Catch 22 America has been involved in the cold war for years. The fear of communism is ruining lives. The country moves closer and closer to the Korean war. Joseph Hellers Catch 22 is published. 1963- College students are seen wearing army fatigues with “Yossarian” name tags. Reports are being made about a “Heller Cult”.
Bumper stickers are manufactured which read, “Better Yossarian then Rotarian”. The phrase “Catch 22″ has surfaced meaning a”no win situation” it is now an excepted word in the English dictionary. Such a dramatic change in opinion from the earlier, Pro-war society, it is obvious that Catch 22 had some impact on the anti-war movement of the 1960s-1970s. Not to say the book was the one reason the movement started, It was certainly a catalyst. A protest novel, Hellers story portrays the absurdity of bureaucracy, the stupidity of war, and the power they both have to crush the human spirit.
Heller uses a war zone setting, to satirise society at large. He compares the commanding officers to Incompetent businessmen. “Dont mumble, and mumble “sir” when you do, and dont interrupt, and say “sir” when you do.” Desiring promotion over every thing else, Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the number of missions the men of his squadron must fly. Even though the army says they need fly only forty, a bureaucratic trap called “Catch 22” says they cant go home at forty because they must obey their commanding officers. Much like the work place, the men are forced to go through endless amounts of red tape, which hardly gets them anywhere. Yossarian tries to pretend he is crazy to get out of fighting. He signs “Washington Irving” on letters he censors, and walks around naked for a couple of days.
If someone is crazy he needs only ask and he can be dismissed from duty. Yet, one would be crazy to fly, and only a sane person would ask to stop, Yossarian is therefore not crazy and is ordered to continue flying his missions. Heller also demonstrates the effect war has on ones mind. All of the pilots are coping (except Yossarian) with the war in different ways..The daredevil pilot, McWatt, loves to buzz his friend Yossarians tent. Mess officer Milo Minderbender turns his job into an international black-market food syndicate. Lead Bombardier Havermeyer Zeros in on targets, no matter how much anti-aircraft peppers his plane. Yet the most crazy are the people in charge.
A feud between two generals makes picture-perfect placement of bombs more important then actually hitting a target. The general in command is a recluse who orders his aide to let people in to see him only when he is out. The use of comparison is throughout the book, furthering the theme of military ignorance. Besides businessmen, the commanding officers act like insane gods, while Yossarian, is a sort of reluctant Achilles. No matter what the officers throw at him, he keeps on living.
He is paranoid that his luck will someday run out. To drive home his ideas, Heller employs satire. He uses humour to convey situations which are utterly horrible, allowing Heller to poke fun at authority. . The reader cant help but be amused at the fact that Yossarians parachute was taken from him in exchange for a share in Milos franchise.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the book, is the idea, that individuality is more important then dying for ones country. “A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you are an old man….. Youre inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before you were stepping into high school, ….. only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten week summer vacation that lasted a hundred years and still ended to soon.
Zip! They go rocketing by so fast. How the hell else are you ever going to slow down?” Yossarian does not believe in what he is fighting for, he thinks its all crazy, There is no point of him fighting, he doesnt have a problem with anybody. This book questions the individual duties a person has to their country. Should they die for their country, or should they question the authority? Is something right, just because everybody says it is? By asking these questions, Mr. Heller was able to appeal to the youth of that day who were asking just the same questions. People were able to rally around his book, because they all could relate to what they were reading. Not to say everyone was a WW-II bombardier, They all were having the same thoughts on war. Mr. Heller uses a perfect blend of realism and totally unreal situations to create his crazy world, a symbol of the absurdity of modern bureaucracy. This novel is a far cry from earlier novels about WW-II, usually heroic with realistic language, just concentrating on the actual fighting.
This book is not about heroism. It is about the preservation of individuality. Something that is now important to all of us.