Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a satirical war novel by the great American author- Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953; the novel Catch-22 was first published in 1961. Often cited as one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century, it uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from the points of view of different characters. The separate storylines are out of sequence so the timeline develops along with the plot. The novel Catch-22 is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of antihero Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occured while the fictional 256th US Army Air Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy, though it also covers episodes from basic training at Lowry Field in Colorado and Air Corps training at Santa Ana Army Air Base in California. The novel Catch-22 examines the absurdity of war and military life through the experiences of Yossarian and his cohorts, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home. The book was made into a film adaptation in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols. In 1994, Heller published a sequel to Catch-22 titled “Closing Time.“
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Suffice it to say that Catch-22 is like no other novel. It is one of the funniest books ever written, a keystone work in American literature, and even added a new term to the dictionary. At the heart of Catch-22 resides the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero endlessly inventive in his schemes to save his skin from the horrible chances of war. His efforts are perfectly understandable because as he furiously scrambles, thousands of people he hasn’t even met are trying to kill him. His problem is Colonel Cathcart, who keeps raising the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions that he is committed to flying, he is trapped by the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade, the hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule from which the book takes its title: 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. Catch-22 is a microcosm of the twentieth-century world as it might look to someone dangerously sane — a masterpiece of our time.
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Catch-22 Author – Joseph Heller
Joseph Heller was born in 1923 in Brooklyn, New York. He served as a bombardier in the Second World War and then attended New York University and Columbia University and then Oxford, the last on a Fullbright scholarship. He then taught for two years at Pennsylvania State University, before returning to New York, where he began a successful career in the advertising departments of Time, Look and McCall’s magazines. It was during this time that he had the idea for Catch-22. Working on the novel in spare moments and evenings at home, it took him eight years to complete and was first published in 1961. His second novel, Something Happened was published in 1974, Good As Gold in 1979 and Closing Time in 1994. He is also the author of the play We Bombed in New Haven.
Information about the book-Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster (September 4, 1996)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 463 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684833395
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684833392
- Lexile measure : 1140L
- Item Weight : 1.04 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.25 x 1.25 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #712,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #19,259 in Classic Literature & Fiction
- #42,399 in Literary Fiction (Books)
- Customer Reviews: 4.4 out of 5 stars 6,867 ratings
Characters in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Captain John Yossarian is a fictional character in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 and its sequel Closing Time, and the protagonist of both books. In Catch-22, Yossarian is a 28-year-old Captain (later Major) and the bombardier of a North American B-25 Mitchell in the 256th Bombardment Squadron of the Army Air Corps, stationed on the small island of Pianosa off the Italian mainland during World War II. Yossarian’s exploits are based on the experiences of the author; Heller was also a bombardier in the Air Corps, stationed on an island off the coast of Italy during World War II. Yossarian is described as a tall, broad, Assyrian man, who frequently causes vast amounts of panic by starting rumors or orchestrating events that either keep him out of direct battle or somehow usurp authority. Examples of these exploits include: poisoning the mess hall with bath soap, accepting an award for his achievements without clothing, and moving the bombing line so his squadron won’t have to fly.
Tappman (also called R. O. Shipman in some editions) is a naïve Anabaptist minister from Kenosha, Wisconsin. As he is extremely timid and terrified of authority, the chaplain is tormented throughout the novel by his rude, manipulative, atheist assistant, Corporal Whitcomb. Easily intimidated by the cruelty of others, the Chaplain is a kind, gentle, and sensitive man who worries constantly about his wife and children at home. He is described as a man of 32 years of age with tan hair, brown eyes, and a narrow, pale face. His sister is a Master Sergeant in the Marines.
A full colonel, Chuck Cathcart is a group commander at the U.S. Army Air Corps base in Pianosa and is obsessed with becoming a general. As such, he does whatever it takes to please his superiors, in particular, by repeatedly raising the number of missions the men have to fly to complete a tour of duty beyond that normally required by other outfits. Ironically, this provokes no reaction from the generals, who are apathetic to the war efforts, but becomes the bane of Yossarian’s and Hungry Joe’s lives. He is a 36 year old man with short graying curly hair, a tall yet beefy build, extremely pale skin, and a huge host of self-confidence issues. He is described as mildly conceited, and yet is found to be constantly comparing himself to others, often finding himself displeased with the conclusions he reaches. Cathcart is also obsessed with forging and maintaining a public image of extreme masculinity, most likely due to his apparent insecurity.
Dr. Dan Daneeka is the squadron flight surgeon and a friend of the novel’s protagonist, Yossarian. Doc Daneeka’s main motivation is for his own welfare, whether that be making money or protecting his own life. He generally forgets his moral duty as a physician except in the most extreme of circumstances. Doc Daneeka feels the military is responsible for him being drafted into the war effort and putting him in harm’s way, because they were distrustful of him when he lied on his drafting papers about his health. He is constantly scared of upsetting his superiors who may see fit to then ship him off to the far more dangerous South Pacific. Already he sees it as military cruelty to have been assigned to the Air Corps even though he is scared of flying. His catchphrase could be seen as “You think you have it bad? Well what about me?” since his self-centeredness ensures his thoughts are constantly centered on himself.
First Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder is the mess officer at the U.S. Army Air Corps base and he becomes obsessed with expanding mess operations and trading goods for the profits of the syndicate (in which he and everyone else “has a share”). Milo is a satire of the modern businessman, and beyond that is the living representation of capitalism, as he has no allegiance to any country, person or principle unless it pays him and profit is generated. Milo even begins contracting missions for the Germans, fighting on both sides in the battle at Orvieto and bombing his own squadron. He is capable of extreme self-justification by means of his own personal virtues or morals; in a way, his personality is almost sociopathic.
Nately’s family originally enlisted him to serve in the Air Corps, believing the war would be over by the time he finished his training and that he would mingle with “gentlemen.” Therefore, Nately could gain the pride of enlisting without actually having to fight. Instead, he mingled with Yossarian and Dunbar, and was sent overseas. He lives in a tent with McWatt next to Havermeyer’s tent. His most notable contribution in the book is his involvement with a whore, “Nately’s Whore,” who is for the most part uninterested in him until he saves her from a sleepless night with generals, thus giving her an opportunity to get some sleep. He is often filled with American optimism, shown by his desire to marry his whore and send her kid sister to a respected college in the United States. He is killed on a mission when Dobbs flies his plane into Nately’s. Nately’s Whore blames Yossarian and spends the rest of the book trying to murder him.
A bomber pilot in the squadron who is continually being shot down and having to crash land in the sea. Described as “a warm-hearted, simple-minded gnome,” Orr is the only person in the group considered to be crazier than his good friend Yossarian, with whom he shares a tent. Orr appears to take great joy in thoroughly confounding those around him by being completely nonsensical, however this is later revealed to most likely be a part of his escape plan. He is declared ‘missing in action’ halfway through the novel after crashing his plane in the Mediterranean, but by the end it’s revealed that he had rowed to the neutral zone in Sweden to escape the army. At this point, Yossarian realizes that Orr’s constant crashes had been part of his plan and his survival inspires Yossarian to finally flee the army.
Snowden is a radio-gunner, a member of Yossarian’s crew; when their aircraft is hit by anti-aircraft fire and Snowden is wounded, Yossarian attempts to treat his visible wounds, but misses a terrible, fatal, wound hidden by his clothing. This incident is generally referred to in the novel as “the death over Avignon”. Snowden’s death acts as the catalyst for the change in Yossarian’s mentality.
Captain Aardvaark (called Aarfy) is the navigator in Yossarian’s B-25 bomber (but only when Yossarian is flying in the lead ship – hence Aarfy’s sporadic appearances in the air in the novel). He is oblivious to incoming flak, repeatedly gets lost on missions, and always smokes a pipe. Yossarian comments that Aarfy is just not intelligent enough to be afraid of the war. He befriends Nately in the hope of working for Nately’s wealthy father after the war. Aarfy sees himself as moral and protects well-connected women from the sexual advances of other officers, but he ends up raping and murdering the innocent maid Michaela. When asked by Yossarian why he didn’t simply hire a prostitute, he repeats his common admonition that “Old Aarfy has never paid for it.” He shows no remorse for these crimes until he begins to worry that he might be brought to justice for them.
Major Major Major Major
The ineffectual squadron commander of the base in Pianosa, who was named Major Major Major by his father as a joke – passing up the lesser possibilities of “Drum Major, Minor Major, Sergeant Major, or C Sharp Major” – and was later made a Major by an IBM machine with a sense of humor. He is disliked by most of the enlisted men in Pianosa because he was promoted so suddenly and he chooses to remain isolated from the other people at the base, letting Sergeant Towser handle the operations of the base. He doesn’t allow people to see him in his office while he is in his office, they can only see him when he isn’t there. He utilizes Yossarian’s pen name, Washington Irving, to shirk out of official document duties.
Lieutenant (later Colonel and eventually General) Scheisskopf
Scheisskopf is the training unit commander for Yossarian and Clevinger, and takes a particular dislike to Clevinger. Even though Clevinger is just as serious about parades as Scheisskopf, and his ideas help the squadron win multiple parades, Scheisskopf still considers him a “wise guy”, and someone that needs to be “brought down a peg or two.” He is also described as being at constant odds with his wife’s masochistic libido as his severe love for parades leaves him too busy to pay any attention to her. Scheisskopf is an ambitious and humorless man who is absolutely in love with war and is only happy in life when the opposing side is losing.
“Well, he died. You don’t get any older than that.”
“When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy”.
“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on”.
“Surely so many countries can’t all be worth dying fo”r.
“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.”
“There was no telling what people might find out once they felt free to ask whatever questions they wanted to.”
“Let’s take a drive into the middle of nowhere with a packet of Marlboro lights and talk about our lives.”
“Prostitution gives her an opportunity to meet people. It provides fresh air and wholesome exercise, and it keeps her out of trouble.”
“Surely there can’t be so many countries worth dying for.’
Anything worth living for,’ said Nately, ‘is worth dying for.’
And anything worth dying for,’ answered the sacrilegious old man, ‘is certainly worth living for.”
“-You have no respect for excessive authority or obsolete traditions. You’re dangerous and depraved, and you ought to be taken outside and shot!”
“Sure, that’s what I mean,’ Doc Daneeka said. ‘A little grease is what makes this world go round. One hand washes the other. Know what I mean? You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’
“Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up.”
“Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre. Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”
“To Yossarian, the idea of pennants as prizes was absurd. No money went with them, no class privileges. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else.”
“I’m not running away from my responsibilities. I’m running to them. There’s nothing negative about running away to save my life.”
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Editorial reviews and praise for the book
There was a time when reading Joseph Heller’s classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it’s impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel’s undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller’s characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense. Yossarian says, “You’re talking about winning the war, and I am talking about winning the war and keeping alive.” “Exactly,” Clevinger snapped smugly. “And which do you think is more important?” “To whom?” Yossarian shot back. “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead.”
“I can’t think of another attitude that could be depended upon to give greater comfort to the enemy.”
“The enemy,” retorted Yossarian with weighted precision, “is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on.”
Mirabile dictu, the book holds up post-Reagan, post-Gulf War. It’s a good thing, too. As long as there’s a military, that engine of lethal authority, Catch-22 will shine as a handbook for smart-alecky pacifists. It’s an utterly serious and sad, but damn funny book.
John W. Aldridge The New York Times Book Review A monumental artifact of contemporary American literature, almost as assured of longevity as the statues on Easter Island…Catch-22 is a novel that reminds us once again of all that we have taken for granted in our world and should not, the madness we try not to bother and notice, the deceptions and falsehoods we lack the will to try to distinguish from truth. — Review
Amazon reviews for Catch- 22 by Joseph Heller
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly Funny, and Definitely not for the Faint of Heart
Reviewed in the United States on July 4, 2017
Catch-22 was a dark and comedic novel that turned from “Oh no this’ll be some funny war story” but as you get to the middle you realize how horrific the situations become, and you start pitying the characters and hating some, and later learn they die horribly, some suicide some being mutilated by plane engines or drowning or being thrown from windows. You start feeling panic and anger for people who you know are innocent and are telling the truth, yet their witnesses lie and plunges him into a word of hate and injustice, and scenes where you cry out of pity, where you know that guy didn’t deserve to die, yet still did… oh it was still funny at some parts.
But this novel is definitely not for the younger audience out there. It contains a significant amount of prostitution and some rape, with lots and LOTS of graphic detail in both ways (but most detail during bloody scenes, not much sexual details).
Anyways, this novel is a classic and will forever stay in my heart as one of the most influential stories I have ever read.
This book takes place in Italy during World War II. The main character is a bombardier named Yossarian. His biggest issue is with his own army that keeps increasing the number of missions they have to fly before they can go home. (It started at 30 something and at the end of the book it was 80 missions). If Yossarian attempts to excuse himself from these missions, he will be in violation of a Catch-22. This rule is: A man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. The book deals with several complex issues in a funny way such as loss of faith, death and tyranny. I really thought I was going to hate this book. Mat had read it and felt that I would not find the humor in it.
But I ended up enjoying it. It had humor that reminded me of the movie “Airplane”. The dialogue went round and round and no where forward many times in this book, but that was the beauty of it. It was classic satire. I found myself smiling, if not giggling, several times during the book. (especially at the character Major Major Major Major). The absurdity of this novel has quite an appeal, and I am glad I had a chance to read it. It is silly. It is old fashioned. It is a war novel. But you simply must try it.
Someone I knew in college once asked us for a plot outline of this book. We laughed at him. It’s literally — not just figuratively, but literally — indescribable. This is one of the genuinely remarkable novels of the 20th, or any, century.
5.0 out of 5 stars War and Absurdism
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 12, 2019
Joseph Heller spent years writing this novel although you could be forgiven for not realising this, as really it has no overall plot, and the chronology shifts backwards and forwards throughout the tale, but you soon realise its mastery. For some obviously this is a turn off in itself due to way this is written, but if you do decide to read this book, then you will realise how cleverly it is crafted, and why so many of us read it umpteen times and are always recommending it to others. If the story has a lead character as such, then here this is Yossarian who along with the rest of his squadron are based on the island of Pianosa. Please be aware that those who may want to visit the island will get a surprise, as in this book it appears much larger than in reality it is. With a whole host of unforgettable characters such as Major Major, Chief White Halfoat, Milo, and numerous others, including one name which translated from the German isn’t very flattering, the names themselves can be humorous. All based on this small Italian island between 1942-1944 so the bomber crews keep finding that their mission runs keep being increased, despite the fact that they had been originally promised after a certain number they would be sent back to the US.
For the likes of Yossarian, he has had enough and keeps going in and out of the base hospital, whilst someone like Milo who has really grasped the black market and capitalism, sees the war as something to make him lots of money, even if that means contracting himself out to the enemy for missions. Along with his transporting of goods, so he is welcome anywhere, even if it means the Luftwaffe flying goods onto the island. Full of incident so this is really a book made up of short showpieces and in some ways can be looked at as a series of sketches with continuation provided to make this into a novel. On original publication this was blasted by many critics, but at least when it came out in paperback it started selling really well, so much so that of course catch 22 is a phrase that most of us have used on occasion, and even those who have never read the book know what it means. With literary allusions and references to the likes of Dostoevsky, Dickens and Kafka for a start, this is not only just a satire, but a great comedy, albeit quite dark in places. Taking in the horrors of war along with the absurdisms in life that we all experience, especially when it comes to bureaucracy and rules and regulations, so this has a resonance with us all and will remain unforgettable and a must read for future generations.
5.0 out of 5 stars Anarchy in uniform
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 12, 2017
This is surely one of the greatest books of all time; utterly anarchic. How much of it related to reality is a moot point although one can imagine that the American services were somewhat, shall we say, disorganised. A great read and one of the few books that produces uncontrolled laughter.
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