In him hes crazy. Yossarian does battle
In 1961, Joseph Heller published Catch-22, his first novel. Based on his own warexperiences, the novel wickedly satirized bureaucracy, patriotism, and allmanner of traditional American ideals.
This was reflective of the increasingdisdain for traditional viewpoints that was growing in America at that time.(Potts, p. 13) The book soon became championed as another voice in the antiwarmovement of the 1960s. However, Heller himself claimed that his novel wasless about World War II, or war at all, than it was an allegory for the Cold Warand the materialistic Establishment attitudes of the Eisenhower era.
(Kiley,pp. 318-321) Thus, Catch-22 represents a rebellion against the standards of theEisenhower era. Catch-22 follows the experiences of Yossarian, a bombardierstationed near Italy during World War II. Yossarian is clearly representative ofHeller; indeed, he could be considered an everyman. (Kiley, p.
336) Because of atraumatic experience, which is revealed bit by bit throughout the novel,Yossarian is terrified of flying. Yet Colonel Cathcart keeps raising the numberof missions the men must fly. Yossarians attempts to avoid flying are metwith the Armys Catch number 22, which is a sort of mythical stumbling blockto free will and reason. In the end, Yossarian defects and takes a stand againsthis situation by running away from it. The moral of the story seems to be thatnothing is truly worth dying for, but there is plenty worth fighting for.
Yossarian is an antihero: the reader sympathizes with him despite, or perhapsbecause of, his unsavory beliefs and actions. (Potts, p. 84) It is easy tosympathize with him: he seems to be the only sane person in a crazy world, whichmay be why everyone keeps telling him hes crazy. Yossarian does battle withbureaucratic authority as personified by Colonels Cathcart and Korn, GeneralDreedle, and ex-P.F.
C. Wintergreen. He goes up against ruthless capitalism inthe form of Milo Minderbinder. And he criticizes blind patriotism as seen inNately, Appleby, and Clevinger.
It is important to note that these attitudesapplied far more readily to the 1950s than to World War II. Catch-22 is setin World War II; in many ways, it serves as an outlet for Hellers ownexperiences in the war. (Kiley, p.
103) After the war, soldiers returned home toa country that did not want to hear about their experiences. Most felt stifledbecause they feared how others might react to the gruesomeness of the war.(Adams, pp.
149-151) Indeed, the war was the most horrific event to date, andfew Americans wanted to dwell on it. So Hellers novel seems inappropriate,yet at the same time necessary: it made clear the fact that the war was not allglory and honor, but was a bloody, gut-wrenching mess. (Potts, p.22) Indeed,throughout the novel, men die in often gruesome ways, many times for little orno reason at all. This was Hellers condemnation of war: it is the ultimatefarce, the furthest of human endeavors from necessity.
(Potts, p. 47) In short,war is stupid. People die stupidly, from stupid causes, in stupid situations, bystupid mistakes. It is almost laughable except that it is not at all funny.
Thisis what Heller gets across in some 400 pages of death, despair, and otherwisepointless existence. (Kiley, pp. 208-214) Beyond its importance as a novel aboutthe war, Catch-22 also lambastes the blind conformity to social norms of the1950s. This unthinking loyalty to the American way, he suggests, putstoo much power in the hands of those cynical enough to exploit theimpressionability of the masses. (Kiley, pp. 242-263) Indeed, this seemed to bethe case during the Eisenhower years.
Senator McCarthys Communistwitch-hunts, ruthless business practices at the expense of the public, and thesocial pressure to keep up with the Joneses driving mass consumerism, allillustrated this danger. (Christie, pp. 94-102) In Catch-22, ex-P.F.C.Wintergreen represents the power of information.
By intercepting and forgingresponses to communiqus within the theater of operations, he effectivelycontrols all military operations in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, MiloMinderbinder represents unchecked greed and the dangers of the capitalist urge.(Potts, pp. 73-75) He even paraphrases GM head Charles Wilson by saying,Whats good enough for M&M Enterprises is good for the country. (Kiley,p. 339) And most of the men are caricatures of mindless flexibility to the willof their superiors. They are indifferent to the commands that come to them fromabove, and blindly, they obey.
(Kiley, p. 147) Only Yossarian and his friendsDunbar and Orr have the wherewithal to see how they are being used for theadvancement of others; in escaping, Yossarian imparts this awareness to MajorDanby and the chaplain. (Potts, p. 84) So the novel could be seen as an appealfor the American people to come to their senses and take back their lives fromthe fat cats who had taken control of them. When it was published in 1961,Catch-22 was met with surprisingly little controversy. Many critics gave it ravereviews; in fact, its acceptance stunned Heller himself: Im really delightedbecause it seems to have offended nobody on the grounds of morality or ideology.
Those people it has offended, it has offended on the basis of literary value.But Im almost surprised to find that the acceptance of the book covers such abroadspectrum as well. (Kiley, p.273) Apparently, the world was ready for abook that laughed at some things that were not terribly funny.
Hellersmessage was clear: this is life; do with it what you can. It was a departurefrom the old dogma of loyalty to a nation or a family or a leader; this wasloyalty to the self. No wonder, then, it had such broad appeal: everyone couldunderstand self-reliance. No matter what country or leader or god or family onebelongs to, everyone has a self to depend upon. Catch-22 takes place during awar, but it is not a war novel. It is a novel about life, and that each mustpledge his life to himself. No one has the right to demand a persons lifeunless they will also lay down theirs.
This was a slap in the face to thetraditional ideology that had reached its peak in the Eisenhower years: that inthe name of the country, any act was acceptable. Heller proposed that it wastruly insane to commit ones life to anything as nebulous and indefinite as anation or ideal. The Cathcarts and the Korns of this world need not dominateanyone.
Indeed, the last line of the novel is a fitting summary of Yossarians,and therefore, Hellers, final solution: The knife came down, missing himby inches, and he took off. Bibliography Heller, Joseph. Catch-22.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1961. Potts, StephenW. Catch-22: Antiheroic Antinovel. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989. Kiley,Frederick T.
A Catch-22 Casebook. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1973.
Adams,Michael C.C. The Best War Ever: America and WWII. Baltimore: The Johns HopkinsUniversity Press, 1994.
Christie, Jean and Dinnerstien, Leonard, editors.America Since WWII: Historical Interpretations. New York: Praeger, 1976.ONeill, William L. A Democracy at War. New York: The Free Press, 1993.Patterson, James T.
Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. New York:Oxford University Press, 1996.Book Reports