Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

Given a horrible name at birth because of his father's horrible sense of humor, Major Major Major was chagrined when,

Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)



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Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)

Some info on Joseph Heller

b. May 1, 1923, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.

American writer whose novel Catch-22 (1961) was one of the most significant works of protest literature to appear after World War II. The satirical novel was both a critical and a popular success, and a film version appeared in 1970.Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier with the U.S. Air Force in Europe. He received an M.A. at Columbia University in 1949 and was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Oxford (1949-50). He taught English at Pennsylvania State University (1950-52) and worked as an advertising copywriter for the magazines Time (1952-56) and Look (1956-58) and as promotion manager for McCall's (1958-61), meanwhile writing Catch-22 in his spare time. The plot of the novel centres on the antihero Captain John Yossarian, stationed at an airstrip on a Mediterranean island in World War II, and portrays his desperate attempts to stay alive. The "catch" in Catch-22 involves a mysterious Air Force regulation, which asserts that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions; but, if he makes the necessary formal request to be relieved of such missions, the very act of making the request proves that he is sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. The term Catch-22 thereafter entered the English language as a reference to a proviso that trips one up no matter which way one turns.His later novels including Something Happened (1974), an unrelievedly pessimistic novel, Good as Gold (1979), a satire on life in Washington, D.C., and God Knows (1984), a wry, contemporary-vernacular monologue in the voice of the biblical King David, were less successful. Closing Time, a sequel to Catch-22, appeared in 1994. Heller's dramatic work includes the play We Bombed in New Haven (1968).


Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. He served as an Air Force bombardier in World War II, and has enjoyed a long career as a writer and a teacher. His bestselling books include Something Happened, Good as Gold, Picture This, God Knows, and Closing Time--but his first novel, Catch-22, remains his most famous and acclaimed work.

Written while Heller worked producing ad copy for a New York City marketing firm, Catch-22 draws heavily on Heller's Air Force experience, and presents a war story that is at once hilarious, grotesque, bitterly cynical, and utterly stirring. The novel generated a great deal of controversy upon its publication; critics tended either to adore it or despise it, and those who hated it did so for the same reason as the critics who loved it. Over time, Catch-22 has become one of the defining novels of the twentieth century. It presents an utterly unsentimental vision of war, stripping all romantic pretense away from combat, replacing visions of glory and honor with a kind of nightmarish comedy of violence, bureaucracy, and paradoxical madness.

Unlike other anti-romantic war novels, such as Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch-22 relies heavily on humor to convey the insanity of war, presenting the horrible meaninglessness of armed conflict through a kind of desperate absurdity, rather than through graphic depictions of suffering and violence. Catch-22 also distinguishes itself from other anti-romantic war novels by its core values: Yossarian's story is ultimately not one of despair, but one of hope; the positive urge to live and to be free can redeem the individual from the dehumanizing machinery of war. The novel is told as a disconnected series of loosely related, tangential stories in no particular chronological order; the final narrative that emerges from this structural tangle upholds the value of the individual in the face of the impersonal, collective military mass; at every stage, it mocks insincerity and hypocrisy even when they appear to be triumphant.

Summary for "catch-22"

Chapters 1-5

Yossarian is in a military hospital in Italy with a liver condition that isn't quite jaundice. He is not really even sick, but he prefers the hospital to the war outside, so he pretends to have a pain in his liver. The doctors are unable to prove him wrong, so they let him stay, perplexed at his failure to develop jaundice. Yossarian shares the hospital ward with his friend Dunbar; a bandaged, immobile man called the soldier in white; and a pair of nurses Yossarian suspect hate him. One day an affable Texan is brought into the ward, where he tries to convince the other patients that "decent folk" should get extra votes. The Texan is so nice that everyone hates him. A chaplain comes to see Yossarian, and although he confuses the chaplain badly during their conversation, Yossarian is filled with love for him. Less than ten days after the Texan is sent to the ward, everyone but the soldier in white flees the ward, recovering from their ailments and returning to active duty.

Outside the hospital there is a war going on, and millions of boys are bombing each other to death. No one seems to have a problem with this arrangement except Yossarian, who once argued with Clevinger, an officer in his group, about the war. Yossarian claimed that everyone was trying to kill him. Clevinger argued that no one was trying to kill Yossarian personally, but Yossarian has no patience for Clevinger's talk of countries and honor and insists that they are trying to kill him. After being released from the hospital, Yossarian sees his roommate Orr and notices that Clevinger is still missing. He remembers the last time he and Clevinger called each other crazy, during a night at the officers' club when Yossarian announced to everyone present that he was superhuman because no one had managed to kill him yet. Yossarian is suspicious of everyone when he gets out of the hospital; he has a meal in Milo's mess hall, then talks to Doc Daneeka, who enrages Yossarian by telling him that Colonel Cathcart has raised to fifty the number of missions required before a soldier can be discharged. The previous number was forty-five. Yossarian has flown forty missions.

Yossarian talks to Orr, who tells him an irritating story about how he liked to keep crab apples in his cheeks when he was younger. Yossarian briefly remembers the time a whore had beaten Orr over the head with her shoe in Rome outside Nately's whore's kid sister's room. Yossarian notices that Orr is even smaller than Huple, who lives near Hungry Joe's tent. Hungry Joe has nightmares whenever he isn't scheduled to fly a mission the next day; his screaming keeps the whole camp awake. Hungry Joe's tent is near a road where the men sometimes pick up girls and take them out to the the tall grass near the open-air movie theater that a U.S.O. troupe visited that same afternoon. The troupe was sent by an ambitious general named P.P. Peckem, who hopes to take over the command of Yossarian's wing from General Dreedle. General Peckem's troubleshooter Colonel Cargill, who used to be a spectacular failure as a marketing executive and who is now a spectacular failure as a colonel. Yossarian feels sick, but Doc Daneeka still refuses to ground him. Doc Daneeka advises Yossarian to be like Havermeyer and make the best of it; Havermeyer is a fearless lead bombardier. Yossarian thinks that he himself is a lead bombardier filled with a very healthy fear. Havermeyer likes to shoot mice in the middle of the night; once, he woke Hungry Joe and caused him to dive into one of the slit trenchs that have appeared nightly beside every tent since Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer, bombed the squadron.

Hungry Joe is crazy, and though Yossarian tries to help him, Hungry Joe won't listen to his advice because he thinks Yossarian is crazy. Doc Daneeka doesn't believe Hungry Joe has problems--he thinks only he has problems, because his lucrative medical practice was ended by the war. Yossarian remembers trying to disrupt the educational meeting in Captain Black's intelligence tent by asking unanswerable questions, which caused Group Headquarters to make a rule that the only people who could ask questions were the ones who never did. This rule comes from Colonel Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn, who also approved the skeet shooting range where Yossarian can never hit anything. Dunbar loves shooting skeet because he hates it and it makes the time go more slowly; his goal is to live as long as possible by slowing down time, so he loves boredom and discomfort, and he argues about this with Clevinger.

Doc Daneeka lives in a tent with an alcoholic Indian named Chief White Halfoat, where he tells Yossarian about some sexually inept newlyweds he had in his office once. Chief White Halfoat comes in and tells Yossarian that Doc Daneeka is crazy and then relates the story of his own family: everywhere they went, someone struck oil, and so oil companies sent agents and equipment to follow them wherever they went. Doc Daneeka still refuses to ground Yossarian, who asks if he would be grounded if he were crazy. Doc Daneeka says yes, and Yossarian decides to go crazy. But that solution is too easy: there is a catch. Doc Daneeka tells Yossarian about Catch-22, which holds that, to be grounded for insanity, a pilot must ask to be grounded, but that any pilot who asks to be grounded must be sane. Impressed, Yossarian takes Doc Daneeka's word for it, just as he had taken Orr's word about the flies in Appleby's eyes. Orr insists there are flies in Appleby's eyes, and though Yossarian has no idea what Orr means, he believes Orr because he has never lied to him before. They once told Appleby about the flies, so that Appleby was worried on the way to a briefing, after which they all took off in B-25s for a bombing run. Yoss

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