Novel Review: Catch 22

This novel takes place on Pianosa, an island near Italy. The time is during World War II.
Yossarian is the hero of the novel. However, he is not a hero in the conventional sense of the word. He cares about his fellow men, but he does everything in his power to stay alive. He is caught up in the Catch-22 and tries to get out.
Milo Minderbinder is a mess-hall officer that also happens to be a very powerful man in the black market. He gives Yossarian and his squad better food than any other mess hall officer.

Doc Daneeka is the medical officer. He is annoyed that the war has disrupted his practice at home, and isn’t the kind of guy to talk to about your life.

Nately is a young friend of Yossarian, and tries to keep him out of trouble. He falls in love with a whore from Rome and has a few escapades with her.

Yossarian finds himself unable to escape from his compulsory military service. This is a tragedy, because Yossarian is the kind of man that will do almost anything he can come up with to get out of the war. He, along with all of his comrades, is ensnared in a conveniently unfair trap called Catch-22. Catch-22 is convenient for those in charge, and unfair to those that are caught up in it. The novel is chock-full of twists, and Heller’s remarkably believable instances of character interaction and reaction go along hand-in-hand with the sometimes blatant satire. When one of Yossarian’s friends dies, Yossarian is unable to escape the sorrow of loss and always remembers his friend. The story can be hard to outline, because there are many different subplots going on.

I immediately liked the satire and dry wit Heller incorporates in his writing. At times, the sarcasm can be overlooked if one does not read with an observant eye and an attentive mind, which can cause confusion. Heller progressed the novel by introducing more characters (many more), and each character has a degree of authenticity to them that enhances the feel of the novel. Though sometimes the characters’ actions seem odd, it is important to remember that they can be a somewhat distorted example of how people go about their thought process, and cannot always be taken at face value.

Yossarian is in a constant struggle to find a way out of the bottomless hole of a situation he has fallen into, and it seems like there is no escape. He ponders the situation and tries to find loopholes in the system, but Catch-22 is essentially a gargantuan loophole in and of itself, and its circular reasoning, which defies logic, ensnares many helpless people in its clutches. Sometimes I feel as if I am placed in odd situations (obviously not as major as Yossarian’s situation), where there seems to be no logical escape. However, a casual objective observation may be all one needs to see the light.

Self-preservation is definitely an important trait to have, and Yossarian has this in abundance. It is important to note, however, that his drive for self-preservation does not come at the cost of his fellow men. He is not selfish, nor does he act without regard to what effects his actions would have on his comrades. Of course self-preservation is an instinctive trait in both man and animal, but the basic instinct should not replace the mutual respect that is required of all of us when we share the same home in this universe – therefore, the combination of self-preservation and mutual respect is an outstanding trait to have, and I wouldn’t mind having it.

The whole idea that Catch-22 is a circular process of thought that avoids logic and serves those whom institute the law is disturbing, because it is a completely one-way street. There is no escape from the illogical trap. Another idea that made me think was how fragile human life is. The horrors of war display how hard it could be to stay alive, which is a scary thought.
Quoting Catch-22:

“One of the things Yossarian wanted to start screaming about was the surgeon’s knife that was almost certain to be waiting for him and everyone else who lived long enough to die. He wondered often how he would ever recognize the first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end.”

This quote refers to how Yossarian has become even more aware of the frailty and brevity of life because of war, instead of becoming hardened and apathetic.
Quoting Catch-22:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own 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 would have 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.”

This quote refers to how entangling and ridiculous Catch-22 is. It is obvious that Catch-22 is unfair, yet there is no escape from it.
Quoting Catch-22:

“Clevinger really thought he was right, but Yossarian had proof, because strangers he didn’t know shot at him with cannons every time he flew up into the air to drop bombs on them, and it wasn’t funny at all. And if that wasn’t funny, there were lots of things that weren’t even funnier. There was nothing funny about living like a bum in a tent in Pianosa between fat mountains behind him and a placid blue sea in front that could gulp down a person with a cramp in the twinkling of an eye and ship him back to the shore three days later, all charges paid, bloated, blue and putrescent, water draining out through both cold nostrils.”

This quote refers to how miserable Yossarian’s condition was (along with his comrades), but whenever he would point it out to other people, they would blindly deny it and call him crazy, not bothering to fully examine the hysteria of the situation with an objective eye.

The main theme of this novel is the undisputed power of the government. They use language and semantics to trap the soldiers in an inescapable web of war and coerced service. Catch-22 is a justification of circular reasoning designed specifically to block any exit from military service. Before I read this book, I did not know what Catch-22 specifically was, but I knew of the idea. To a certain extent, this book could be an amplified reflection of our government today, which is always a scary thing.

Overall score: 9.6 / 10

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