Catch22 Essay Research Paper Since the dawn

Catch-22 Essay, Research Paper

Since the dawn of literature and drama, comedy

and tragedy have always been partitioned into separate genres. Certainly most

tragedies had comedic moments, and even the zaniest comedies were at times

serious. However, even the development of said tragicomedies left the division

more or less intact. Integrating a total comedy and a total tragedy into a

holistic union that not only preserved both features, but also blended them into

a new and harmonious entity remained elusive. That is, until Catch-22. Using his

unique style and structure, Joseph Heller masterfully manages to interlay humor

and terror, comedy and tragedy, and reveals in the process the perversions of

the human character and of society gone mad. The first stroke of Heller’s deft

touch is his presentation of outrageous characters, acting outrageously. From

the first chapter, we are presented with a slew of unbelievable characters whose

actions and ideologies are uproariously funny, and horrifically disturbing. In

fact, the manner in which the reader recognizes the character’s dual nature will

serve as the first example of Heller’s amalgamation of comedy and tragedy.

Dunbar’s theory of life is first received with a burst of laughter from the

audience. Life is short, and Dunbar wishes to extend it as much as possible. If

time flies when one is having fun, then conversely, time must slow when one is

bored. Dunbar endeavors to make his life as boring as possible, thus increasing

the length of its passing. Indeed, it is understandable why such an attitude

should elicit a laugh, but the further implications are horrific. Society’s

emphasis on life over meaning comes as a shocking revelation to the audience.

Heller further reinforces that idea with characters such as Doc Daneeka, who

values self-preservation and money over responsibility and friendship, and Milo

who values self-improvement and fortune over the lives of thousands of others.

The motif that follows gives us characters that are, above all else, more

interested in self (Cathcart, Mrs. Daneeka, Duckett, the Old Man, Peckem, etc.).

Though they are initially humorous, their nature is ultimately revealed to be

false and horrific, arousing disgust and pity, a brilliant combination of comedy

and tragedy. The perversion of society is revealed further in a second major

type of character, the deluded. Though most serve largely as foils to Yossarian

and his philosophy, much can still be made of their condition. Clevinger is

perhaps the best example of a deluded character. His debate with Yossarian

serves as an insightful evaluation of their psyche. He argues that, although

everyone is trying to kill him, everyone is not trying to kill him. The humor of

the debate cannot be denied, but horror and tragedy are equally present. The

debate leaves the audience struggling to decide who is crazy. Clevinger falls

into an obvious contradiction, but his argument still strikes as common sense.

In face of Yossarian’s triumphant "What difference does that make?"

the audience is left not only with the realization of its speciousness, but of

the realization that they believed it. The terror evoked by the deluded lies

mainly in that the audience is equally deluded. Perhaps Clevinger, Appleby, and

Havermeyer are fighting for "what they have been told" was their

country– and perhaps so has the audience. The genius of Heller’s

characterization is further enhanced as the audience sees itself in the hollow

rationale of the deluded, and is aghast with horror, even in face of such humor.

With this revelation, Heller compels the audience to follow the rebellious path

of Yossarian, or fall victim to the indoctrination of society, and meet the same

fate as the deluded. As the audience is bombarded with insanely comedic ironies

of Catch-22, they are further aware of its horror. A primary example of irony is

found in Milo, when he is praised for bombing his own company when it is learned

that he made a great deal of money. Again, this evokes a staunch laugh, and then

leaves the audience aghast with horror. Exaggeration makes this funny– an event

such as this occurring, and then inciting such a reaction by those affected is

almost unfathomable– but the ultimate truth provides the terror. Society truly

does reward persons for profit, even if it results, as it often does, in

terrible distress. The further instances of ridiculously backward behavior–

Hungry Joe’s screaming, Havermeyer’s disregard for life, McWatt’s destructive

flying, Cathcart’s "list", etc.– further provide the audience with

humorous instances of exaggeration, whose ultimate truth proves to be

horrifying. Heller’s blend of hyperbole and truth create a horrifying, though

comedic, charge for his irony. Perhaps the most memorable attribute of Catch-22

is its mind-boggling paradoxes, or, as they are more commonly referred to,

catches. These paradoxes range from the harmlessly absurd, to the insanely

catastrophic. 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. The most notable instance of the paradox is

Catch-22. The first solid reference is Doc Daneeka’s version, presented to

Yossarian on the matter of groundings. To be grounded, one must be insane, but

one must also ask to be grounded. However, asking to be grounded shows the

desire for self-preservation, a sure sign of sanity. For, if one were truly

insane, one would fly the missions voluntarily. Thus, no one is grounded. This

is striking for its sophistry and circularity, and is certainly humorous, but

its implications are equally grotesque– more and more deaths. As the novel

continues, the paradoxes remain equally humorous, but their implications even

more gruesome. The Catch decays, moving into the civilian world with the Luciana

marriage conundrum. Later, it appears with official regulation stating that

one’s orders must be obeyed, even if they conflict with official regulation.

Finally, the truth of Catch-22 is revealed in the MP’s destructive and inhumane

rendition, they can do whatever you can’t stop them from doing. Ultimately,

Catch-22 is the unwritten loophole that empowers authorities to revoke your

rights whenever it suits their cruel whims. It is, in short, the principle of

absolute evil in a malevolent and incompetent world. As humorous as Catch-22 is

(initially at least), the horror intertwined with it is strikingly evident.

Likely the most important element of Catch-22 is its absurdity. Absurdity

pervades the novel, creating dually humor and terror. The absurd Lt., Col.,

Gen., Sheishkopff’s obsession with parades is quite droll. Again, however, the

implications are ghastly. Sheishkopff views his soldiers as puppets, wanting at

one point to wire them together to create a perfectly precise machine. This

reflects society’s insane obsession with order and conformity, even at the cost

of individuality and humanity. A further example of such dehumanizing absurdity

occurs at the hospital. Yossarian has suffered a leg injury and 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. Maybe the most

absurd character in the novel is Colonel Cathcart. He continually raises the

number of missions for no other reason than personal prestige. Though he

achieves nothing by this, he continually persists. Cathcart’s absurd drive for

prestige is again emphasized in the Saturday Evening Post incident. He tries to

copy another squadron’s prayer meetings, not for morale, but for the absurd

thought that he will be featured in the Saturday Evening Post. Even his reason

for not going forward is absurd; he refuses to accept the enlisted men praying

to the same God as the officers. Perhaps Cathcart’s most ridiculously absurd

action is his "List". Ultimately, his career is measured out in

"Black Eyes" and "Feathers in His Cap" rather than in

success, morale, or human life. Cathcart remains one of the novel’s funniest

characters, but his essential inhumanity and selfishness creates an equally

contemptible character. Cathcart presents another example of Heller’s beautiful

weaving of comedy and tragedy. Final examples of the horrifically humorous

absurdity of the novel are the death scenes. Clevinger is the first to make his

departure, flying into a cloud and never returning. The unreasonable logistics

of his demise are certain to garner laughs. Likewise, Kid Sampson’s gruesome

death at the blades of a propeller– followed by McWatt’s suicide– is

sadistically funny. The absurdity of Dunbar being "disappeared" cloaks

its awful truth. Even life and death can be at the whim of the army bureaucracy,

as demonstrated by Mudd’s "life", and Daneeka’s "death". At

the outset these deaths are indeed comically absurd, but the basic horror of it

is enough to make one nauseous. Absurdity represents one of Heller’s most

skillful blends of comedy and tragedy in the entire novel. Though seemingly

irreconcilable genres, horror and tragedy are nimbly fused into a whole creation

by Heller’s unique style and structure. Heller creates situations where the

audience laughs, and then must look back in horror at what they were laughing

at. Through brilliant characterizations, superb irony, mind-boggling paradoxes,

and ingenious absurdity, Heller manages interlay humor and terror, comedy and

tragedy into a beautiful whole as Catch-22.


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