Catch 22 Essay, Research Paper
Within the genre of anti-war novels, none is surpassed byJohnny Got His Gun. This World War I novel uses stark realism toshock and literally bring the reader to consciousness about theconsequences of war. On a lighter side, The Good Soldier Schweikwarmed the cockle of the heart of the reader with it’s cynical,but comical, outlook on the illogic of war. Then came Catch 22. In a world gone mad, the madness of war is something we eitherlaugh about, cry about, or join in the madness. Joseph Hellerbegan work on Catch 22 shortly after leaving the Air Force, in1953, and it was subsequently published in 1961. “Rooted inWorld War II but developed during its aftermath, Catch-22 waspublished slightly in advance of a parallel and equallylong-germinating American scenario: the novel’s first andgreatest sequel was to be the war in Vietnam” (Hoberman 9). Though comically pleasing, the book is an astute commentary ofthe times. The use of satire involves the reader in aconfrontation with reality, the concepts of reality and thereasons that reality exists. “The world of Heller’s fiction isan eerily insane one–perhaps an eerily sane one–filled withpreposterous characters mired in outrageous circumstances. Butlong before (the) novel’s end, the reader recognizes theconnections between Heller’s apparent absurdity and the target ofhis satire” (Reilly 507). The subject of death permeates the text of Catch 22. Notonly death of the body, but death of reason and of the ability tocommunicate or to rely on reality. The idiom, ‘Catch-22′ hasbeen added to the American vernacular and as a new word in thedictionary: “a difficult situation or problem whose seeminglyalternative solutions are logically invalid” (Hoberman 9). Byinvalidating the solutions, the problem dies, as does the logicand reason that most people base their lives on. When lifeceases to make sense, does life itself continue? In many scenesthe idea of death is taken to the next level – where one wondersif death hasn’t already occurred and it’s now the Afterlife. That, at least, would allow reason to be accountable to logic. There are moments in Yossarian’s life at war that can only bedescribed as ‘other worldly’. In many instances, the characteris released from reality by the assumption that he is not there. The Army regards Doc Daneeka’s name appearing on the pilot’smanifest as more real than his physical presence: “`You’re dead,sir,’ one of his two enlisted men explained… You’ve probablybeen dead all this time and we just didn’t detect it… Therecords show that you went up in McWatt’s plane to collect someflight time. You didn’t come down in a parachute, so you musthave been killed in the crash” (Heller 40). In the case of the’soldier in white’, it is just the opposite – he is not dead aslong as no-one confirms his death:”…if she had not read thethermometer and reported what she had found, the soldier in whitemight still be lying there alive…” (Heller 171). Total disregard for the individual, as though he were deadin the context of being able to communicate, is shown in thefollowing passage: “`I don’t want any special dishes. I wantexactly what you serve all the other officers… Is that clear?’ `Yes, sir,’ said Milo. `That’s very clear. I’ve got some liveMaine lobsters hidden away that I can serve you tonight with anexcellent Roquefort salad and two frozen eclairs… Will that dofor a start?’ `No.’ `Yes, sir. I understand.’ For dinner thatnight Milo served him broiled lobster with excellent Roquefortsalad and two frozen eclairs” (Heller 103). In the nextscenario, disregard of the individual is combined with disregardfor a life threatening situation: “`Aarfy, help me,’ he pleadedalmost weeping. `I’m hit! I’m hit!’ Aarfy turned slowly with ablind, quizzical grin. `What?’ `I’m hit, Aarfy! Help me!’ Aarfy grinned again and shrugged amiably. `I can’t hear you,’ hesaid. `Can’t you hear me?’ Yossarian cried incredulously, andhe pointed to the deepening pool of blood… `I’m wounded! Help
me, for God’s sake! Aarfy, help me!’ `I still can’t hear you,’Aarfy complained tolerantly… `What did you say?”‘ (Heller 297). In one instance, it is a denial of death itself: “`Aarfy, are youinsane?’ Yossarian was almost speechless. `You killed a girl. They’re going to put you in jail!’ `Oh, no,’ Aarfy answered witha forced smile. `Not me. They aren’t going to put good oldAarfy in jail. Not for killing her.’ `But you threw her out thewindow. She’s lying there dead in the street.’ `She has noright to be there,’ Aarfy answered. `It’s after curfew”‘ (Heller427-428). Aarfy has successfully denied the existence of deathby denying responsibility for the consequences of his ownactions. Re-defining reality (in modern ‘psych speak’:”re-framing”) disallows death and perpetuates the death ofreality. Throughout the book, the reader is confronted with “a worldin which generals cheerfully send men to be slaughtered, officerslie and steal, whores become heroines, and, … characters killedoff in early passages pop up noisily in later chapters; dead menlive on in empty tents; living men are “disappeared.” Somecharacters get rich selling chocolate-covered cotton; othersvault hundreds of miles in apparent seconds” (Reilly 507). Reality either dies, or is re-cast into a different dimension;which, in itself, is a death of the first concept of reality. Yossarian had been diagnosed as suffering a “persecutioncomplex” because he told an Air Force psychiatrist that peoplewere trying to kill him. By admitting that there was a reasonfor the persecution complex, the diagnosis is no loner valid. The concept of “the enemy” becomes blurred between the one ‘outthere’ with a gun, ready to end the physical being and the onewho is in control who, by disengaging all the components of aprevious reality has caused the death of what once was. When confronted by a war with death, either literally orsymbolically as in the death of logic and reason, it remains toeach individual to determine who the enemy is. Often, there is avalid opponent who is attempting to cause the physical death ofthe individual. In many instances it is “the system’ such as themilitary, that defines and controls all aspects of theindividual’s life – causing an initial death of identity. In asociety ruled by numbers this is encountered every day and inalmost every aspect of life. To the commercial world,customers are account numbers and amounts added and subtracted ona ledger. In the military, the individual loses his or heridentity within the first moments after joining – the veryconcept of an individual is the antithesis of a ‘war machine’. “The military is the single calling in the world with job specsthat include a commitment to die for your nation. … Themilitary has always combined the finest qualities of society withthe very worst of government. On the one hand, it brings outloyalty, bravery, inventiveness and even genius. Unfortunately,this goes hand in hand with a stupefying bureaucracy, and alwayshas. All government bureaucracies thrive on red tape and thecover-your-ass syndrome, but the military has traditionally beenat the cutting edge of each. … novels from The Good SoldierSchweik to Catch 22 brilliantly illustrate the worst aspects ofthe military mentality” (Amiel 8). It is easy to see themilitary as being the ‘enemy’. The bottom line in any discussion that would include theconcept of “enemy” however, has to include the idea of personalresponsibility. The individual is responsible for all aspects oftheir life. If they choose to define the enemy as the military,it must be considered how it was they came to be in the military. All behaviors are a process of choice and action. In this sense,the individual is not only their “own worst enemy” but also theonly enemy. (Also the only source of redemption, if balance isimportant).
Amiel, Barbara. “Whatever Happened To Military Honor?” Maclean’s, (1996): September, pp. 8(1). Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. (New York, NY: Dell, 1970). Hoberman, J. “Only One Catch.” Artforum, (1994): October, pp. 9(2). Reilly, Charlie. “An Interview With Joseph Heller.” Contemporary Literature, (1998): December, pp. 507(10).