Catch 22 Essay, Research Paper
Heller’s principle emphasis is on the internal struggle with conflicting values and the
characters’ evolution. He creates a quandary that Yossarian explores throughout the novel,
and establishes Yossarian’s world as one turned upside down by war. After exploring this
chaotic condition and the mess it creates on people’s values, Yossarian finally arrives at his
decision to withdraw from the conflict. In the first half of the war, Yossarian runs. As he
comes to terms with himself, he takes responsibility and explores life beyond himself.
Identifying his adversary after careful reasoning, Yossarian names the enemy as
“‘anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on…’” (Heller 120).
Yossarian mistakenly blames others for his situation. Throughout the book, it is an evolution in itself as he realizes he is the only one in control of his fate.–he is the center of his universe. By refusing to conform, he causes all characters (some with more insight than others) to be confronted with possible meanings and logic behind his unusual behavior.
“You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don’t like bigots, bullies, snobs or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate.”
“Consciously, sir, consciously,” Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. “I hate them consciously.”
“You’re antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Slums depress you. Greed depresses you. Crime depresses you. Corruption depresses you. You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if you’re a manic-depressive!” (313)
With this, Yossarian’s faults as viewed by his superiors are expressed. The most glaring flaw is one of irresponsibility for his own actions. (Later in the book we see him feel guilty for the actions of others.)
Yossarian emerges as a selfish rebel, who opposes war and anything to do with it. Major Major’s dilemma in handling Yossarian is reflected in his thought, “What could you do with a man who looked you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die than be killed in combat, a man who was at least as mature and intelligent as you were and who you had to pretend was not?” (113). In exploring the idea of sanity in war, Heller points out that only crazy men are going to go “out to be killed” (315).
The structure of the novel puts the blame on Yossarian by making him seemingly responsible for almost everything in the book. Yossarian is the only one flying missions, who fully understands the absurdity, danger, and irony of doing so. Yossarian’s reaction, in which he makes a conscious decision to stop participating , leads to the accusation that “‘…the men were perfectly content to fly as many missions as we asked as long as they thought they had no alternative. Now you’ve given them hope, and they’re unhappy. So the blame is all yours’” (Heller 423). By issuing blame, Heller shows that the individual is still stronger than the establishment, and in the end, the individual is responsible for himself. To eliminate the threat to conformity found in Yossarian’s rebellion, his superiors decide to agree to his demands, conditionally. Another evolution takes place, as Yossarian now assumes some control.
“We’re going to glorify you and send you home a hero, recalled by the Pentagon for morale and public-relations purposes….Don’t worry about the men. They’ll be easy enough to discipline and control when you’ve gone. It’s only while you’re still here that they may prove troublesome. You know, one good apple can spoil the rest…” (437).
“They’ll let me go home a big hero if I say nice things about them to everybody and never criticize them to anyone for making the rest of the men fly more missions” (444). In deciding to just leave rather than become a puppet in the ongoing justification of war, Yossarian’s own perspective conveys, “‘I’m not running away from my responsibilities. I’m running to them. There’s nothing negative about running away to save my life…’” (461). Yossarian is aware of what is wrong, but he can do nothing. Yossarian’s role as hero is ultimately opposed by his role of withdrawal from the heroic scene after much change in values and perspectives.
Chapter 39 is the scene for the emotional evolution of a man and the downfall of Yossarian’s “sheltered” world. The world around him portrays a fallen paradise. The landmarks demolished symbolize the familiarity of his world crashing down.
“Rome was in ruins, he saw, when the plane was down. The airdrome had been bombed eight months before, and knobby slabs of white stone rubble had been bulldozed into flat-topped heaps on both sides of the entrance through the wire fence surrounding the field. the Colosseum was a dalapidated shell, and the Arch of Constantine had fallen. (416)
Yossarian also witnesses the city’s moral decline. He sees the irony in the police brutality- those that are hired to keep violence off the streets are responsible for it. The streets are in shambles, cluttered with continuous streaks of violence, as Yossarian has a sense of deja vu. Heller uses surrealism- taking real ideas and distorting them to irrational means- to exaggerate Yossarian’s coming to terms with himself. He has a reality check, and for the first time, realizes the world doesn’t revolve around him; there is suffering worse than is own. He changes from inaction- hiding, running, cowardice, to action- dealing with and accepting responsibility, and doing something about it. He feels liberated because he now feels in control of his actions and fate. He feels helpless when he realizes he’s been running from his problems and not taking action, for example, s he walks by the woman being raped, “.. lady was backed up against on of the fluted Corinthian columns by a drunken young soldier…” (424) or the young woman leaving her old mother behind, without helping them. Encountering Aarfy is key in the role of Yossarian’s change.Yossarian gets his morals in line, and actually tries to get Aarfy to stop. He is horrified by Aarfy’s actions, which causes him to open his eyes and face his own problems.
Heller created the different characters and their interactions in dealing with the use of varying perspectives in value or moral judgements, to enhance certain traits. To complete the exploration of contrast, Yossarian asks, “..How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to blackguards for petty cash, how many had never had souls?” (423). Heller does not offer clearly defined answers, but he raises many good questions through Yossarian’s war experiences. The main evolution revolves around Yossarian’s status and state of mind. It is in the self-exploration and the absurd, often immoral values that surround him that Yossarian achieves his main role of hero.However, by resorting to trying to escape after much change in values in perspective, Yossarian, in the process of doing so, sheds his claim to the heroic role.