The name of the novel I read is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. This novels uniqueness makes it hard to classify but I would classify it as an anti-war novel. The main theme of the novel is one of hope and freedom from the barbaric grasp of war. Heller uses World War II as an almost invisible framework in which he places a number of vaguely related stories presented in no particular chronological order, although the final narrative does tie them all together. Catch-22 was written in a very comical style. It displays the foolishness of wars and the inherent violence and idiotic bureaucracy while eliminating the glory, honor and graphic depictions so often included in wartime novels. Heller uses loads of humor to convey his messages and while the main theme is obvious to the reader, there are many hidden and double meanings buried in the intriguing stories.
I selected this novel because it was highly recommended by a close friend and I definitely enjoyed it. Hellers humor is what I liked most about the novel. The novel is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyones face and I absolutely loved the characters. On the other hand, I found his lack of timeline very frustrating and confusing. Some may consider this ingenious but there were parts of the novel when I was thoroughly puzzled as to who was dead or alive. In addition to this, the lack of a chronological order makes this novel insanely difficult to summarize. Other than that, I have no complaints about this book and even without the timeline its an ingenious work.
The novel begins with the main character, Yossarian, in a military hospital with a phony liver condition that is severe enough to take him out of combat but not severe enough to operate on. Soon after, a friendly Texan is brought into the ward and he is so overly nice and talkative that all the patients in the ward, including Yossarian, recover from their various ailments and return to the war. After leaving the hospital, Yossarian talks to Doc Daneeka who informs him that the number of missions required to be relieved of service has been raised yet again by Colonel Cathcart to 50 from 45 while Yossarian has only completed 40. Needless to say Yossarian is enraged. Doc Daneeka is also the first to explain Catch-22 to Yossarian. In order for a pilot to be grounded for insanity, he must ask to be grounded but any pilot who asks to be grounded is obviously sane. Yossarian is both impressed and confused so he takes Docs word for it.
Hungry Joe is a member of Yossarians squadron who is obsessed with naked women and suffers from terrible nightmares on the nights before hes not supposed to fly. Hes flown six tours of duty but every time hes due to be sent home, Colonel Cathcart raises the number of missions. Cathcart is also proud to volunteer his men for the most dangerous and risky missions. A member of Yossarians squadron helps explain how Catch-22 requires them to fly the extra missions Colonel Cathcart has ordered even though the Air Force regulations only require 40 missions.
Milo is an extremely powerful mess officer who controls the international black market and searches diligently for profit. He even manages to make profit by buying eggs for 7 cents and selling them for 5 cents, an economic concept that Yossarian cant grasp.
Major Major Major is Yossarians squadron commander. He resembles Henry Fonda and his promotion to squadron commander causes him to lose all his friends and sets him in a deep depression where he decides that he can only be seen when he is not in his office.
Captain Black, yet another member of Yossarians squadron, is very pleased that Colonel Cathcart has volunteered them for the outrageously dangerous mission of bombing Bologna. But before the mission, it rains endlessly postponing the bombing. But when the rain stops, Yossarian moves the bomb line on the map to indicate that Bologna has already been captured. While this confuses everyone for a while, the truth is finally discovered and they are forced to bomb Bologna. Yossarian is so terrified of bombing the city that during the mission he fakes an intercom failure and forces his plane to return. The rest of the planes on the mission return unscathed since there were no air defenses at the target. When his superiors learn of what happened, Yossarian is reprimanded and forced to return and bomb the city with his crew. They fly to Bologna confidently assuming there will be no defenses but are stunned by the shrapnel and flak being directed at them. Despite the surprise, they bomb the target and return safely.
After the bombing of Bologna, Yossarian has a brief episode in which he falls in love with an Italian girl but unfortunately he loses her phone number. Colonel Cathcart once again raises the number of missions needed to be sent home and Yossarian is so upset, he decides to return to the hospital. Hes been a frequent visitor at the hospital and he even spent one thanksgiving there.
Colonel Cathcart begins to worry extensively about Yossarian. Yossarian has become an embarrassment to him because he complains about the ever increasing number of missions and in the past he attended his own medal ceremony completely naked. The Colonel wishes he knew how to deal with Yossarian so he can impress his commanding officer, General Dreedle.
Yossarian was once a brave bombardier but he lost his nerve in a mission where his friend Snowden died in his arms. Strangely, Yossarian attends Snowdens funeral naked in a tree. On one occasion, he takes a trip with Milo to pick up supplies and begins to realize the vastness of Milos dominance of the black market. Milo is considered the leader of many countries because hes revitalized their economies with his black market. In fact, his influence is so vast that he contracts the Germans to bomb Americans and the Americans to shoot down German planes. One evening, he made an agreement with the Germans to bomb his own base. Several people are wounded and killed but Milo calms down the survivors by showing them the profit theyve all made.
On a later mission, Yossarian is hit by flak and sent to the hospital legitimately. While there, him and his friend Dunbar execute a plan to switch identities by switching beds with lower ranking officers. Not surprisingly, they are caught. Yossarian and Dunbar then begin to fondle their nurse and when they are confronted by doctors they plead insanity. The hospital psychiatrist examines Yossarian, finds him insane and orders him to be sent home but because of the identity switching before, another man in the ward is sent home.
Yossarian begins to have a relationship with the nurse he fondled, Nurse Duckett. One day, while making love to her on the beach, his pilot, McWatt flies a little too close to the shore and slices a man in half with the propeller. McWatt refuses to land the plane and then crashes it into the side of a mountain. Doc Daneeka was supposed to be on that flight according to the paperwork even though he wasnt. Nevertheless, he is presumed dead. His wife begins to receive all types of insurance money and military aid for his death and when Doc writes her a letter pleading for her to explain to the authorities that he really is alive, she ignores it and moves away with no forwarding address.
More and more of Yossarians friends continue to die and he is given four new roommates who drive him crazy. Because of this he flees to Rome where he is unable to find a whore he previously fell in love with. Nately on the other hand continues to fall deeper in love with his whore and while they argue continuously, she loves him too. Yossarian breaks Natelys nose in a scuffle and when they go to the hospital, Dunbar disappears due to a conspiracy by the doctors.
Back at the base, things continue as usual. Colonel Cathcart has yet again raised the number of missions to 80. This allows Milo to be excused from his flying duties so that he can run his syndicate. The next bombing is a particularly deadly one and twelve men are killed including Yossarians friend Nately.
Natelys death drastically affects Yossarian and he refuses to fly anymore combat missions and begins to walk around backwards so that no one can sneak up on him. Colonel Cathcart feels bad for Yossarian and allows him to go to Rome. While in Rome, he breaks the news to Natelys whore. She believes Yossarian is responsible for Natelys death so she attempts to stab him numerous times but Yossarian barely escapes without serious injury.
Back at the base, Colonel Cathcart offers Yossarian a lucrative deal. He will be promoted to major and sent home if he will only like him and make speeches in America supporting the war effort. Yossarian realizes that this is a blatant betrayal of his friends and his beliefs but is quite elated at the opportunity to go home so he accepts. Oh his way out of the office, Natelys whore, disguised as a private, stabs Yossarian and seriously injures him.
Once again, hes in the hospital. Hes then operated on then has several visions and dreams that bring him to an important realization. He realizes that he cannot go through with Colonel Cathcarts plan because he will be betraying his dead friends and be forced to live as a hypocrite. Just as he is explaining all of this to Major Danby, the chaplain comes in with news that Yossarians long lost friend, Orr, who was presumed dead, is in Sweden. Yossarian realizes that Orr must have planned his escape and is inspired and decides that he too will run away to Sweden. As he steps outside, Natelys whore tries to stab him again but he evades her and runs off into the distance.
I found Catch-22 to be a very enjoyable novel but though it wasnt without its imperfections. My stance about the book wavered back and forth while I read it but after reading it and looking back, I realize that it is an excellent novel and Im glad I read it, though I do understand why some dislike the novel.
When I first began the novel, I was intrigued by the name Yossarian. I had never heard the name before and I knew from the beginning that he would be an interesting character. I thought he was very comical as were many of the other characters so I enjoyed the first few chapters.
As I began to get deeper into the book, the lack of a definite time line annoyed me and the constant jumping around confused me greatly. It makes the book extremely hard to summarize in a few short pages. At one point I was so confused as to who was really alive and who was dead that I was forced to re-read a chapter. While reading the book that was my greatest complaint. Now that Ive finished it, I realize that the order of the book is really ingenious and it was the most effective way for Heller to get across his intriguing and unique message.
I believe that at least one of the messages Heller was trying to get across is the point that war really is a terrible, dehumanizing thing. Throughout the book, there are countless examples of how people are horribly affected by the war. One example is Hungry Joe experiencing horrifying nightmares. Another example is the chaplain beginning to doubt his faith and beliefs all because of the war. Another sad effect of the war is the suicide of Yossarians pilot, McWatt. He was only doing the thing he enjoyed most, flying, and that drove him to kill himself. And how can we forget Yossarian who went from being a brave bombardier to almost betraying his dead friends and living his life as a hypocrite. To me, that message is very clear.
Heller also tries to show us that despite the atrocity of war, the human spirit can survive and overcome. Clevinger is the first example of this as he plans his escape and then disappears into a cloud. Orr also escaped and showed that he was unwilling to allow the war to take away his freedom and right to happiness. Yossarians story is the most intriguing and inspirational. His fight to live and his strong sense of survival is the backbone of the book.
I picked up on a few double meanings Heller presented in the novel that reinforced the idea that the human spirit can live on and be happy. Near the end of the novel, Yossarian informed Natelys whore of his death and she feels Yossarian is responsible for Natelys death so she attempts to kill him. Initially, he escapes her attacks numerous times with almost no injury. As soon as Yossarian agrees to Colonel Cathcarts plan to go back to America and support the military and the war effort while inevitably betraying his friends, his beliefs and his happiness, Natelys whore succeeds and seriously injures Yossarian forcing him into the hospital. That seemed to be confirmation that Yossarian was doing the wrong thing by agreeing to live as a hypocrite and lie about what he really feels in order to leave the war he so strongly hates. In other words, this confirms the idea that Heller believes that life isnt worth living unless you are going live for yourself. When Yossarain does decide to runway though, he easily evades Natelys whore yet again and runs off into the distance. Most importantly, he runs off into the distance free without any obligation to anyone but himself. Yossarian has realized that, the spirit gone, man is garbage.
Another double meaning which I found quite interesting yet subtle was the Milos syndicate. I think that Heller is really ridiculing communist institutions, leaders and governments by including a character like Milo. Throughout the novel, Milo constantly tries to recruit everyone into his syndicate by telling them that everyone has a share when the truth is that he is the only one benefiting from it. This idea runs very close to the theory of communism. The government states that everyone is equal and everyone is worth the same while only one person or a group of people are the ones benefiting.
One idea which I found comical but remained a srong theme throughout the novel is the power of bureaucracy. Colonel Cathcart is the epitome of this as he continually raises the number missions necessary go home. And Captain Blacks crusade of loyalty where he forces the men to sign a treaty declaring there loyalty to do simple things like eat is also a sarcastic example of the power struggle in the military. And the rule Catch-22 is probably the most clever, yet comical idea Ive ever come across. It brings a smile to my face everytime I think of it.
Hellers complicated yet subtle double meanings and satirical style of writing make this a novel a classic. It was very enjoyable reading and while I would have enjoyed a few more climaxes, I like the relaxed feeling the novel game me. The author makes it aware that people are dying but he uses the war as an almost invisible backdrop for a comedy and its not until late in the movie that it becomes obvious how sad of a situation Yossarian really is in. He does all this while communicating his strong beliefs of war and humanity. I applaud Joseph Heller for Catch-22.