The Surprising Aspect Of Sex In Catch-22 Essay, Research Paper
The Surprising Aspect of Sex in Heller’s Catch-22
Joseph Heller’s humorist-war novel, Catch-22, has many surprising passages and themes. The part that is most surprising to me in Catch-22 is the amount of sexual connotation in a novel based around World War II. The question which has to be raised is, Is Catch-22 really about World War II? While this book is a fictious war novel, you get a different look into the lives of the soldiers. Their lives are filled with sex, whether it is a quick stop at a whorehouse in Italy or putting a hand up Nurse Duckett’s thighs. Catch-22 is about something deeper than the war. It is about personal experiences of soldiers in the eyes of Joseph Heller which brings this book to a different level than what is expected.
One example of heavy sexual content in Catch-22, is when Heller describes General Dreedle’s nurse in great detail. Descriptions like “nubile breasts”, “ripened” and “He drank her in insatiably from head to pointed toenail” (230), Or “He licked his parched, thirsting lips with a sticky tongue and moaned in misery again ” (230), make this Catch-22 dirty. It brought this book to whole other level which when I first opened it was not expecting. This level is almost in a way more humanistic than the level I thought it would reach. The typical war story of courage and bravery seem to have disappeared from Heller’s depiction. It shows that while there is a traumatic World War, and these soldiers are fighting for their country and more importantly to them, their lives, these soldiers have a life outside of the war to which they want to keep. Most of the soldiers are not there by choice. To be considered sane is to save your life and prevent yourself from having to fight. In a way, the excess of sex takes their minds off the war and also takes the reader’s mind off the war as well. How and why are they allowed to get away with their appalling actions? For some reason no one punishes Yossarian and the rest of the soldiers after going to Italian whore houses and acting like sex-crazed dirty men.
Another example of sex in Catch-22, is in the chapter Nately’s Old Man, where the chapter takes place in an “amazing place” with a “seething cornucopia of female nipples and navels” (251). This chapter is filled with lush, vivid descriptions of nude women flocking to all the soldiers, including Nately’s old man, or rather his “father”. Nipples and navels are the only standout things in the room, everything else is irrelevant. Women, or rather their most important parts, are merely described as pieces of fruit in an overflowing cornucopia. It is a degrading description of women which makes the scene dirty and wrong, yet as you read on, you keep telling yourself these soldiers have every right to do this and yet you can not pinpoint why. The alcohol is freely flowing and the number of women reaches to eleven. World War II is still going on all around them yet at this point in time, the war is non-existent. It’s not a priority in these soldiers’ minds because they have sex on the mind. This part surprised me greatly because you don’t think you are reading a war novel you think you’re reading a pornographic fantasy novel, which it could have well been.
Finally the last of the many examples of sexual content in Catch-22 is when Yossarian, the main character of the novel, molests Nurse Sue Ann Duckett. In a sad attempt of feeling sorry for Nurse Duckett, Yossarian helps her. At this point, Yossarian’s definition of “help” involves some sort of sexual action. The next morning when Nurse Duckett is smoothing out Yossarian’s sheets, he “slipped his hand stealthily into the narrow spaces between her knees and, all at once, brought it up swiftly under her dress as far as it would go” (303). This sly move comes after the vivid description of Nurse Duckett. Pointing out only the important aspects of her body like her well-rounded ass and small breasts. However this scene, unlike the last, because there is a hint of enjoyment as she sways back and forth on Yossarian’s hand. By having Nurse Duckett enjoy herself, Heller is getting away with having such a ludicrous portrayal of Yossarian’s constant sexual harassment towards women.
As I finished this book, I realized that Catch-22 was not written about the war at all. Although it revolves around it and it is about the soldiers who fought in it, Catch-22 is about something deeper than that. Personal experience is what Heller is trying to portray in Catch-22. These soldiers do not want to fight for their country because they do not want to die. They are not brave and courageous, like many war novels tend to portray. What Heller is trying to convey here is that the “All that you can be”, patriotic and brave soldier who risks his life to save others is not what is real. Yossarian and the other soldiers are real. They talked about sex, they had sex with whores, they molested their nurses and they “ooooooooooooh”ed to their heart’s content.