sensation metaphors purposes.
Through various themes and structural and descriptive styles, Heller’s Catch-22 is not the typical war story, but a satire. Heller gives us a different perception of war and society–such as the pointlessness of war and how when it is looked at closely hurts both the enemy and the allies–and from a greater perspective, how we humans inflict catastrophe on ourselves. Catch-22 ultimately makes us stop and think about the faults and tendencies of the human character.
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