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Catch-22

A satirical historical novel by Joseph Heller

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Stubborn, heroic innocence in a mad world

  • Sep 5, 2008
Rating:
+5
Heller's classic is a surreal and sprawling story of immoral naivety and moral complexity. Ostensibly about the absurdity of World War II combat, Heller examines issues of group think and individual obligation with surprising philosophical clarity.

The Catch-22 that Yossarian, the erstwhile hero of our story, encounters maddeningly and repeatedly is any insoluble contradiction, expressed in his case in this infinite loop:

A. Yossarian realizes that continuing to fly combat missions is crazy because it puts his life at risk.

B. Therefore, he realizes he is crazy, and asks to be relieved and sent home because he is crazy.

C. Rejection of his claims by the Army doctors because the fact that Yossarian is aware that he is crazy for flying missions and is able to request to be relieved proves that he is sane, and therefore must continue to fly combat missions!

As stated succinctly in this exchange between Yossarian and Doc Daneeka:

"'So?' Yossarian was puzzled by Doc Daneeka's inability to comprehend. 'Don't you see what that means? Now you can take me off combat duty and send me home. They're not going to send a crazy man out to be killed, are they?'

'Who else will go?'" (p. 305 of this edition)

The contradiction, and Yossarian's persistent attempts to escape it, frames the absurdist humor that guides the book's organization. Physical comedy, ironic and witty verbal exchanges, fast-cut overlaps of scenes, characters, and forward- and backward-shifting time frames result in an existentialist masterpiece that belongs to every time and place.

But the theme of obligation drives a stubbornly-innocent Yossarian to a moral consistency that does mark him with a supremely heroic character:

"History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance." (p. 68 of this edition).

Like every hero, he makes the difficult and dangerous decisions his friends (and enemies) only wish they had the courage to make.

In the end, Yossarian faces his internal nightmares brought to life in a bizarre tramp through Rome after losing his closest friends and faces the difficult decision of denying his obligations to save his life, before learning that others have acted heroically in their own way and opened a way out of this absurdist trap.

Catch-22 will make you laugh, think, and feel good about being able to do all three.

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More Catch-22 (book) reviews
review by . May 23, 2010
Catch-22 is a hilarious satire set in wartime.  The main character, Yossarian, is a bombardier who is terrified he’ll be killed every time he goes out on a mission.  Everyone thinks he’s insane, but he is arguably the most sane character in this book.  All he sees is the futility of war.  Surprisingly, he does not approve of people in high places gambling with his life.  Heller’s style here is very unique; I haven’t read anything like it before.  …
review by . June 13, 2010
When I moved to the US and wanted to read more American literature, the novel that people recommended to me most often was not, as I had expected, Moby Dick (which few seemed to have read) but Catch-22. Now I have finally got around to reading it and (unlike with Moby Dick) was not disappointed.    The anti-hero, the anti-war sentiment and the black humor are all very characteristic of the 60s, especially 60s Britain, so it is not surprising that the novel was popular there before …
review by . June 08, 2010
This is Joseph Heller's novel about World War Two, highlighting the absurd nature of organized a "civilized" conflict.  It features a protagonist who refuses to go on missions because he believes people are "trying to kill him", an altruistic colonel who demands valor from his men as he lounges at camp, and an entrepreneur who somehow can buy eggs for 5 cents apiece and sell them for 3 at a profit (?!) (read to find out about this one).      This …
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
Really great satire! It's a hilarious and completely engaging read!
Quick Tip by . July 09, 2010
Okay because of the story and the original word Heller conjured for the dictionary, but too modern. why do modern authors (since about the fifties) think that vulgarity is a required element in a story?
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
slow at the start, but keep reading!
Quick Tip by . July 05, 2010
heller writes well and gets his characters so involved in military snafus they cannot get out of trouble without getting into more trouble to start with
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
I LOVE the characters in this book
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
Funny, just plain funny
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
One of the most amazing books I've ever read.
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Wiki

Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century. It has a distinctive non-chronological style where events are described from different characters' points of view and out of sequence so that the time line develops along with the plot.

The novel follows Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a number of other characters. Most events occur while the airmen of the fictional Fighting 256th (or "two to the fighting eighth power") Squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0684833395
ISBN-13: 978-0684833392
Author: Joseph Heller
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Polls with this book
1984 (British first edition)

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