Catch-22 Essay, Research Paper
This paper is about the book Catch-22 written by Joseph Heller. This zany wartime story covers the last months of World War II through the perspective of several different characters, all of whom belong to the same air force squadron. All of the characters in the story have some kind of personal problem, which also is psychological in nature. In fact the whole theme of the story is about the craziness of life, war, and people. Catch-22 is the common phrase for a snag or loophole that refuse a person their intended action. In this book Catch-22 is an actual code in the Air Force regulations which stipulates that a pilot must fly all missions that are ordered unless he is insane, but for a pilot to try to get out of flying a mission is a sane act, so he cannot get out flying the missions because he is considered sane. The main character of the story, a bombardier named Captain Yossarian, is afraid of flying, and believes (rightly) that many people are trying to kill him. Regardless, he is forced to fly bombing mission after bombing mission, some of them not even military targets.
Insanity. That is the main theme of this book. Clear and simple. None of the characters make much sense. They all do, think, and say stupid things. None of them really has any clear idea of why they are fighting in the war. They do not really have any sense of national pride. Yossarian seems to be some kind of middle-eastern kind of guy, who does not love America enough to want to die for it. He thinks that it is crazy for people to want to die for what they believe in. He thinks the best way to make a statement is to stay alive and live to tell the story another day. Not exactly what one would call a patriot. He is very pragmatic about staying alive. He goes to great lengths to get discharged or denied the ability to fly missions. His superiors are idiotic, thinking only of promotion and brownie points with higher ranked officers.
Being the main character and of course getting the most attention, Yossarian has a glaring lack of patriotism. In all the books, movies, and songs about war, the soldiers usually have a deep, heartfelt love of their country for which they fight. This lack of patriotism makes being in the war seem pointless and illogical. A soldier myself, I know that some ideal must be held if a successful army is to be created. Perhaps that is why the squadron that Yossarian is part of is not very great. Of course, the stupidity of the general staff caused the squadron many headaches as well. For instance, the bomb grouping was considered more important than the actual ability to hit a target. This was done to impress a military magazine photographer, and the resulting readers of the publication.
The way the superior officers behave is ludicrousness in itself. One officer jumps out the window of his tent to avoid anyone who comes to see him. Another officer, who is in charge of the squadron, seems to know nothing about it. The doctor sits around all day, moping, trying to depress the other pilots. The two generals bicker over who knows the right way to do simple things. The generals are not concerned at all about the welfare of the men who have to go up in the planes and get shot at day in and day out. Greed and envy are the main characteristics shown, as well as stupidity. But when you really think about it, that is how life is. There is a sublevel to this story. It seems ridiculous because everyone s faults are so blatant; but in real life, our faults are only covered by a this veneer of humanity and politeness, and sometimes not even then.
Yossarian s friends die off one by one. This has a traumatic effect on him. He believes that he is the next person who is going to die. In fact, at the end of the book, there is a woman bent on killing him, because she believes that he is at fault for her lover s death. She is hiding everywhere looking for him, waiting with a knife, ready to emerge from the shadows and finish him off. One of Yossarian s friends manages to take a life raft all the way north to Sweden where it is peaceful. This is quite an undertaking, as he was near southern Italy when he started his trek. After Yossarian learns that his friend is alive and well in Sweden, he decides he will go there too. This is a search for freedom and absolution from the horrors of war. Yossarian feels guilty because some of the targets he has bombed were on defenseless villages and towns that had no military value. Death is everywhere, even in their own camp, as one of their own soldiers helped the Germans bomb the base.
This character that helped the Germans is named Milo Minderbinder. He is a rascal who goes behind everyone s back and conducts black market type transactions. He uses the vast supply resources of the army to fund his trading exploits. He is a symbol for socialism in that he tells everyone that he trades with that they are getting a piece of the operation or a share . This is to shut people up, or to help convince them to assist him. His socialist-type schemes end up with him getting a great deal of power in different towns and cities. He is revered as a god almost, with people cheering and lauding him. The similarities of this and the effects of communism are striking, with one person in power and taking all the credit for the power of the state. He is the symbol for big business in America. He did not care for the war or the soldiers, only his own interests. His name, Minderbinder, is apt. He binds people s minds and bends them to his will. Milo and his will is another instance of insanity running throughout the story.
The insanity of the Catch-22 world is not limited to the air force base. The craziness that pervades the story can be seen in the cities in Italy that Yossarian and his friends visit. There is a whorehouse that all of the men visit as much as possible. One of Yossarian comrades actually falls in love with one of the whores and proposes to her. That is the act of a desperate or crazy man. His death causes the whore to zero in on Yossarian as the one responsible for the death.
Yossarian uses the hospital as a haven in which to take shelter. It is safe there and he gets to look at the pretty nurses, eat decent meals, and not get shot at in his aircraft. The doctors in hospital are not very humane or caring. They do not try very hard to save lives. In fact, at some points in the story, people who go to the hospital with legitimate problems are ridiculed and insulted, and then are sent back into combat. This shows that the horrors and insanity of the war can wear away the love of life, even by those who are meant to save it.
The style in which the book is written is rather crazy and haphazard. There are flashbacks that are somewhat confusing. The chapters jump around from one character to another, but ultimately all tell the same story. This lends to the idea of worldwide insanity. It is hard for the reader to tell at what point in the story he is in. This tends to annoy the reader and make him think less of the book. The story would be much shorter if written in a single story style instead of each character s respective viewpoints.
All told, insanity is present in the whole story. It reminds the reader that life is insane as well, with only slight differences in the real world and the world that Heller creates. When a person looks at the news and sees the crazy things going on, like all the tragedies in the Gaza Strip for example, he is reminded of how life is not always sensible and logical. Star Trek s Mr. Spock said it best, Humans are so illogical.