Heller, Joseph. Catch-22.
(1) ‘The Texan’
The novel is set on the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean theatre of operations in the last years of the Second World War. The military camp belongs to the 256th Squadron of the 27th Air Force Headquarters in Italy.
The novel opens in a hospital where Yossarian is treated for liver condition, presumably feigned to have a rest from combat operations. Yossarian enjoys his stay in the hospital because his only duty is to censor letters from enlisted men to their families. His censoring is somewhat idiosyncratic: once he deletes all modifiers from a letter, another time he deletes all but for articles, a yet another time he starts signing himself ‘Washington Irving’.
A new patient comes to the ward, the Texan, and turns out to be a devoted patriot whose heated speeches clear the ward back to combat.
Clevinger is Yossarian’s fellow soldier and his most serious opponent. He is an eager intellectual convinced of his principles but unable to argue for them. Yossarian thinks him ‘a very serious, very earnest and very conscientious dope’ (91). Clevinger is the first to call Yossarian crazy when Yossarian announces that all enthusiastic soldiers must be madmen. Clevinger thinks Yossarian crazy because of his ‘unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy’ and his ‘unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him’ (30). Later in the novel, Clevinger vanishes without trace in a cloud during a flight operation.
Havermeyer is a lead bombardier who prides himself in never taking evasive action. Yossarian hates him for this because he jeopardizes the other planes in the formation. Havermeyer’s another idiosyncrasy is shooting mice in his tent with a gun. Havermeyer keeps on avoiding evasive actions until late in the novel when the danger to which the soldiers are exposed rises to the extreme.
(4) ‘Doc Daneeka’
Doc Daneeka has his everyday work done by Gus and Wes who introduce exact methods into medical treatment. Patients with temperate over 102 are sent to the hospital. Patients with lower temperature have their gums and toes painted purple and are given a laxative. Those with a temperature of exactly 102 are told to come an hour later.
Doc Daneeka himself has his temperature checked several times a day and is annoyed by its being always normal. Doc is too much concerned for his own misery to care about the problems of others. He is sullen for the interruption that the war brought to his promising medical career, his main source of income being apparently abortions. His business started to flourish when competing physicians were drafted and he remained an only doctor in the area. He is excessively worried about the dangers posed to his life in the military camp, though he is in fact safe. He hates flying but likes to receive extra payments for it, so he at first goes on food supply flights only and then has his name put down on flight lists without appearing for the flights at all.
(5) ‘Chief White Halfoat’
Chief White Halfoat is Doc’s tent-mate and the two hate each other. The Chief is a barely literate Oklahoma Indian who kept on being chased from his numerous homes by oil companies, therefore he is hateful of foreigners. His idiosyncrasy is punching Colonel Moodus in the nose whenever he gets drunk. Once he warns Captain Flume that he will cut his throat in the night when he is asleep, but Flume does not understand the Chief’s sense of humour and takes the threat so seriously that he later starts to live in a nearby forest to hide from his murderer. The Chief believes that he will die of pneumonia and later in the novel, he does so accordingly.
(6) ‘Hungry Joe’
Hungry Joe has completed more combat tours of duty than most other soldiers in the group. In theory, he should qualify for being sent home, but in practice this never happens. He suffers violent nightmares and his terrified shrieks disturb the nights in the camp. He is an irritable character, though largely harmless. His obsession is taking photos of naked girls whenever he encounters one. The pictures never come out. He shares his tent with the fifteen-year-old Huple and Huple’s cat.
One of Hungry Joe’s nightmares is that he is suffocating in his sleep because Huple’s cat lies on his face, and when he wakes up, Huple’s cat actually lies there. Hungry Joe is the last to survive from the group of Yossarian’s friends. Towards the end of the novel, he is found dead with Huple’s cat on his face.
McWatt serves as a pilot. Yossarian thinks him ‘the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war’ (80). McWatt’s idiosyncrasy is flying low over Yossarian’s tent and over the beach when it is crowded with bathers. Once when McWatt piloted the plane with Yossarian, he embarked on performing dangerous manoeuvres just for fun, on which Yossarian crawled to the nose of the plane and started to strangle him. Yossarian explains that the dangers of the combat are enough so that there is no need to run any additional risks. Later in the novel, McWatt’s plane accidentally kills Kid Sampson when McWatt flies low over the beach again and Kid Sampson childishly springs in the air to touch it. On this McWatt has his crew parachuted from the plane and kills himself by crashing into a mountain.
(8) ‘Lieutenant Scheisskopf’
Lieutenant Scheisskopf is a training lieutenant at the cadet school in Santa Anna, California. An ‘ambitious and humorless’ character, he is obsessed with organizing Sunday cadet parades (93). His group wins only after cadet Clevinger suggests for cadet officers to be elected instead of appointed by the superiors. Scheisskopf hates Clevinger for this daring, though successful suggestion, and consequently accuses him of a series of crimes. Follows a mock trial, in which Clevinger is found guilty because if he were innocent, he would never have been accused. Scheisskopf’s preoccupation with parades does not leave him with any time for his wife, who regularly takes her revenge on her husband by infidelity. Yossarian describes the parades as a show of wasted effort and the pennants awarded as prizes as an absurd idea: ‘all [the pennants] signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else’ (95).
(9) ‘Major Major Major Major’
Major Major received his particular first name from his father with a queer sense of humour. His mother wished to name him Caleb. Aged thirty-one, Major Major is an ineffectual commander and a friendless man haunted by guilt and shame for the mere fact of his existence. He is peculiarly apprehensive about his resemblance to Henry Fonda. He was promoted to the rank of Major already during his training by a humorous I.B.M. machine. As there is no other Major Major in the group, his superiors intend to keep him as a rarity and never degrade him or promote him any further. He becomes a squadron commander after Major Duluth’s death, which means a violent break of the fragile friendships he found in the camp. His former fellows start staring at him and do not want him to play ball with them any more. He used to enjoy the game, so he once tries to join the playing men in a disguise, but he is discovered and forced to quit. On this he gets depressed and starts feeling lonely.
Major Major has no particular duties as a squadron commander, his only task is to sign official documents. He starts signing them ‘Washington Irving’ for a change. Documents signed with his own name always return to him for another signature, while documents with the forged name never come back. This brings him a feeling of satisfaction, as his work finally seems to proceed somewhere. A C.I.D. man is called to find Washington Irving, later a yet another C.I.D. man arrives. Major Major denies to the detective that he knows anything about Washington Irving and starts signing himself ‘John Milton’ instead. Later in the novel, Major Major cannot bear the stares of his former fellows any more, so he hides himself in his trailer, has his meals carried to the door, and issues orders that he only receives visits when he is not in.
Wintergreen is referred to as an ‘ex-P.F.C.’, which means a degraded Private First Class, the rank held by junior enlisted persons. He was degraded for his repeated going AWOL, absent without leave. His other punishment was hole digging and he ‘accepted his role of digging and filling up holes with all the uncomplaining dedication of a true patriot’ (137). Later he serves as a mail clerk, which makes him an influential person of some power.
(11) ‘Captain Black’
Captain Black is the squadron intelligence officer, a ruthless climber whose ambition is to become a squadron commander. He nearly did so after Major Duluth’s death, Major Major was however appointed instead. He tries to outwit Major Major and other competing officers by making men sign loyalty oaths in exchange for their clothes, food, and ammunition. The ‘Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade’ ends only on the command of Major – de Coverley.
Bologna is a much feared mission whose objective is to bomb the ammunition dumps in the city. It was postponed several times due to various reasons, which only increases the panic in the camp. Yossarian arranged for two of the postponements: he at first told the cook to spread a diarrhoea epidemics among the men and then he secretly moved the bomb line on the map over to Bologna, inspired to this action by an innocent remark of Clevinger. Clevinger is greatly upset when Yossarian later tells him about his tricks. To avoid further postponements, the medical tent is closed to prevent men from running away to the hospital. Before the mission, Yossarian and his friends get drunk, steal Captain Black’s car and have an accident. Nobody is hurt, but Yossarian claims that he would die of pneumonia caught in the rain rather than be shot down over Bologna.
On starting off to Bologna, Yossarian affects a broken intercom and orders his crew to return. When Yossarian later sees the formation returning without damage, he realizes that they were wrong and Bologna was an easy target after all. Yossarian is publicly reprimanded for his returning for such a trifle and is sent together with the other men to Bologna once again the next day. The resumed mission shows that Bologna does have flaks after all and does not hesitate to use them this time. Yossarian’s plane is damaged and he is seized by a nightmarish feeling of impotence in the face of death. His navigator Aarfy further deepens Yossarian’s calamity by his irritating calmness which allows him even to smoke his pipe during the bombing. Yossarian blames his tent mate Orr for having attracted the flak, as Orr did not take part in the preceding day’s mission but is present on the second day. Orr’s plane is nearly shot down, but he manages to crash-land safely.
(13) ‘Major – de Coverley’
Major – de Coverley is a grave elderly man, so much respected that nobody ever dared to ask his first name. His chief wartime occupations are pitching horseshoes, kidnapping Italian labourers, and renting flats for enlisted men and officers to use on their rest leaves. Whenever a city is seized, he is the first to appear there at the head of the procession.
(14) ‘Kid Sampson’
Kid Sampson appears in the novel as one of the members of Yossarian’s crew. He exits when he is accidentally sliced by a propeller of McWatt’s plane. The upper part of his body collapses into water, while his legs are left to rot on the beach as a tragic memorandum of what was meant as an innocent joke.
(15) ‘Piltchard & Wren’
Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren are joint squadron operation officers. They are inoffensive, subservient, they have already served on hundreds of combat missions and are willing to serve hundreds more. They do not play any remarkable role in the novel.
After the Bologna mission, Yossarian takes an emergency leave for Rome. He is looking for Luciana, one of his many lovers and one of the many girls with whom he is in love. Unlike other girls, Luciana demands a dinner and a dance from Yossarian and only the next day she lets him sleep with her. She gives Yossarian her address although she knows that he will tear it into pieces. Yossarian does so but regrets it afterwards.
As to Yossarian’s friends, Aarfy usurps an attractive girl who is willing to be seduced, but Aarfy does not take an advantage of her because she is nice. The other men are angry with Aarfy for not having left the girl to them.
(17) ‘The Soldier in White’
Yossarian’s typical reaction on learning that the number of missions has been increased again is retiring to the hospital: ‘Yossarian could run into the hospital whenever he wanted to because of his liver and because of his eyes; the doctors couldn’t fix his liver condition and couldn’t meet his eyes each time he told them he had a liver condition’ (212). As in the opening chapter of the novel, a patient all covered in white gauze appears in the ward. He immediately becomes a subject of speculations, the fellow patients suspect that there in no one inside. The patient looks like a mummy, he can neither move nor speak. He dies soon, which nurse Duckett finds out during the regular temperature checks.
(18) ‘The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice’
Yossarian is advised by a sympathetic doctor in the hospital to feign a liver condition rather than appendix troubles, because liver is difficult to find about. Yossarian finds inspiration for his next feigned disease with a soldier who claims that he sees everything twice. The soldier dies and a doctor asks Yossarian to take his place when the dead boy’s family arrives to his deathbed. Yossarian does so and the family apparently does not notice anything.
(19) ‘Colonel Cathcart’
Colonel Cathcart, aged thirty-six, is a tense, irritable, and bitter character. He is hated in the camp because he keeps on volunteering his group for dangerous tasks and always increases the number of missions necessary to complete before a soldier can be sent back home. His ambition is to become a general. He spends his time by considering his imaginary black eyes and feathers in his cap, that is his failures and successes. His problem in the latter part of the book is Yossarian, who seems to be the source of many of his black eyes.
Colonel Cathcart is also obsessed with having his picture printed in the newspaper. When he reads about a camp where the chaplain says prayers before each mission, he asks his group’s chaplain to do the same, hoping that he will be written about, too. In a discussion with the chaplain, he however changes his mind when he is told that officers and enlisted men are supposed to pray together and to the same God.
(20) ‘Corporal Whitcomb’
Corporal Whitcomb is Chaplain’s atheist assistant who openly shows his contempt to the Chaplain. Like the Chaplain, he does not live in the Group Headquarters building but aside at a clearing in the woods. Unlike the Chaplain, he does not enjoy his seclusion. He is promoted to Sergeant when he suggests to Colonel Cathcart writing letters to the families of casualties, an idea which Chaplain did not allow him to implement. Cathcart of course hopes to get in the newspaper for this innovation.
(21) ‘General Dreedle’
General Dreedle, the wing commander, is a man in his early fifties, a heavy drinker. He is on bad terms with his son-in-law, Colonel Moodus, whom he enjoys teasing, even torturing. He is always delighted when he witnesses Chief White Halfoat punching Moodus in his nose. He also hires an attractive nurse whom he dresses in a tightly fitting uniform to provoke Moodus. The nurse also attracts the attention of Yossarian, who gives an admiring moan when he sees her during a briefing before the Avignon mission, on which the other men start to moan, too.
(22) ‘Milo the Mayor’
Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, aged twenty-seven, serves as a mess officer, he is responsible for food supply. He is famous for his intricate business transactions as a part of which he buys eggs for seven cents apiece and sells them for five. He establishes a syndicate for food marketing in which everyone in the camp has a share. His complicated enterprises seem to result in loss rather than in gain, though Milo insists on the opposite. Later it turns out that he was elected Mayor of Palermo and of some of the neighbouring villages, because he brought Scotch to Sicily so that the country can now export the expensive liquor. He holds similar positions everywhere throughout Europe for his having introduced new food trades to new areas.
(23) ‘Nately’s Old Man’
Yossarian and his friends, Hungry Joe, Aarfy, and Nately, are on one of their usual trips to Rome. Hired prostitutes lead them to a tenement flat where Nately discovers a filthy old man who reminds him of his dignified father. The man announces the fall of America in the war and the ultimate victory of Italy, though Italy is presently being occupied by Americans: ‘Rome was destroyed, Greece was destroyed, Persia was destroyed, Spain was destroyed. All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours’ (309)? Nately unsuccessfully tries to argue with the man and insists that one’s country is worth dying for: ‘it’s better to die on one’s feet than live on one’s knees’ (315). The old man freely admits that he he changes alliances according to who happens to be at power at the moment. Nately is upset to learn that it was this man who hurt Major – de Coverley’s eye with a red rose when Major marched into the city.
Milo manages a whole fleet of planes bringing food products from the whole of Europe. His planes, painted ‘M & M Enterprises, Fine Fruits and Produce’, have full freedom of passage. Milo’s company is on the verge of collapse because he bought the entire Egyptian crop of cotton which nobody wants. He closes a contract with Germans which binds him to bomb his own men and planes. He does so and he gets away with it when he convinces everyone that it was for the profit of the syndicate in which everyone has their shares. Yossarian reproaches Milo bitterly for selling to the enemy the information about a planned bombing, the result of which was the dead man in Yossarian’s tent. Milo wonders at Yossarian’s scruples and denies having any guilt: ‘If I can persuade the Germans to pay me a thousand dollars for every plane they shoot down, why shouldn’t I take it?’
(25) ‘The Chaplain’
Robert Oliver Shipman, aged thirty-two, is not a Catholic chaplain but an Anabaptist, which means that it is incorrect to call him father, as he is often forced to point out. He is meek, sympathetic, inoffensive, but as a chaplain largely ineffective: he is ‘sincerely a very helpful person who was never able to help anyone’, not even himself (346). He is obsessed with discovering deja vu and other similar kinds of experiences in the incidents of his everyday life in the camp. He feels discomforted with his formal post which makes men polite with him, but not friendly. Nobody seems to realize that he ‘was not just a chaplain but a human being’ (343). He misses his wife and children desperately, he is haunted by images of tragic accidents happening to her or one of his three kids.
Despite his being a religious man, he is very uneasy about his professional position. He feels especially incompetent at funerals: ‘To simulate gravity, feign grief and pretend supernatural intelligence of the hereafter in so fearsome and arcane a circumstance as death seemed the most criminal of offenses’ (345). When he finally gathers courage to talk to his superiors about the problems of the men, he fails utterly. He tries to talk to Colonel Cathcart about the number of missions, but he has himself rejected easily. He attempts to talk to Major Major, but he is unable to get in touch with him, as Major Major hides himself from the outside world.
Aarfy serves as a lead navigator and is completely incompetent in his task. Once he leads Yossarian’s plane directly over a flak area when they are returning from the bombing of an undefended target. Due to this error, Yossarian is wounded in his thigh.
(27) ‘Nurse Duckett’
Sue Ann Duckett is an able, prompt, and strict nurse. Yossarian once teases her by grabbing her thigh, on which she jumps aside only to have her bosom grabbed by Dunbar lying in the next bed. This incident causes a great uproar in the hospital. Later Nurse Duckett becomes Yossarian’s lover. Her best friend, Nurse Cramer, stops talking to her, because she disapproves of Yossarian and his friends. Nurse Duckett gives up her affair with Yossarian when she decides that she would prefer to marry a successful doctor.
Dobbs is Yossarian’s fellow soldier who comes to him with a plan of murdering Colonel Cathcart. All he needs from Yossarian is encouragement. Dobbs thinks that he should kill Cathcart before Cathcart kills him and his fellows by his constant raising of the number of missions: ‘Colonel Cathcart’s the murderer. Colonel Cathcart’s the one who’s going to murder us all if we don’t do something to stop him’ (381). When Yossarian makes up his mind to help Dobbs, he finds that Dobbs has completed the required number of missions and gave up the plan. Dobbs, like Nately, is killed in action in a mission over Spezia together with ten other men.
General P.P. Peckem, aged fifty-three, is an annoying self-consciously erudite man. He coins the expression of a ‘tight bomb pattern’, which is what he demands from bombers so that he could get good aerial photographs. He nearly ruins Colonel Scheisskopf when he demands him overseas and so makes him quit his wife and his parades. General Peckem hates General Dreedle and seeks to destroy him.
Dunbar is Yossarian’s sometime fellow patient and his friend. Dunbar loves activities that he hates, because when he is bored, time passes more slowly and he wants to achieve longevity: ‘He was working hard at increasing his life span. He did it by cultivating boredom’ (16). Dunbar openly boycotts one of the last missions described in the novel. The mission involves an arbitrary bombing of a civilian village to create a barrier against the enemy from the debris. Yossarian later learns from Nurse Duckett that doctors plan to disappear Dunbar, on which Dunbar actually disappears.
(31) ‘Mrs. Daneeka’
Doc Daneeka happened to be included in the passenger list of McWatt’s plane when it crashed, although he was not on the board. This presents a great administrative problem which is finally solved by announcing the doctor dead. Mrs Daneeka is informed about her husband’s death and then she receives a letter from her husband urging her to disregard the news. She writes a reply but it is returned, stamped ‘killed in action’. When she starts receiving generous amounts of money from various insurances, she moves without leaving her new address. Meanwhile Doc Daneeka is treated by the other men as if he were virtually dead. He receives no wage, no meals, and is finally forced to seek help from Captain Flume, the man who lives in the forest.
(32) ‘Yo-Yo’s Roomies’
Yossarian originally shared his tent with Orr, a warm-hearted though simple-minded fellow. Orr was famous for his crash-landing almost on each mission, he eventually disappeared after landing in the sea. Afterwards Yossarian lived in the tent alone, only with the imaginary dead man. The dead man’s name was Mudd and he was killed only two hours after his arrival to the camp because he reported to the operations tent instead of the orderly room. This is an administrative problem, because as Mudd never officially got in the squadron, he cannot be officially got out. Finally it is decided that Mudd never arrived. The only unpleasant reminder is his cot and baggage, which is left in Yossarian’s tent. Yossarian complains of the dead man’s possessions many times, but nothing is done for months. Only when four young and naïvely enthusiastic officers are allocated to Yossarian’s tent, they remove Mudd’s belongings without asking anyone and dump them unceremoniously in the forest.
(33) ‘Nately’s Whore’
Nately is in love with a lethargic prostitute who does not requite his feelings. When the girl falls into hands of American officers who keep her in the room and try to make her say ‘uncle’ correctly, Nately and his friends rescue her while demolishing the flat and throwing the men’s clothes out of the window. On this the girl falls in love with Nately, though she does not understand Nately’s demands on her to give up her prostitute friends and her job. Nately loves the girl so much that he volunteers to fly more missions so that he could remain near to her. Nately, like Dobbs, is killed in the Spezia mission at the age of nineteen.
The Thanksgiving Day is an occasion for an opulent dinner party with superfluity of liquor. Yossarian is frightened from his sleep by drunk men shooting at sandbags near his tent. He was never so scared in his life. When he realizes what is happening, he storms out of the tent to shoot the men. Nately tries to restrain him and Yossarian responds by breaking his nose.
When Yossarian visits Nately in the hospital, another patient covered in gauze from head to toe appears. The men think him to be the same ‘soldier in white’ who already died in the ward once, which causes a great panic. The situation abates only when the mummy patient is removed.
Chaplain appears in the hospital in a hilarious mood. For the first time in his life, he tried pretending that he was sick and so at once ‘mastered the technique of protective rationalization’: ‘It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice’ (459).
(35) ‘Milo the Militant’
Milo has completed only four missions during his service, including the one against his own group, and he asks Colonel Cathcart to fly more. This turns out to be impracticable because Milo is indispensable in the syndicate. It is suggested that other men would fly for Milo and if they collect any medals, these will go to Milo himself.
(36) ‘The Cellar’
The Chaplain is arrested by an officer without insignia and brought to a cross-examination in a dark cellar. He is suspected from forging the signature of Washington Irving. The evidence is a censored letter in which all is deleted but for the salutation ‘Dear Mary’ and the signature ‘I long for you tragically. R.O. Shipman, Chaplain, U.S. Army’ (482). The Chaplain recognizes Yossarian’s handwriting but he does not mention his name. He is found guilty and released with the warning that he would be punished later.
(37) ‘General Scheisskopf’
General Dreedle is succeeded by General Peckem. At the same time, Colonel Scheisskopf is promoted to General and becomes the commanding officer. His first command is to make all the men march in a parade.
(38) ‘Kid Sister’
Yossarian returns to Rome to find Nately’s girl and tell her about Nately’s death. The girl blames him for Nately’s death and attempts to kill him with a potato peeler and a kitchen knife. Her twelve-year-old sister joins her and the two chase him through the streets and even to the plane.
(39) ‘The Eternal City’
Rome has been severely damaged by bombing. The flat where Nately’s girl and her sister lived is abandoned. An old woman tells Yossarian that all were chased into the street because of Catch-22. Yossarian is surprised by the explanation and arrives at the conclusion: ‘Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed’ (516). Yossarian is worried for Nately’s girl and her young sister and he tries to find them. He walks through the desolate, nightmarish streets and sees impoverished people and violence going on all around without anyone helping anyone else.
Yossarian misses Luciana and the only other girl he can think of is the plain maid from the hired flat. When he arrives to the flat, he finds that Aarfy has raped the girl and thrown her out of the window. She is dead. Aarfy explains that he raped her because he never paid for sex and once he raped her, he had to dispose of her. Police arrives to arrest not Aarfy but Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass. Yossarian is transported back to his group and told that he is being sent home.
Yossarian has been trying from the beginning of the novel to make Doc Daneeka ground him because he is crazy. Doc Daneeka however explained to Yossarian the principle of Catch-22: ‘Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy’ because ‘a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind’ (62). So for instance: ‘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’ (62-3). Yossarian never succeeded with his demands.
When Yossarian is transported from Rome, Colonel Cathcart and his assistant Colonel Korn offer him to accept their deal or to face court-martial for desertion from duty. The deal would mean for Yossarian a promotion to major, another medal, and orders sending him home under the pretence that Pentagon recalls him for morale and public-relations purposes. In exchange, Yossarian must spread a good word about his superiors. Yossarian accepts, but when he ‘exit[s] smiling’, Nately’s girl attacks him with a knife (541). He is saved and carried to the hospital.
Snowden is the man who was killed in Yossarian’s plane in the Avignon mission, the one on which Yossarian lost his nerve. The plane was piloted by young Huple, too young to be competent for piloting. The co-pilot was the equally incompetent Dobbs, ‘a nervous nut’ who plunged the plane into an uncontrolled dive which resulted in Snowden’s fatal injury (420). Snowden, the radio-gunner, was at the back of the plane and Yossarian provided him with the first aid. Yossarian was repulsed by Snowden’s bad wound on his thigh, but he managed to clean and bind it. There was no morphine in the first aid kid, Yossarian found only a note by Milo, who confiscated the drug, saying ‘What’s good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country’ (550). Snowden was complaining that he was freezing to death. When Yossarian finished with the leg, he noticed that Snowden was hurt in his flak suit. A chunk of flak tore through his body and when Yossarian opened the suit, Snowden’s entrails glided freely to the floor.
Captain Yossarian is a twenty-eight-year man of Assyrian origin. He serves as a bombing pilot. He experiences fear always when he is in the plane, he is distressed by the tiny crawlway to the escape hatch. He is the best pilot at evasive manoeuvres, he claims that he is too cowardly to entrust anyone else with this task. He always falls short of reaching the required number of missions when the number is raised again. Other groups than Yossarian’s fly from fifty to fifty-five missions but the number in Yossarian’s group was gradually raised from twenty-five to eighty.
Yossarian first draws attention to himself when he introduces asking nonsense questions at schoolings, which alarms the Group Headquarters: ‘for there was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to’ (49). His next action is going twice around target during the Ferrara mission, which enables him to destroy strategically a crucial bridge but results also in the loss of the plane with Kraft and his crew. His superiors solve the affair by promoting him to captain and awarding him the Distinguished Flying Cross. When General Dreedle arrives to award Yossarian the cross, he finds him standing in the formation stark naked. This is because of the Avignon mission, the one during which Snowden’s blood was smeared all over Yossarian, on which Yossarian refused to wear a uniform. Yossarian watched the funeral from afar, climbed in a tree which to him was ‘the tree of life and of knowledge of good and evil, too’ (333).
Yossarian easily runs the temperature of 101, which allows him to take a holiday in the hospital when he feels like it. Yossarian is treated by the mad psychiatrist Major Sanderson, among other things for his dream about holding a live fish, which was actually dreamt by Dunbar. Yossarian is also treated for split personality, which occurred as a result of exchanged identities when the patients in the hospital were swapping their beds together with the medical notations and their names on them. Yossarian is found to be crazy and sent back to combat. Yossarian complains to Doc Daneeka: ‘They’re not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?’ but Doc Daneeka replies calmly: ‘Who else will go’ (387)?
After Nately’s death, Yossarian announces that he refuses to fly any more missions. He walks around backwards with a gun on his hip to warn off possible enemies. His fellow soldiers, even those whom Yossarian hardly knows, start popping out of bushes in the night to ask him how he is doing. Yossarian’s behaviour negatively affects the morale of the group because he gives the soldiers a hope: ‘The county was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them’ (511).
When Nately’s girl wounds Yossarian on his exiting from Colonel Cathcart’s office with the prospect of returning home, he loses conscience and wakes up in the hospital where he realizes that he is being operated on by completely incompetent doctors. He learns that the incident was officially presented so that Yossarian saved the lives of Colonels Cathcart and Korn from a Nazi assassin. He has visitations telling him that they have got his pal, and Yossarian realizes that all his pals are actually dead. Yossarian does not like the official news about the Nazi assassin and decides to break his deal with Colonel Cathcart. The idealist Major Danby tries to persuade Yossarian not to break the deal.
Major Danby does realize that there are incompetent people around him, but he believes that he will do his duty best when he conforms to them and when he sees ‘the big result’ rather than the lesser flaws. Yossarian does not think so: ‘Between me and every ideal I always find Scheisskopfs, Peckems, Korns and Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal’ (560). When the men agree that there is no hope for them, Chaplain runs in with the news that Orr survived and was washed ashore in Sweden. Yossarian believes that this was exactly what Orr was planning all the time. The Chaplain sees Orr’s survival as ‘a miracle of human perseverance’, which endows him with courage to persevere (565). Yossarian decides for a mad plan of running away to Sweden. Neither Major Danby nor the Chaplain attempt to stop him. Major warns Yossarian that this will not be easy and that he will have to ‘keep on [his] toes’ and ‘jump’. Yossarian jumps in the air just in time to avoid the knife of Nately’s girl, who was hiding outside the door, and takes off.
The forty-two chapters of the novel are mostly named for one of the major or minor characters appearing in the book or for places where the novel is set. The last chapter is devoted to Yossarian, who could be viewed as the lead character of the novel. The narrative is cleverly subversive, it exploits paradoxes, and often through savage humour shows the absence of common sense in the military characters (especially higher officers) and their actions.
The novel is richly episodic in structure. The individual incidents are not presented in their chronological order, which reinforces the confusion of war. The novel is intricately structured, fragmentary bits and pieces of information are scattered throughout the whole of the novel and it is up to the reader to put them all together for a complete picture. Various incidents keep on being mentioned throughout the novel but the reader learns all the relevant information only gradually so that the full knowledge of a particular incident comes only later in the book. This narrative method creates a communicative tension, which is however quite appropriate with respect to the subject matter of the novel.
The novel does not put emphasis on the combat action but rather on the nature of the various characters, character constellation, and especially the different approaches of the different characters to the fact of war. The novel is crowded with a multitude of colourful figures, almost each of them having his or her own characteristic idiosyncratic feature (Appleby’s flies in his eyes, Hungry Joe’s nightmares, Chief White Halfoat’s obsession with pneumonia, etc.). The conclusion is moderately optimistic and certainly hopeful: Yossarian does embark on a mad mission, but his avoiding the assassin’s knife is surely a good beginning.
AuthorHeller, Joseph. (1923 - 1999).
First PublishedNew York: Simon & Schuster, 1961.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. 1961. London: Vintage, 1994.