Friday, May 4, 2012

Catch 22

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Yossarian is a bombardier of the 56th squadron stationed on the island of Pianosa. Through the novel, he struggles to survive in the nightmarish world of war with its stupidity, illogic, violence,

and death.


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The military bureaucracy in Yossarian’s squadron, represented by Colonel Cathcart and other commanding officers, who constantly jeopardize the lives of the men under their command

by raising the number of missions they have to fly before going home. They frame the unwritten rules of Catch-, an illogical law which leaves the airmen in a no-win situation. The law is

maddening and devastating in its effect on the morale of the enlisted men.


Following the deaths of Dobbs and Nately in the mission to La Spezia (Chapter 5), Yossarian refuses to fly any more missions. He finally comes out in open (peaceful) revolt against his

commanding officers.


On hearing of Orr’s escape to Sweden (Chapter 4), Yossarian finally decides to desert. Like Huckleberry Finn, Yossarian takes a decisive step in his quest for personal freedom, sanity, and

salvation by trying to escape to Sweden.


The novel begins with Yossarian in a Pianosa hospital feigning illness in order to escape flying dangerous missions. There, he is given the task of censoring the letters written by all the enlisted

men in the ward. To break the monotony of the job, Yossarian invents little games he blacks out specific words and phrases in the letters; he blacks out all but the salutation; he signs the

chaplain’s name to the love letters of the enlisted men; and he signs one letter, Washington Irving.

The only end in sight for Yossarian is not the end of the war, but the end of his own life. He desperately confides to Clevinger They’re trying to kill me. Outside the hospital, Yossarian

imagines that there is a dead man in his tent. Actually, only the dead man’s possessions are left in the tent. The man, Mudd, has been killed on a mission while flying along side Yossarian.

Yossarian complains about the dead man to Major Major, only to find that Major Major has jumped out of his office window in order to avoid him.

Yossarian asks Doc Daneeka to ground him since there is a rule saying he has to ground anyone who’s crazy. The doctor replies that there is a catch- Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy. Yossarian sees the illogical and absurd Catch- in all its spinning reasonableness.

When he was a cadet in Santa Ana, California, Yossarian hated the tiresome Sunday Parades organized by Lieutenant Scheisskopf. To liven up matters, Yossarian had a series of

promiscuous encounters with various women. These included Dori Duz, a lively little tart, and the Lieutenant’s wife, Mrs.Scheisskopf, a plump, pink and sluggish girl who could

not count to twenty-eight each month and thus kept announcing that she was pregnant.

Much later, during the war, Yossarian has a love encounter with Luciana, a girl he meets while on leave in Rome. He even proposes to her but she refuses him because she cannot believe

that he can love a girl who is not a virgin. Hungry Joe rudely intrudes upon their love-making along with his nasty camera. Yossarian shoves him out. Yossarian tears up the address that

Luciana gives him, but later searches frantically for her. He cannot find her and so makes frenetic love to the maid in lime- colored panties.

As Yossarian believes that the enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed; he hates Cathcart who keeps increasing the number of missions. Cathcart raises the figure from 40 to 50 to 60 and finally to 70 missions. When he is awarded a medal for bombing the target a second time over Ferrara, Yossarian turns up naked at the ceremony. He also appears naked and sits in a

tree during Snowden’s funeral. As his clothes were soaked with Snowden’s blood, he swears never to wear a uniform again. Later, Dobbs wants Yossarian to join him in a plot to murder

Cathcart, but Yossarian rejects his offer.

Yossarian also begins moaning oooooh! when he sees General Dreedle’s nurse at the briefing room. Back in the hospital, Yossarian and Dunbar molest Nurse Duckett. Then, Yossarian

tells the psychiatrist, Major Sanderson, about his dream in which he holds a live fish in his hand. The scene is a brilliant parody on psychoanalysis, as the doctor who questions Yossarian is

ultimately analyzed by his patient.

Yossarian believes he is going to die. After Snowden’s death, Orr has disappeared and is presumed dead. McWatt flies low over the beach and accidentally slices Sampson to smithereens. McWatt then crashes his own plane into the hillside in an act of expiation. Nately volunteers to fly more than seventy missions and is killed as his plane has no parachute since Milo Minderbinder has taken out all the parachutes.

All this while, Milo is involved in crazy black-market operations which reach alarming proportions of greed and corruption. He even agrees to bomb his own unit when the Nazis offer him large sums of money. The chaplain, Tappman, is interrogated by the military police who suspect that he is the mysterious Washington Irving. However, the real culprit is not apprehended.

Following Nately’s death, Yossarian refuses to fly any more missions. He marches backward with his gun on his hip outside headquarters as a mark of protest. He goes to Rome to meet

Nately’s mistress and tells her about Nately’s death. She blames Yossarian for Nately’s death and viciously attacks him.

Yossarian returns to Pianosa and is offered a deal by Colonel Korn. The Colonel is willing to send Yossarian home if he presents a fine account of his commanding officer when he

reaches the U.S. At first, Yossarian accepts the offer, but later, after he is attacked by Nately’s whore and lands in a hospital, he changes his mind. On hearing of Orr’s escape to Sweden,

Yossarian is inspired to follow. Aided by the chaplain, he boards an aircraft bound for Rome, and bails out while the plane is in Flight.

Main Theme

Catch- mainly deals with Yossarian’s attempts to survive in, and ultimately to escape from, a world of absurdity and maddening contradiction. Yossarian struggles to be free from the

scope of an illogical law framed by the military bureaucracy Catch-.

Minor Theme

One needs companionship and understanding in a world devoid of meaning. At the end of the novel, Yossarian is able to plan his escape with the help of the chaplain.


Heller uses elements of black humor and the absurd in order to expose the brutality and callousness of the bureaucratic system. These make the scenario of his novel seem bizarre, if not

farcically inhuman. Throughout the novel, Yossarian’s mind is full of thoughts of death. But, the novel ends on a note of optimism and hope as Yossarian tries to emulate Orr’s escape to

Sweden and freedom.


Major characters

Colonel Cathcart

The successor to Major Duluth as the Squadron commander. He constantly increases the number of missions that his men must fly.

Doc Daneeka

The chief medical officer at the Pianosa air base. He is mortally afraid of flying. He is taken for dead, although he is actually alive, because the records show that he was in McWatts plane

when it crashed.

Hungry Joe

Earns his nickname due to his voracious appetite for both food and sex. He suffers from nerve-wracking nightmares that not only disturb his own peace of mind but also that of his colleagues

at the air base.


A dare-devil pilot who loves to show off his acrobatic skills as an airman. He accidentally kills Kid Sampson and then commits suicide by crashing his plane into a mountain.

Major Major

Rises to the position of a Major chiefly due to an error committed by an IBM computer. He reads his name as his rank. He becomes squadron commander and jumps out of his office

window to avoid meeting the men who come to see him.

Milo Minderbinder

An ace profiteer from the war, although only a Mess Sergeant. He signs a contract with the Germans to bomb his own American Squadron, and runs a mind-boggling maze of black-market

operations that spans five continents.


A young airman and Yossarian’s friend who was born in a very rich family. He has a flagrant affair with a prostitute in Rome and dies during the mission to La Spezia.

Chaplain A.T.Tappman

The kind and compassionate clergyman who is Yossarian’s friend . He helps Yossarian prepare for his escape to Sweden.

Captain John Yossarian

A bombardier with the 56th Squadron stationed in Pianosa and is the central figure of Catch-. He feigns illness and insanity to avoid flying more missions, before openly protesting against the

authorities. He finally attempts to escape to Sweden.

Minor Characters


The chief navigator on Yossarian’s plane. He is a rather ruthless person, as he kills Michaela, the maid, while on a pleasure-trip to Rome.


Plays a good game of Ping-Pong which arouses Orr’s jealousy. The men refer to Apple by as having flies in his eyes.

Captain Black

Intelligence officer of the 56th squadron. He begins the Loyalty Oath Crusade.


The one who conducts the educational sessions. He dies on the mission to Parma.

Major de Coverley

A man of Jehovian demeanor who puts an end to Captain Black’s Loyalty Oath Crusade. After each Allied victory, he rushes to the captured city and rents apartments for the American


Major Danby

The operations officer for the squadron. He almost gets himself shot when he moans during a briefing session.


The co-pilot of Yossarian’s plane. He plans to assassinate Colonel Cathcart.

General Dreedle

Wing Commander of the 56th squadron.

Nurse Duckett

A nurse at the hospital in Pianosa who has an affair with Yossarian.


Yossarian’s companion in the hospital ward who disappears in Chapter 4.

Dori Duz

A promiscuous woman who has affairs with Scheisskopf and Yossarian.

Captain Flume

The Public Relations Officer of the 56th squadron. He is afraid that Chief White Halfoat will slit his throat, so he hides in the woods.

Gus and Wes

The two medical assistants of Doctor Daneeka who paint patients’ gums and toes purple.

Chief White Halfoat

An American-Indian. He punches Colonel Moodus in the nose and threatens to kill Captain Flume. He dies of pneumonia.

Captain Havermeyer

The lead bombardier who never takes evasive action and never misses a target. He shoots field mice at night.


The youngest pilot at the base. His cat was discovered on the face of Hungry Joe, at the time of Hungry Joe’s death.

Colonel Korn

The assistant to Colonel Cathcart. He tries to make an odious deal with Yossarian.


The pilot who is killed on the second run during the mission to Ferrara.


The Italian girl whom Yossarian meets at the officer’s Club in Rome and to whom Yossarian proposes marriage.

Colonel Moodus

General’s Dreedle’s son-in-law who yearns for the General’s nurse. General Dreedle treats him with little respect.


A pilot who dies when on his first mission. His personal effects are left in Yossarian’s tent. He is the dead man in Yossarian’s tent.


A pilot who often ditches his plane at sea and is rescued. He finally escapes to Sweden.

General Peckem

In charge of the Squadron’s special operations. He dreams of taking over command of the squadron from General Dreedle.

Kid Sampson

One of the pilots with whom Yossarian flies. He is killed in an accident when he is cut into two by a propeller on McWatts low-

flying plane.

Major Sanderson

The psychiatrist at the hospital who certifies that Yossarian is insane. He suffers from feelings of inadequacy.

Lieutenant Scheisskopf

Yossarian’s commanding officer in California. He is excessively fond of parades. He is made lieutenant general after he is sent to the front.


Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife. She sleeps with all the men in her husband’s squadron, including Yossarian.

The Soldier in White

A strange sight at the hospital as he is completely swathed in bandages. He turns out to be Lieutenant Schmulker who has suffered serious burns.


The gunner on Yossarian’s plane. His grotesque death during the mission to Avignon shocks Yossarian and haunts him throughout the novel.

Corporal Whitcomb

Works as an assistant to the chaplain. He is responsible for preparing the format of the condolence letters and even helps the C.I.D men investigate the chaplain.

ex-PFC. Wintergreen

Responsible for sorting mail at 7th Air Force Headquarters. He is later demoted for virtually running the air base by sending self-prepared memoranda and intercepting important messages.

The two C.I.D (Criminal Investigation Department) men

Sent to Pianosa to find out who has been tampering with the personal letters of the soldiers and official documents.

Plot Structure

When Heller began his writing career in the late 140s, he turned his back on traditional methods of story-telling. He seemed to resent the realism of the conventional mode of fiction with its

rational structure, its assumptions of continuity in plot, situation, and character, and its neat attempts to draw well-defined resolutions. His own experience as an airman in World War II

caused him to distrust the cause-and effect relation of surface reality as something merely superficial which captured only outer reality. So in his fiction, Heller developed a structure and

style that suited the absurdities in public and private life that he observed around him.

The dislocation of episodic continuity serves a dual purpose. Some of the events are juxtaposed not on the basis of chronology but randomly so as to highlight their inter-relationship and to

emphasize certain ironic contrasts.

Besides, the episodes of the novel are so structured as to create a gradually increasing tension through the sinister events represented in them. Heller gives us several accounts, scattered

over various chapters, of the catastrophic events in Yossarian’s plane leading up to a death. Each attempt at narrating the gory details serves to intensify the traumatic impact it has on the morale and psyche of Yossarian.

The overall time structure of the novel does acquire some chronological continuity through the intermittent repetition of certain crucial incidents. Recurrent references include the

monumental growth of Minderbinder’s black-market operations, the death of Snowden, Cathcart’s raising of the number of missions, and Orr’s repeated ditching of his planes at sea.

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