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    Catch-22

    Title: Catch-22 (443 pages) Author: Joseph Heller Published: 1955

    As its title suggests, Catch-22 is a novel full of contradiction. In the wake of World War II, Joseph Heller presents us with a comedic account of one bombardier’s struggle with the army’s bureaucracy, and allows us to examine the inner conflict between his fear of death and his sense of honor. Yossarian is an archetypical main character for a satire, and he is one of the most readable that I have encountered in a while.

    Most of the chapters in Catch-22 focus on a single soldier in Yossarian’s squadron. This rotational point of view allows the reader to objectively understand all the simultaneous conflicts going on, although the conclusions that Heller means for us to draw are very clear. His prose and dialogue are extremely heavy-handed, and he leaves almost nothing to the reader’s interpretation. He knows exactly the point he is trying to make, and ensures that his audience will not overlook it.

    Many of the characters have symbolic names, such as Orr, who rows a lifeboat to Sweden, Major Major, the ultimate human rubber stamp, and Generals Peckem and Dreedle, respectively reflective of their surnames. Although he continuously proves that he prefers to think outside of the box, Heller still clings to some of the conventions of satire. There are characters that serve as mirrors for Yossarian to peer into, one of whom is the Chaplain. Every chapter dealing with him is rife with philosophical musings and food for thought. He thinks, ‘There was no way of really knowing anything ‘hellip; not even that there was no way of really knowing anything.’ It is paradoxical statements like this that have lent Catch-22 so much acclaim over the years.

    Sometimes these contradictions are simply hilarious, as in this interrogation scene: ‘Keep your stupid mouth shut when I tell you to keep your stupid mouth shut. Do you understand? Will you speak up, please? I couldn’t hear you.’ Heller constantly allows the commanding officers and those higher up on the army’s food chain to make fools out of themselves in situations like this. The irony is that while they come off as imbecilic to the reader, they are still in charge, and the soldiers still obey their commands. There is a very obvious commentary on the way the army does business here.

    Yossarian’s romantic fling with one of the nurses from the hospital ward yields some insightful commentary on the nature of men and women. Heller says, ‘Nurse Duckett found Yossarian wonderful and was already trying to change him,’ and ‘Nurse Cramer had stopped speaking to Nurse Duckett, her best friend, because of her liaison with Yossarian, but still went everywhere with Nurse Duckett since Nurse Duckett was her best friend.’ I found myself laughing out loud at this novel very frequently – it is a very entertaining book, despite the fact that it makes a gravely serious point by the time it is through.

    As with any war novel written by a veteran, everything you read here must be contemplated with the knowledge that, while Heller lived through the experience he is relating, at least to some degree, his perceptions of World War II may be different than those of others. Nonetheless, Catch-22 is a long, thoroughly satisfying book. 443 pages may not seem like all that much to a seasoned reader, but they are a very prolonged 443 pages; take it from me, this took me a while. It is perhaps best saved for a time when you’re very light on homework – you’ll want to devote your full attention to it, if possible.

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