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 1944 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 256th squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy.
Among other things, Catch-22 is a general critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning. Resulting from its specific use in the book, the phrase "Catch-22" is common idiomatic usage meaning "a no-win situation" or "a double bind" of any type. Within the book, "Catch-22" is a military rule, the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents anyone from avoiding combat missions. In Heller's own words:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
Other forms of Catch-22 are invoked throughout the novel to justify various bureaucratic actions. At one point, victims of harassment by military police quote the MPs' explanation of one of Catch-22's provisions: "Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating." Another character explains: "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we canât stop them from doing." The theme of a bureaucracy marginalizing the individual in an absurd way is similar to the world of Kafka's The Trial, and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The concept of 'doublethink' has definite echoes in Heller's work.
Yossarian comes to realize that Catch-22 does not actually exist, but because the powers that be claim it does, and the world believes it does, it nevertheless has potent effects. Indeed, because it does not exist there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown, or denounced. The combination of force with specious legalistic justification is one of the book's primary motifs.
The motif of bureaucratic absurdity is further explored in 1994's Closing Time, Heller's sequel to Catch-22. This darker, slower-paced, apocalyptic novel explores the pre- and post-war lives of some of the major characters in Catch-22, with particular emphasis on the relationship between Yossarian and tailgunner Sammy Singer.
The development of the novel can be split into multiple segments. The first (chapters 1â11) broadly follows the story fragmented between characters, but in a single chronological time in 1943. The second (chapters 12â20) flashes back to focus primarily on the "Great Big Siege of Bologna" before once again jumping to the chronological "present" of 1943 in the third part (chapter 21â25). The fourth (chapters 26â28) flashes back to the origins and growth of Miloâs syndicate, with the fifth part (chapter 28â32) returning again to the narrative "present" but keeping to the same tone of the previous four. In the sixth and final part (chapter 32 on) while remaining in the "present" time the novel takes a much darker turn and spends the remaining chapters focusing on the serious and brutal nature of war and life in general.
While the previous five parts develop the novel in the present and by use of flash-backs, it is in chapters 32â41 of the sixth and final part where the novel significantly darkens. Previously the reader had been cushioned from experiencing the full horror of events, but now the events are laid bare, allowing the full effect to take place. The horror begins with the attack on the undefended Italian mountain village, with the following chapters involving despair (Doc Daneeka and the Chaplain), disappearance in combat (Orr and Clevinger), disappearance caused by the army (Dunbar) or death (Nately, McWatt, Mudd, Kid Sampson, Dobbs, Chief White Halfoat and Hungry Joe) of most of Yossarianâs friends, culminating in the unspeakable horrors of Chapter 39, in particular the rape and murder of Michaela, who represents pure innocence.
Many events in the book are repeatedly described from differing points of view, so the reader learns more about each event from each iteration, with the new information often completing a joke, the punchline of which was told several chapters previously. The narrative often describes events out of sequence, but events are referred to as if the reader is already familiar with them, so that the reader must ultimately piece together a timeline of events. Specific words, phrases, and questions are also repeated frequently, generally to comic effect.
Much of Heller's prose in Catch-22 is circular and repetitive, exemplifying in its form the structure of a Catch-22. Heller revels in paradox, for example: The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him, and The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with. This atmosphere of apparent logical irrationality pervades the whole book.
While a few characters are most prominent, notably Yossarian and the Chaplain, the majority of named characters are described in a typical extent, with fully fleshed out or multidimensional personas, to the extent that there are few if any "minor characters".
The seemingly random non-chronological structure to the novel is misleading. Catch 22 is actually highly structured, but it is a structure of free association where ideas run into one another through seemingly random connections. For example, Chapter 1 entitled "The Texan" ends with "everybody but the CID man, who had caught cold from the fighter captain and come down with pneumonia." Chapter 2, entitled "Clevinger", begins with "In a way the CID man was pretty lucky, because outside the hospital the war was still going on." The CID man connects the two chapters like a free association bridge and eventually Chapter 2 flows from the CID man to Clevinger through more free association links.
 Major themes
One of the first themes developed in the novel is the question of what is right to do in a basic moral dilemma/social dilemma/prisoner's dilemma; where a person can cooperate with others to their collective greater payoff; or can sell them out by not cooperating, and reap even greater benefits as an individual. Yossarian is presented as having decided upon and relishing the immoral choice to such questions: "Yossarian throbbed with a mighty sense of accomplishment each time he gazed at [the officers' club building] and reflected that none of the work that had gone into it was his," which solidly casts Yossarian as an anti-hero to the reader. Yossarian (and Doc Daneeka) wonder 'why me' when it comes to taking risks when others aren't. To this, Major Danby asks Yossarian, "But suppose everybody on our side felt that way," to which Yossarian replies, "Then Iâd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldnât I?"
Another theme is the turning on their heads of notions of what people generally think of as morally right or wrong, particularly patriotism and honor, which lead most of the airmen to accept abusive lies and petty rules of bureaucrats, though Yossarian whole-heartedly disregards all such notions. When Major Major asks why he wouldn't fly more missions, Yossarian answers:
'Thatâs nothing to be ashamed of,' Major Major counseled him kindly. 'Weâre all afraid.'
'Iâm not ashamed,â Yossarian said. âIâm just afraid.'"
Several themes flow into one another, for example, 'that the only way to survive such an insane system is to be insane oneself,' is partially a take on Yossarian's answer to the Social dilemma (that he would be a fool to be any other way); and another theme, 'that bad men (who sell out others) are more likely to get ahead, rise in rank, and make money,' turns our notions of what is estimable on their heads as well.
Heller suggests that bureaucracies often lead organizations, especially when run by bad or insane people, to trivialize important matters (e.g., those affecting life and death), and to grossly exaggerate the importance of trivial matters (e.g., clerical errors). Everyone in the book, even Yossarian at the beginning, is behaving insanely in their clerical decisions.
While the (official) enemies are the Germans, no German ever actually appears in the story as an enemy combatant. As the narrative progresses, Yossarian comes to fear American bureaucrats more than he fears the Germans attempting to shoot down his bomber. This ironic situation is epitomized in the single appearance of German personnel in the novel, who act as pilots employed by a private entrepreneur working within the United States military. This predicament indicates a tension between traditional motives for violence and the modern economic machine, which seems to generate violence simply as another means to profit, quite independent of geographical or ideological constraints.
Among the reasons Yossarian fears his commanders more than the enemy is that, as he flies more missions, the number of missions required before he can go home is continually increasing: he is always approaching the magic number, but he never reaches it. He comes to despair of ever going home and is greatly relieved when he is sent to the hospital for a condition that is almost jaundice. In Yossarian's words:
The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live. (Chapter 12)
List of motifs:
- Sanity and insanity
- Heroes and heroism
- Absurdity and inefficiency of bureaucracy
- Power of bureaucracy
- Questioning/Loss of religious faith
- Impotence of language
- Inevitability of death
- Distortion of justice
- Concept of Catch-22
- Personal integrity
- Capital and its amorality
Although Heller always had a desire to be an author from an early age, his own experiences as a bombardier during World War II strongly influenced Catch-22; however, Heller later said that he had "never had a bad officer."
Czech writer ArnoÅ¡t Lustig recounts in his book 3x18 that Joseph Heller personally told him that he would never have written Catch-22 had he not first read The Good Soldier Å vejk by Jaroslav HaÅ¡ek.
In 1998, some critics raised the possibility that Heller's book had questionable similarities to Louis Falstein's 1950 novel, Face of a Hero. However, Falstein himself never raised the issue between Catch-22's publication and his death in 1995, and Heller claimed never to have been aware of the obscure novel. Instead, Heller stated that the novel had been influenced by CÃ©line, Waugh and Nabokov. Many of the similarities have been stated to be attributable to the two authors' similar experiences; both served in the U.S. Air Force on bombing crews in Italy in World War II. Their general themes and styles are quite different.
 Literary Allusions
Catch-22 contains allusions to and draws inspiration from many works of literature, both classical and modern. Howard Jacobson, in his 2004 introduction to the Vintage Classics publication, wrote that the novel was "positioned teasingly ... between literature and literature's opposites â between Rabelais and Dickens and Dostoevsky and Gogol and CÃ©line and the Absurdists and of course Kafka on the one hand, and on the other vaudeville and slap-stick and Bilko and Abbott and Costello and Tom and Jerry and the Goons (if Heller had ever heard of the Goons)."
 Iliad and Odyssey
Heller casts Yossarian as a modern day, anti-heroic version of Homer's hero Achilles, from the Iliad. Both works begin with the central character refusing to fight. But whereas Achilles heroically re-enters combat in response to the death of his best friend Patroclus, Yossarian is anti-heroically goaded back to combat early on by mere bureaucratic pressure. Towards the end of the novel, after the death of Nately, he resolutely refuses to fly more missions. Achilles is promised either fame or a long life, and chooses fame; Yossarian, conversely, chooses life.
The analogy is explicitly suggested by Colonel Korn:
"Who does he think he is â Achilles?" Colonel Korn was pleased with the simile and filed a mental reminder to repeat it the next time he found himself in General Peckem's presence.
The comparison is made more subtly in a description of the chaplain's feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu:
But the chaplain's impression of a prior meeting was of some occasion far more momentous and occult than that, of a significant encounter with Yossarian in some remote, submerged and perhaps even entirely spiritual epoch in which he had made the identical, foredooming admission that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, he could do to help him.
Heller here alludes to Book XI of Homer's epic, the Odyssey, in which the hero Odysseus has descended to the spirit world of Hades and met the dead Achilles. Achilles asks Odysseus for news of the living, which Odysseus provides. In contrast, the chaplain cannot help Yossarian.
The differences between Achilles and Yossarian are explained by other literary influences for Yossarian's character:
They couldnât touch him because he was Tarzan, Mandrake, Flash Gordon. He was Bill Shakespeare. He was Cain, Ulysses, the Flying Dutchman; he was Lot in Sodom, Deirdre of the Sorrows, Sweeney in the nightingales among trees.
 Crime and Punishment
In a dialogue between Clevinger and Yossarian, allusion is made to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, where Yossarian is portrayed as a mirror of Raskolnikov:
"You're crazy," Clevinger shouted vehemently, his eyes filling with tears. "You've got a Jehovah complex."
"I think everyone is Nathaniel."
Clevinger arrested himself in mid-declamation, suspiciously. "Who's Nathaniel?"
"Nathaniel who?" inquired Yossarian innocently.
Clevinger skirted the trap neatly. "You think everybody is Jehovah. Youâre no better than Raskolnikovâ"
"âyes, Raskolnikov, whoâ"
"âwhoâI mean itâwho felt he could justify killing an old womanâ"
"No better than?"
"âyes, justify, thatâs rightâwith an ax! And I can prove it to you!" Gasping furiously for air, Clevinger enumerated Yossarianâs symptoms: an unreasonable belief that everybody around him was crazy, a homicidal impulse to machine-gun strangers, retrospective falsification, an unfounded suspicion that people hated him and were conspiring to kill him.
Near the climax of the novel, during Yossarian's harrowing walk through Rome, the comparison with Raskolnikov is again made:
He heard snarling, inhuman voices cutting through the ghostly blackness in front suddenly ... On the other side of the intersection, a man was beating a dog with a stick like the man who was beating the horse with a whip in Raskolnikov's dream. Yossarian strained helplessly not to see or hear ... A small crowd watched. A squat woman stepped out and asked him please to stop. "Mind your own business," the man barked gruffly, lifting his stick as though he might beat her too ... Yossarian quickened his pace to get away, almost ran ... At the next corner a man was beating a small boy brutally in the midst of an immobile crowd ... Yossarian recoiled with sickening recognition. He was certain he had witnessed that same horrible scene sometime before. DÃ©jÃ vu?
 Other works
Events in the Old Testament are regularly alluded to, and the theme of atheism is highlighted when the Chaplain questions his faith and the reliability of the Bible:
So many things were testing his faith. There was the Bible, of course, but the Bible was a book, and so were Bleak House, Treasure Island, Ethan Frome and The Last of the Mohicans. Did it indeed seem probable, as he had once overheard Dunbar ask, that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall? Had Almighty God, in all His infinite wisdom, really been afraid that men six thousand years ago would succeed in building a tower to heaven?
Another important reference to the Old Testament comes in Chapter 24, entitled "Milo".
Yossarian went about his business with no clothes on all the rest of that day and was still naked late the next morning when Milo, after hunting everywhere else, finally found him sitting up a tree a small distance in back of the quaint little military cemetery at which Snowden was being buried.
In that passage Yossarian mirrors Adam from the story of the Garden of Eden. The allusion becomes more obvious later when Yossarian tells Milo that the tree he sits in "it's the tree of life and of knowledge of good and evil, too." Here Heller alludes to the tree Adam and Eve ate from, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were cast out from the Garden before they could eat from the Tree of Life.
New Testament references to the life of Christ abound in the final chapters. When Yossarian returns to "The Eternal City," he finds it a hell, filled with starving children, beggars, people beating and raping each other. He then returns to the base and is offered salvation, ala Christ and the devil, by Colonel Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn. They will send him back to America if he will only agree to like them. (The Devil offered Christ salvation if he would bow down and worship him.) As Yossarian is leaving their office, he is stabbed by Nately's whore, stabbed in the rib cage as Christ was on the cross. Yossarian, like Christ, achieves resurrection when he learns that Orr has not died but has rowed to Sweden. This gives Yossarian the power to rise up and head for Sweden and safety himself.
Also mentioned are Moby-Dick, the works of psychiatrist Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing read by the sexually obsessed Mrs Scheisskopf, Edwin Arlington Robinson's Miniver Cheevy, and allusion to William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice when describing the Chaplain as an outsider:
If they pricked him did he not bleed? ... It seemed never to have occurred to them that he, just as they had eyes, hands, organs, dimensions, senses and affections, that he was fed by the same food...
Heller also plays with Malvolio's lines in Twelfth Night when describing Major Major Major:
Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them.
The chapter on Major Major Major Major also contains references to Miniver Cheevy by Edwin Robinson. Robinson writes "Miniver Cheevy, born too late, scratched his head and kept on thinking;". Heller uses that line to describe Major Major: "Major Major had been born too late and too mediocre."
The chapter "Havermeyer" alludes to the poem Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, using verbatim the final phrase of the poem: "ignorant armies clashed by night."
References to nineteenth century American author Washington Irving also feature, with Yossarian, Major Major, and Corporal Whitcomb all forging documents with his name at some point. The 17th-century English poet John Milton's name is briefly used for the same purpose.
T.S. Eliot's name is mentioned by Ex-PFC Wintergreen as a poet that makes money (sparking a paranoid chain of phone calls between Generals Peckem and Dreedle).
There are more subtle references to T.S Eliot's "The Wasteland". The first line of the poem is "April is the cruelest month" which is an allusion to Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. That line is repeated in the first sentence of Chapter 24: "April had been the best month of all for Milo." Heller does, however, turn the phrase on its head, part of a general motif that is exemplified by Heller's perversion of Malvolio's line from Twelfth Night.
 Explanation of the novel's title
The title is a reference to a fictional bureaucratic stipulation which embodies multiple forms of illogical and immoral reasoning. That the catch is named exposes the high level of absurdity in the novel, where bureaucratic nonsense has risen to a level at which even the catches are codified with numbers.
A magazine excerpt from the novel was originally published as Catch-18, but Heller's agent, Candida Donadio, requested that it change the title of the novel so it would not be confused with another recently published World War II novel, Leon Uris's Mila 18. The number 18 has special meaning in Judaism (it means life in Gematria) and was relevant to early drafts of the novel which had a somewhat greater Jewish emphasis.
The title Catch-11 was suggested, with the duplicated 1 paralleling the repetition found in a number of character exchanges in the novel, but because of the release of the 1960 movie Ocean's Eleven this was also rejected. Catch-17 was also rejected, so as not to be confused with the World War II film Stalag 17, as well as Catch-14, apparently because the publisher did not feel that 14 was a "funny number". Eventually the title came to be Catch-22, which, like 11, has a duplicated digit, with the 2 also referring to a number of dÃ©jÃ vu-like events common in the novel.
A 1950s/early 1960s anthology of war stories included a short version as "Catch-17".
 Literary significance and criticism
As commented on by Joseph Heller himself in the preface to Catch-22 from 1994 onwards, the novel prompted polarized responses upon its first publication in the United States.
Reviews in publications ranged from the very positive; The Nation ("was the best novel to come out in years"), the New York Herald Tribune ("A wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book") and the New York Times ("A dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights") to the highly negative; The New Yorker ("doesn't even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper," "what remains is a debris of sour jokes") and from another critic of the New York Times ("is repetitive and monotonous. Or one can say that it is too short because none of its many interesting characters and actions is given enough play to become a controlling interest").
Although the novel won no awards at publication, it has stood the test of time and is seen as one of the most significant novels of the 20th century. Scholar and fellow World War II veteran Hugh Nibley said it was the most accurate book he ever read about the military.
- The Modern Library ranked Catch-22 as number 7 (by review panel) and as number 12 (by public) on its list of the greatest English language novels of the twentieth century.
- The Radcliffe Publishing Course rank Catch-22 as number 15 of the twentieth century's top 100 novels.
- The Observer listed Catch-22 as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.
- Time puts Catch-22 in the top 100 English language modern novels (1923 onwards, unranked).
- The Big Read by the BBC ranked Catch-22 as number 11 on a web poll of the UK's best-loved book.
- Catch-22 was adapted into a feature film of the same name in 1970, directed by Mike Nichols.
- Heller also dramatised his own novel for the stage, and wrote another short play, Clevinger's Trial, that was based on scenes from Catch-22.
- Aquila Theatre produced a stage adaptation of Catch-22 directed by Peter Meineck and based on Heller's own play which he wrote in 1971. This production toured the USA in 2007/8 with a New York City production in the fall of 2008.
- There was also a brief television comedy series based upon Catch-22 made and televised in 1973, with Richard Dreyfuss in the starring role of Capt. Yossarian.
- Catch 22 is also the name of a ska band from New Jersey that takes the name of the book.
 Release details
This list covers the first and most recent printed publications by the original publisher Simon & Schuster as well as all other formats. Other print publishers include; Dell, Corgi, Vintage, Knopf, Black Swan, Grasset & Fasquelle and WahlstrÃ¶m & Widstrand.
- 1961, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-671-12805-1, pub date June 1961, Hardback
- 1961, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-440-51120-8, advance Paperback with signed bookplate
- 1978, Franklin Library ISBN 0-8124-1717-8, signed limited edition Leather Bound
- 1984, Caedmon Audio ISBN 0-694-50253-7, Audio Cassette
- 1996, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-83339-5, pub date September 1996 Paperback
- 1980, Books On Tape ISBN 0-7366-8962-1, unabridged Audio Cassette reader Wolfram Kandinsky
- 1980, Books On Tape ISBN 0-7366-9085-9, unabridged Audio CD reader Jim Weiss
- 1994, DH Audio ISBN 0-88646-125-1, abridged edition Audio Cassette reader Alan Arkin
- 1999, Simon & Schuster ISBN 0-684-86513-0, pub date October 1999, Hardback
- 2007, Caedmon ISBN 9780061262463, unabridged Audio CD reader Jay O. Sanders
The original manuscript is held by Brandeis University.
 See also
 Notes and references
- ^ Paul Bacon cover artist
- ^ a b "What is Catch-22? And why does the book matter?" BBC
- ^ a b Clinton S. Burhans, Jr. Spindrift and the Sea: Structural Patterns and Unifying Elements in Catch 22. Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 239â250, 1973. JSTOR online access
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 24
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 25
- ^ a b c Catch-22 Themes BookRags
- ^ a b c d Catch-22 Themes, Motifs and Symbols SparkNotes
- ^ a b c d Catch-22 Themes CliffsNotes
- ^ DEADLY UNCONSCIOUS LOGICS IN JOSEPH HELLERâS CATCH-22, RM Young â Psychoanalytic Review, 1997
- ^ DM Craig. From Avignon to Catch-22. War, Literature, and the Arts 6, no. 2, 1994 pp27-54.
- ^ Personal testimony by ArnoÅ¡t Lustig
- ^ Gussow, Mel (29 April 1998). "Critic's Notebook; Questioning the Provenance of the Iconic 'Catch-22'". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/04/29/books/critic-s-notebook-questioning-the-provenance-of-the-iconic-catch-22.html?pagewanted=all. Retrieved 1 April 2010.
- ^ Random House ISBN 978-0-09-947046-5 Vintage Classics
- ^ Charlie Reilly, An Interview with Joseph Heller, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 39, No. 4. 1998, pp. 507â522.
- ^ Quote taken from Melvin Seiden, in The Nation, 1961
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 271
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 272
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 93
- ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 261
- ^ a b N James. "The Early Composition History of Catch-22". In Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings, J Barbour, T Quirk (edi.) pp. 262â290. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
- ^ Anthology formerly in the possession of this Wikipedian.
- ^ The Internet Public Library: Online Literary Criticism Collection
- ^ Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley, Sergeant Nibley PhD.: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle, Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2006, p. 255
- ^ http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html Modern Library's 100 best novels of the twentieth century
- ^ Radcliffe Publishing Course: the twentieth century's top 100 novels
- ^ The Observer's greatest novels of all time
- ^ Time's top 100 English language modern novels
- ^ The BBC's Big Read
- ^ Phythyon Jr., John. R. (2008-03-02). "âCatch-22â a nearly perfect adaptation". The Lawrence Journal-World & News. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/mar/02/catch22_nearly_perfect_adaptation.
- ^ Catch-22 at the Internet Movie Database
- ^ Heller archive, Brandeis University
 External links