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Joseph Heller



The story begins in an officers' ward in a military hospital. The narrator focuses on Yossarian, a captain in the 256th Squadron who seems to have an outlandish sense of humor. He claims a liver problem to obtain hospital rest, and gets away with it because his normal temperature is 101 degrees F. As an officer, he has to spend some of his hospital time censoring the letters of enlisted men. He is supposed to sign the letters, and does sign some- the ones he hasn't read. To combat boredom, he plays games with the ones he does read. One day he takes out all the adjectives; another day he removes everything but the articles- a, an, and the. These letters he signs "Washington Irving" or the reverse, "Irving Washington." Can you imagine the frustration of people receiving those letters? They must be complaining, since the C.I.D. (an abbreviation that may stand for Central Intelligence Division) has assigned a man to the ward to track down Officer "Irving" or "Washington."

NOTE: Besides the fact that Yossarian found Washington Irving's name conveniently reversible, he may have had other reasons for selecting that signature. Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an American essayist, fiction writer, publisher, editor, biographer, and diplomat. His work was popular both in America and in England, and his stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" have become classics. Americans identified especially with Rip Van Winkle- an antihero who made a success out of failure. Many passages in Irving's works contain black humor. Apparently the C.I.D. man and his superiors know nothing about Washington Irving. What does the entire situation suggest to you- both about Yossarian's choice of signature and about the fictional intelligence agency, the C.I.D.?

Censorship was a fact of life during World War II. All mail entering or leaving the United States could be censored, and letters from men overseas often had a few words or sentences snipped out. Envelopes of such letters were marked, "Opened by censor."

Other patients are Yossarian's friend Dunbar and the Texan of the chapter title. The Texan is so obnoxiously patriotic that Yossarian credits him with driving everyone out of the ward and back to duty. Another patient is the soldier in white, a man totally encased in plaster and gauze. You are told that the nurses switch the same bottles back and forth from a line that feeds him to a line that removes wastes. Should you take this seriously? of course the man dies. Yossarian receives one visitor, the chaplain- Captain A. T. Tappman. But the chaplain doesn't appear until four pages after the opening sentences that say Yossarian fell in love with him at first sight, just as the chapter title doesn't name the person who turns out to be the main character of the chapter.

By now you may be wondering, what's going on here? The chapter is full of insanity, irreverence, and joking that don't seem to be going anywhere. Everything is strange- the characters, the events, even the language. The soldier in white is "filed" next to the Texan. Is he merely the equivalent of a 3 by 5 card? Lieutenant Nately had a bad start because "he came from a good family"- wouldn't you expect the opposite? If you feel as if you've fallen into an Alice in Wonderland world, you're at least half right. Relax and keep reading- you will begin to see method in Joseph Heller's apparent madness.


Chapter Two provides more clues to the setting and the reasons for Yossarian's unusual behavior. The camp is on the island of Pianosa, his friend Nately is on leave in Rome, and his squadron has flown missions to Ferrara and to Bologna during some "Great Big Siege." Yossarian must fly six more bombing missions (he's done forty-four) before he is eligible for rotation back to the States, and it's evident that he worries about reaching fifty missions alive.

NOTE: These details establish the setting as Italy after June 1944 when the Allies took Rome. During World War II, both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy had their own air forces. Yossarian and his friends are members of the Army Air Force. A statute establishing a separate military branch called the U.S. Air Force was enacted in 1947.

Once again the chapter title is misleading, since it is Yossarian's roommate, Orr, who is next introduced. He is a small man, a pilot who has used his brain and Yossarian's muscle to create a luxury tent for the two of them. Only then is Clevinger, the title character, presented. He considers Yossarian paranoid for saying that people are trying to kill him. According to Clevinger, war means that "they" are trying to kill everybody, and it's insane to take it personally. Next to Orr and Yossarian lives Havermeyer, who shoots field mice with a. 45 calibre pistol he got from "the dead man in Yossarian's tent"- and that's all you know yet about either Havermeyer or "the dead man." McWatt, too, is introduced. He is a pilot who loves to buzz Yossarian's tent. Nately, who was mentioned earlier, is said to be in Rome courting a prostitute; and then there is Appleby, a cheerful Iowan whom everyone but Yossarian loves.

The officers' mess (dining room) sounds incredible- it features linen tablecloths, Italian waiters, and a lunch of shish-kabob and asparagus tips followed by cherries jubilee, coffee, Benedictine (a liqueur), and brandy. This luxury is apparently the work of a mess officer named Milo.

An author can portray a character in several ways- including showing how others react to him, or revealing the character's thoughts and actions. So far you know that the chaplain was confused by Yossarian, that Clevinger thinks Yossarian is crazy, and that other officers think he's funny ("that Yossarian," they say). Yossarian himself considers bizarre behavior a sensible response to the craziness of war. In one exchange with Clevinger, he identifies himself with many mavericks and heroes from comic books and world literature, including Tarzan and Shakespearean characters. He also calls himself a "supra" man. A "superman" would be bigger or stronger than average, but "supra" means "above" or "transcending" the ordinary. How could Yossarian's words be taken as suggesting that he somehow embodies every man? that he is greater than ordinary people?


In Chapters One and Two, the title character appeared briefly, disappeared, and later reappeared. In this chapter, the dead man in Yossarian's tent is mentioned again even before the title character is presented. Apparently Yossarian can't get Sergeant Towser or the squadron commander, Major Major, to do anything about the dead man. But you still have no firm information on any of these people- Towser, the major, or the dead man.

Instead, the focus shifts to Orr, Yossarian's roommate, who sounds more bizarre than Yossarian. He tinkers endlessly with a faucet, and presents some complicated reasoning for having put crab apples and/or horse chestnuts in his cheeks when he was a boy. Yossarian gives up trying to understand, and recalls a puzzling time in Rome when a big prostitute kept beating Orr over the head while Orr giggled. Yossarian doesn't know what that was all about, either.

Attention shifts to General Peckem and General Dreedle. Peckem is in charge of sending the troops entertainers from the U.S.O., the United Service Organizations.

NOTE: The United Service Organizations (the U.S.O.) was formed in 1941 by groups including the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the Salvation Army. It supplies servicemen with social, recreational, and spiritual help. Thousands of volunteers work in U.S.O. programs, such as those bringing live entertainment near combat areas.

Peckem's pickiness keeps him at odds with the more practical Dreedle. When the two of them send conflicting orders, Dreedle usually wins- not because his ideas are better, but because a mail clerk, ex-Private First Class Wintergreen, forwards only Dreedle's memos. (Why is Wintergreen described as an ex-P.F.C.? Again you don't know- yet.) You also learn that characters presented so far belong to the Twenty-seventh Air Force, and that men who have flown fifty missions want orders to go home immediately. They're nervous because Colonel Cathcart is known for increasing the required number of combat missions at any time. One enlisted man, Hungry Joe, copes with the tension of waiting by chasing women.

Meanwhile Colonel Cargill, Peckem's right-hand man, orders the officers to enjoy the U.S.O. shows. Cargill is a genius at converting even a sure success to a failure. He makes Yossarian feel so sick that Yossarian asks Doc Daneeka to ground him at forty-seven missions. But the Doc won't do it. Instead he tells Yossarian to go fly like Havermeyer. The suggestion chills Yossarian. Captain Havermeyer is so intent on killing that he lures mice to his tent. One nibble on a rigged candy bar turns on a light, and he shoots the mouse with doctored bullets that explode it all over his tent. He is equally militant as the squadron's best lead bombardier. He heads straight in on targets, unlike Yossarian, a bombardier who takes evasive action all over the sky. Yossarian doesn't care whether his bombs hit the targets or not, as long as he gets back alive. He usually flies with Sergeant Knight at the bomb bay, Captain Aardvaark (Aarfy) as navigator, and McWatt as pilot.

The Great Big Siege of Bologna is mentioned again toward the end of the chapter. During the siege, after Milo Minderbinder had bombed the squadron, everyone dug a slit trench beside his tent. (Two more loose ends- is this mess officer Milo? If so, did he really bomb his own side?) In the morning, gunfire set off Hungry Joe, who was worried crazy because he'd flown all his missions and had not yet been sent home- and he fell into a trench. The gunfire turned out to be only Havermeyer, shooting mice again.

Yossarian often questions the decisions of his commanding officers. So you can identify who outranks whom, these lists start with the highest rank:

OFFICERS                      ENLISTED MEN                    
         General                         Sergeant Major                     
         Lieutenant General              First Sergeant                     
         Major General                   Master Sergeant                    
         Brigadier General               Technical Sergeant                 
         Colonel                         Staff Sergeant                     
         Lieutenant Colonel              Sergeant                           
         Major                           Corporal                           
         Captain                         Private First Class                
         First Lieutenant                Private                            
         Second Lieutenant                                                  
  The special category of Warrant Officer ranks above Sergeant and          
below Lieutenant.                                                           


Yossarian complains to Doc Daneeka about Hungry Joe, but Doc isn't interested. He's preoccupied with more important matters such as getting his orderlies, Gus and Wes, to say he's sick and having to fly in order to draw flight pay (he's terrified of flying). Yossarian persuades McWatt to list Doc as a passenger without actually making him fly, but Doc won't return the favor by grounding Yossarian. He's too afraid he'll displease Colonel Cathcart and be sent to the Pacific- which he believes is a hotbed of contagious diseases.

One of Doc's favorite responses to anything is "Why me?" Yossarian likes such questions. He used them to disrupt the educational sessions once conducted by Clevinger in Captain Black's intelligence tent. Yossarian's favorite was, "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?"

Yossarian puts the same question into French, neatly echoing a line by Villon, "Mais ou sont les Neiges d'antan?" ("But where are the snows of yesteryear?") Francois Villon (1431-1463?) was a thief, vagabond, and rebel, as famous in France as Robin Hood in England. The poem containing the "yesteryear" line is one of several in his Testament (1456), a group of poems filled with irony, death, coarse humor, and rebellion. You might consider how Yossarian is similar to Villon.

Snowden, you are told, was killed over Avignon when Dobbs seized control of the plane from Huple. Who are these people and what are they to Yossarian? Again, you don't know yet, but the incident seems to haunt Yossarian. Lieutenant Colonel Korn finally puts an end to the disrupting questions with a clever method given the name Catch-22 in the next chapter: He decrees that only people who never ask questions are allowed to ask questions.

Attention turns to the skeet-shooting range Colonel Cathcart built for officers at Group Headquarters. General Dreedle changed its purpose by ordering everyone on combat duty, officer or enlisted man, to practice shooting there eight hours a month. Startling shifts at this point in the chapter call attention to a pattern of free association that Heller has already been using: At the skeet range, Yossarian's poor shooting reminds him of his inability to make money gambling. That reminds him of a memo from Colonel Cargill. In it, Cargill said that fools could make money, but talented people could not- "Name, for example, one poet who makes money." The next thing you know, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen is telephoning Cargill and saying "T.S. Eliot." It's a startling transition until you realize that he has read the memo and is naming a poet who makes money. Cargill, however, who is in Rome, has no context for the words. Perplexed, he turns to General Peckem. Peckem is equally puzzled but decides to play a joke on his adversary, General Dreedle. He calls and says only, "T.S. Eliot." In Corsica, Dreedle thinks a bit, and then has his aide, Colonel Moodus (a son-in-law he hates), get Peckem on the line. Peckem hears "T.S. Eliot" again, panics, and begins checking codes.

Cargill suggests calling Wintergreen, a knowledgeable mail clerk. Wintergreen, as if he'd never heard the name, calmly reports that no T.S. Eliot is assigned to headquarters. Peckem's and Cargill's topics of conversation wander from Dreedle back to the skeet-shooting range, returning you to the place where the entire sequence began. If you've ever talked to a friend for hours, and then tried to trace what led you to a certain topic, you can enjoy this free-association pattern.

NOTE: T.S. ELIOT (1888-1965)
In the mid-1940s, American-born poet Thomas Stearns Eliot was a British citizen famous for his philosophical poems on man's place in nature and in history. In 1948 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Waste Land (1922) by Eliot was a widely known expression of post-World War I despair. To Eliot, the "waste land" was a kind of existence in which neither life nor death had any significance or value. Eliot uses a great variety of mythological and religious references to show the loneliness, emptiness, and irrational terrors of modern life. Heller alludes to The Waste Land several times in Catch-22, strongly suggesting that the characters of the novel live in their own "waste land"- a place of disintegrating values- and will do well just to survive. Since any literate person should have recognized Eliot's name in 1944, what point do you think Heller is making about military "top brass" in this scene?

Meanwhile, on the skeet-shooting range, Dunbar is telling Yossarian, Clevinger, and Off that he likes boring activities- they stretch time. He theorizes that all the pilots must be very old because, every time they fly, they are only seconds from death- and how much older can you get? Clevinger, who can't see how boredom helps, asks why anyone would seek unpleasantness just so life will seem longer. Dunbar responds, "What else is there?"

Considering what you've learned about other characters by now, does Yossarian seem so crazy? How do his games compare with Havermeyer's mouse-shooting or Dunbar's time obsession?


Yossarian visits Doc Daneeka and his roommate, Chief White Halfoat. Doc explains that before he went into the service, his practice improved when the other doctors were drafted. He also made a tidy income from illegal kickbacks.

Then Chief White Halfoat starts in on oilmen. He claims that oilmen followed the Halfoats because they struck oil wherever they stopped. It became so bad they'd be kicked off a piece of land before they could get any sleep. He says he's lucky the war came along and he was drafted.

Doc never laughs at Halfoat's jokes, but he snickers when Yossarian asks to be grounded because he is crazy. Doc says he can't take Yossarian's word for it, or even the word of others in the squadron, because they're crazy too, and you can't believe a crazy man. Doc also says Orr is so crazy that, if he asked, Doc would relieve him of combat duty. But Catch-22 gets in the way. Yossarian carefully reviews the idea of Catch-22: Concern for your own safety in the face of real danger is sane. Yet Orr keeps flying after a number of close calls. Since he's crazy to keep flying, all he has to do to be grounded is to ask. But if he asks, he's sane. Therefore, he has to fly some more.

For a moment Yossarian sees the beauty of Catch-22, but then he isn't sure, just as he's never sure about the flies Orr sees in Appleby's eyes. Orr insists the flies are there; that's why Appleby can't see things as they really are. He can't even see he's got the flies because of the flies. Yossarian takes Orr's word, because Orr has never lied to him. But nobody else sees the flies, either, and Appleby sees well enough to be an expert at ping-pong and a crack shot at skeet-shooting.

The squadron flies out on a mission. Their B-25s are dependable, but Yossarian hates the bombardier's position in the plexiglass nose. It's separated from the nearest escape hatch by a crawlway so narrow the bombardier can't even bring a parachute with him. He feels like a goldfish in a cantilevered bowl. Yossarian always sends his navigator, Aarfy, back to the pilots' compartment as soon as the objective is sighted, so he and Aarfy won't be in each other's way. Because Yossarian is so frightened, however, he wouldn't dream of going back to sit by the escape hatch himself. He trusts only himself to direct evasive action out of dangerous areas.

Twice on this mission Yossarian recalls Snowden and the mission to Avignon. Dobbs panicked, seized the controls from Huple, and hurled the plane into a dive that plastered Yossarian to the top of his bubble. Huple regained control and leveled the plane, but Dobbs kept crying, "Help the bombardier." Even after Yossarian unfroze enough to shout that he was the bombardier and he was all right, Dobbs kept crying, "Help him." The chapter ends, "And Snowden lay dying in back." You know more now than you did the first time Snowden was mentioned, but still not the entire story. As Orr says of Appleby, you cannot- yet- see things as they really are.

In the U.S., factories tremendously increased their production during World War II. America produced nearly 300,000 aircraft, 87,000 tanks, 320,000 artillery pieces, 12,000 war and cargo ships, and 42 billion bullets.

The two work-horse bombers of the Army Air Force for most of World War II were the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator. (They were superseded by the B-29 Superfortress toward the end of the war.) B-25 Mitchells flew more than 63,000 sorties in Europe during the war. They were also used in the Pacific.


Hungry Joe is spotlighted in this chapter. He rooms with the fifteen-year-old pilot, Huple, who lied about his age in order to enlist. Joe has his own brands of craziness. He hates repeated small noises so much that he makes Huple wrap his wristwatch in wool socks at night. He eats voraciously but remains emaciated. He forgets film for his camera but can still coax prostitutes to pose. To Yossarian, Hungry Joe is a hero- he's completed more tours of combat duty than anyone. The first tour ended at twenty-five missions, but before Joe received orders to go home, Colonel Cathcart arrived and raised the number of missions to thirty. The situation has been repeated five times. By now Joe crumbles during the gap between finishing his missions and waiting to be ordered home. He has screaming nightmares that end only when Cathcart again raises the number of missions and sends him back to combat. Yossarian wants Joe to see Doc Daneeka, but Joe asks why he shouldn't have nightmares every night. After reflecting on the idea, Yossarian decides it does make more sense than the death of a harmless youngster like Kraft, whose plane was shot down on the second sweep over a bridge at Ferrara, on the seventh day they'd tried to bomb it. (Was Yossarian also in the plane that was shot down? This is another incomplete reference to a past event.) "God was resting," Yossarian says, on that seventh day, an allusion to the creation story in the Bible. The comment also suggests that God pays no attention to men in combat.

Yossarian checks on the number of required missions. Wintergreen says that the Twenty-seventh Air Force requires only forty. Yossarian, by now at forty-eight, is jubilant- until Wintergreen tells him that he still can't go home. The catch is that the Twenty-seventh doesn't say you have to go home, but it does say you have to obey your commanding officer. And Cathcart has now increased the missions to fifty-five!


McWatt, Yossarian's regular pilot, is described only briefly- as the craziest of them all, because he's perfectly sane yet does not mind the war. If you understand that idea, you're well into the spirit of Catch-22.

A series of bartering involves McWatt with both Yossarian and Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer mentioned earlier. Milo admires Yossarian for a letter Yossarian persuaded Doc to give him. It says that Yossarian can have all the fruit he wants, because of his (fake) liver condition. Milo is horrified, however, to learn that Yossarian simply gives the fruit away. Giving violates Milo's most basic business principle- extort as much as you can. He hopes to make tremendous profits from the black-market syndicate he is establishing. As Milo explains his ideas, he tears up a bedsheet that was originally stolen from McWatt. To Milo it's a symbol of business, but to McWatt and Yossarian, it's just a torn sheet. If that's all it is to you, too, and you had a little trouble following Milo's reasoning, think about his last name- Minderbinder. Isn't it similar to such terms as "double-talk" and "doublethink"?

Milo's second ambition is to provide the squadron with the best food possible. If the meal described in the second chapter was a sample, he is obviously sincere, and you can see why he is appalled to learn that his only chef, Corporal Snark, once put soap in sweet potatoes. (The soap poisoned the men, but it proved Snark's point- the men will eat anything.)

Earlier you heard that "flies" prevent Appleby from seeing correctly. Now Milo is said to have eyes that focus on different things. He can see more than most people, but nothing "too distinctly." Watch for additional "eye" imagery. Clearly, it's being used symbolically, but for what purpose? Could poor vision stand for the reader's confusion, a military mentality, or even something as broad as the basic human condition?


In an earlier chapter Yossarian believed Orr because Orr had never lied to him- unlike Yossarian's parents and teachers, for example. In this chapter Yossarian says that at least war frees children "from the pernicious influence of their parents." How does the word "pernicious" show that Yossarian's views on the authority of parents (and others, such as teachers or military superiors) differ from traditional views? How does his attitude affect your evaluation of his character?

Clevinger often disagrees with Yossarian, but, like Yossarian, he doesn't understand why any one particular man must die in a war. As a student, Clevinger's strong opinions led him to adopt many causes- he could see only one side of any issue. Yossarian recalls when he and Clevinger were aviation cadets at the Army Air Force Base in Santa Ana, California. They were commanded by Lieutenant Scheisskopf, an R.O.T.C. graduate with poor eyesight who was obsessed with winning the weekly parade. Scheisskopf kept begging someone to tell him why the cadets wouldn't parade smartly. Yossarian "read" Scheisskopf's real attitudes, and told Clevinger not to answer, but Clevinger didn't listen. He gave Scheisskopf good advice, but Scheisskopf resented it so much he wanted to court-martial Clevinger. If you've ever answered a teacher's or parent's rhetorical question when silence was called for, you have some idea of the situation. What does Clevinger's and Scheisskopf's focus on parades tell you about their concept of military ideals?

Yossarian hated both the parades and the worthless pennants awarded the best squadrons. He volunteered for training as a bombardier-navigator only to stay out of combat longer. Meanwhile he made love to Scheisskopf's wife, who on weekends borrowed a uniform from her Wac friend Dori Duz. He also had a too-brief affair with Miss Duz, who (as Heller puns) "did whenever she could."

In July 1942, women first began training in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, renamed the Women's Army Corps, or WAC, in 1943. The Navy then accepted women into the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the Coast Guard recruited SPARs (from the Latin motto semper paratus, "always ready"), and the Army Air Forces created the WAFS (Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron). Servicemen viewed these women as "second-class" soldiers, and civilians suspected them of promiscuity- they feared the women would become "PWOP" (pregnant without permission). What light do these attitudes cast on Heller's portrayal of Mrs. Scheisskopf and Dori Duz?

Scheisskopf takes Clevinger's advice, and the cadets win second place in the next parade. The following two Sundays they win the first-place pennant. The other lieutenants, translating Scheisskopf's name from German to English, wonder what that "Shithead" will do next. They get their answer the Sunday his cadets barely move their arms- Scheisskopf has drilled them to obey an obscure regulation that hands should swing no more than three inches. Only lack of time and scarcity of materials prevented his having the cadets linked together mechanically to march like puppets. Scheisskopf is hailed as a military genius and promoted on the spot to First Lieutenant. He also hauls Clevinger before the Action Board.

Scheisskopf acts as prosecutor, defending officer, and one of the judges- surely Catch-22 in action! A fat colonel conducts the questioning, with frequent interruptions from Major Metcalf and the clerk, Corporal Popinjay. Clevinger is bewildered by the officers' hatred and by their finding him guilty simply because he is accused. He is sentenced to walk fifty-seven punishment tours, and Popinjay is locked up for impertinence. The scene is marvellously comic, but- like the description of Scheisskopf's surreal obsession with parades- it is also biting satire.

Clevinger's trial satirizes the McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s. Signs of friction between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies had become apparent even during World War II, and Western leaders had yielded to some Soviet demands- for example, allowing the U.S.S.R. to keep the part of Poland secured from Hitler in 1939. But Western leaders failed to grasp Stalin's determination to extend Communist rule. In 1948 they were bewildered when Stalin blocked land access to Berlin (half under Allied control), but the Western powers responded with a massive airlift to supply the city with its daily needs. Stalin finally lifted the blockade in 1949, the same year the Soviets successfully tested an atomic bomb- until then the U.S. was the only nation with nuclear power. In China, Communists led by Mao Tse-tung drove out the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek (whom the United States supported). In 1950 North Korea, with Russian help, invaded South Korea (under U.S. protection).

Many Americans were bewildered by these events, and began to view Communism as a direct threat to American life. Joseph R. McCarthy, a Republican U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, gave voice to those fears. In 1950 he publicly announced that he possessed a long list of alleged Communists he claimed were on the U.S. State Department payroll. He never produced the list but went on to make wilder claims. Among them were allegations that treasonous American officials had made possible both the Communist victory in China and the Soviet development of atomic weapons. The image of the United States that McCarthy projected- a country infested with spies and traitors- provided an unlikely, though possible, explanation for many postwar events. McCarthy began to smear reputations and secure dismissals through use of reckless accusations, flimsy evidence, and unidentified informants. He accused the Democratic administration of "twenty years of treason," and did not let up when his own party came to power (1953) and he became chairman of the Senate permanent investigations subcommittee. He even implied that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower- a hero of World War II- was "soft" on Communism. In the notorious McCarthy hearings on the U.S. Army in 1954, the Eisenhower administration fought back. The Senate finally disciplined McCarthy, and by the time of his death, in 1957, his power had declined substantially. You will encounter another satire of the McCarthy hearings when the chaplain is interrogated by the C.I.D.


Major Major, the squadron commander so elusive that even his name is nothing but a rank repeated three times, has a chapter to himself. Previously the narrator has transmitted ideas and events through Yossarian, but now the narrator becomes omniscient (all-knowing) and summarizes the major's entire past.

The major's lifelong colorlessness positively inspires Joseph Heller. First he alludes to Miniver Cheevy, a shallow character in a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935). Then he adapts a quotation from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and tops it with a masterful eight-word follow-up. Shakespeare wrote, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them." Heller writes, "Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three."

Major Major's lack of distinction began at birth. His father, imaginative only when it came to profiting from government farm subsidies, named him Major Major Major. When the boy started school, his playmates shrank back at the discovery that he wasn't Caleb Major, by which name they had known him. The friendless boy developed into a dreamy but obedient student who did well in school. When he reached college, however, the F.B.I. investigated him- why was he studying English history rather than American? With no real case, however (does this remind you of Scheisskopf and Clevinger?), the F.B.I. could only make him enlist. A day later an I.B.M. computer promoted Private Major to Major Major. Embarrassed at having a trainee with a rank higher than his own, the major's sergeant brooded "like Saul" to determine how to handle the situation.

Saul is a biblical figure, the first king of Israel. He brooded jealously in his tent because his people praised the fighter David more than they praised him. Major Major is no fighter, but the sergeant resolves his dilemma by pretending that the new major is. Anachronisms appear here, too- things out of place in the time setting. Computers as we think of them were not in use in World War II. They had been pioneered in the 1930s, but a computer introduced in 1942 weighed 100 tons and had 2000 electronic tubes, 150 electric motors, and 200 miles of wire. The war promoted further development. Like "red Communist" jokes, taking advantage of farm subsidies, and the loyalty oaths that appear later, the reference is better suited to the 1950s than the 1940s. Its use shows that Heller meant his novel to apply to postwar situations as well as to the military in World War II.

The base officers solve the sergeant's dilemma by sending Major Major to aviation cadet school. Training goes quickly- there, too, no officer knows what to do with a cadet who is a major. Major Major ends up on Pianosa as a pilot. Skinny and tall, he is a natural for basketball. He is almost happy at Pianosa, because the enlisted men let him join them in the game for hours. Everything changes when the squadron commander is killed. Colonel Cathcart names Major Major the new commander, and the major is an outsider again. On one occasion, he puts on dark glasses and an organ-grinder's mustache in order to play basketball without being recognized, but the ploy backfires. The men express their hatred of all officers by beating him unmercifully. He slinks back to his office and orders Sergeant Towser never again to let anyone in to see him while he is there- another example of Catch-22. He makes meal arrangements with Milo, and then begins to enter and leave his office through the window.

Since Sergeant Towser disposes of all real business, Major Major has nothing to do but sign papers he doesn't understand, and listen to Major __ de Coverley pitch horseshoes. He's too timid to ask whether he is de Coverley's superior, or de Coverley is his. The only documents that interest him concern a lieutenant killed on a mission over Orvieto, but still officially alive because he never checked in at Pianosa. To relieve the boredom, Major Major starts signing papers "Washington Irving"- an idea he got when a C.I.D. man arrived to investigate hospitalized officers. Documents signed that way never come back, and the major is delighted. He continues the forgeries, bringing a second C.I.D. man to the squadron. Through lies and misdirection, the Major adroitly turns the two C.I.D. men on each other. He has never before disobeyed a rule, and he discovers that he loves it. To avoid investigation, however, he starts signing "John Milton" or the reverse.

NOTE: By way of the delight the major takes in sinning and the new signature he adopts, Heller connects him with two literary classics. At the end of each day's work, God looks upon his creation and sees that it is good (Genesis 1). Then Adam and Eve disobey God, and things are not good for them: God evicts them from Paradise (Genesis 3). The story is retold in Paradise Lost, a famous poem by the English poet John Milton (1608-74).

Major Major is a successful recluse until "that madman Yossarian" brings him down one day with a flying tackle, blocks his office window, and asks if he can go home although he's flown only fifty-one of the fifty-five required missions. The major dislikes Yossarian because he keeps asking about the man who died over Orvieto and because Yossarian walked around naked after Avignon- even while General Dreedle gave him a medal for heroism at Ferrara. Major Major cannot match Yossarian in conversation, and ends the encounter only by asserting that there is nothing he can do.

By now you are familiar with Heller's technique of referring to past events, and then echoing the reference later and offering more information. Thus you know now that the man who died without checking in is not physically lying there dead in Yossarian's tent; that "Avignon" refers to the Snowden incident; and that Ferrara is the mission that killed young Kraft. But this is the first mention of Yossarian's going around naked. Why might he have done so? Do you think it was some kind of protest, or a ploy to convince Doc Daneeka he was crazy enough to be grounded?


The chapter opens by telling you that the day Clevinger's plane disappears, Yossarian at first thinks it's an exciting desertion. Read the chapter carefully: it mixes time sequences, and fleshes out some of those tantalizing earlier references.

The disappearance of Clevinger reminds Yossarian of a past event, the "Grand Conspiracy of Lowery Field," when sixty-four men vanished one pay day. At that time Wintergreen was specializing in going AWOL, getting busted to buck private, and then doing his punishment- digging and refilling six-foot holes. It was while digging one hole- seven months before Milo bombed Pianosa, you are told- that he struck a water pipe and nearly drowned.

Thought association takes Yossarian to the "Splendid Atabrine Insurrection" some time before the Ferrara mission. Atabrine was taken as a protection against malaria. Appleby had quadrupled his own dosage to be better than other officers, and tried to report Yossarian for not taking any. But he couldn't get in to see Major Major. He finally wrote a report for the major, thinking that perhaps Yossarian was not the only crazy officer.

The concept of craziness shifts the scene to Sergeant Towser. The time period returns to "the present," when fifty-five missions are required. Towser recalls "the dead man in Yossarian's tent"- a replacement pilot pressed into duty because many pilots, having finished the required thirty-five missions, were grounded. His name was Mudd. He barely tumbled his belongings on a cot in Yossarian's tent before he was blown up over Orvieto.

The "Great Big Siege of Bologna" came a week later. At the time, everyone was infected with fear and depressed by the heavy rain, but Colonel Korn had ordered the medical tent closed so no one could escape duty by reporting sick. One night Dunbar finds Dr. Stubbs in the medical tent, wondering why he bothers to save lives- the men will die anyway. Dunbar asks for codeine for Yossarian, who believes he'll die if he flies to Bologna. Stubbs comments, "That crazy bastard may be the only sane one left." Is Stubbs right? How would you respond to the way Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions?


Captain Black, squadron intelligence officer, enjoys scaring people- as he did by his Great Loyalty Oath Crusade when Major Major was made squadron commander. To discredit Major Major, Black initiated the crusade but refused to let the major sign an oath. He didn't care whether the men meant the oaths; he just wanted huge numbers of signatures. Soon men were signing oaths, reciting the pledge of allegiance, and singing the national anthem all day. Even combat missions were delayed as men waited in line to sign, pledge, and sing. The crusade ended only when Major __ de Coverley returned from a visit to Rome. Stepping into the mess tent he saw the signing, pledging, and singing, but marched straight through and said, "Gimme eat." The officers parted before him "like the Red Sea." Handed a loyalty oath, de Coverley repeated "Gimme eat"- this time in tones like "distant thunder." Noticing the begging in the other men's eyes he added, "Give everybody eat!" And the ridiculous crusade ended.

NOTE: De Coverley enters like a deus ex machina in a Greek play- a god who suddenly appears to resolve a complex situation. He is also likened to Yahweh or Jehovah in the Bible, a god who led his people through the Red Sea and spoke to them at Mt. Sinai in the sound of thunder. Black, on the other hand, represents both false patriotism and the bureaucratic mentality of a noncombat officer who interferes with the real business of a war.


The next four chapters of Catch-22 deal with the Bologna mission and surrounding events. Each chapter, however, still uses the association method, so you should note such time clues as "the morning after Hungry Joe's first fight with Huple's cat." The men's mood is captured by the rainfall that begins and ends the chapter. The action, rearranged chronologically, works out as follows:

For two weeks, the men's fear of the Bologna mission intensifies. They are affected by the sight of the bomb line on Black's map, the panic begun when Sergeant Knight draws extra flak suits for the mission, the rain, and diarrhea- Corporal Snark put soap in the food again, this time at Yossarian's direction. Hungry Joe is having nightmares; Flume is so deranged he's sleeping in the woods and living on berries. Everybody starts inventing rumors.

Drunk one night in the officers' club, Yossarian grabs Colonel Korn's arm to tell him about the Germans' giant glue gun- it glues a whole formation of planes together in the air. Then Nately, Dunbar, and Yossarian go off in the rain in a jeep driven by the drunken Chief White Halfoat. He spills them into the mud, and Clevinger and McWatt try to get them out before they die of pneumonia. Halfoat observes that that's not a bad idea- dying of pneumonia. The same night, Hungry Joe dreams Huple's cat is smothering him. He wakes up so angry that Yossarian arranges a fight between Joe and the cat, but the cat flees.

The next night Yossarian stealthily moves the ribbon marking the bomb line past Bologna. In the morning everyone thinks the American infantry has taken Bologna, but only General Peckem is enterprising enough to ask for- and get- a medal. He isn't even in combat. He's head of Special Service entertainment. (Don't be taken in by his reasoning that bombing is a "special service"!)

Meanwhile Wintergreen has risen to and been demoted from corporal. With Yossarian, he discusses his own Zippo lighters and Milo's Egyptian cotton. Dishonest as Wintergreen is, though, he won't forge orders to cancel the Bologna mission. (Like Yossarian, you, too, know Bologna still must be taken.) Wintergreen (like Clevinger) insists it's Yossarian's job to die at Bologna. Yossarian argues that the real enemy is anyone who is going to get you killed- and that includes Colonel Cathcart.

The chapter has tied together some loose ends but has also raised some new issues: Who has the right to decide who dies? Is there a God? Does Yossarian's notion of "enemy" have any validity, or is he simply playing with language? Does the nickname "Yo-Yo" fit Yossarian?


Neither German nor American intelligence agents can determine exactly who Major __ de Coverley is. Godlike, he selects cities about to fall, commandeers planes and jeeps, arranges recreation houses for officers and men, and appears among the first troops to enter the city.

The earlier comparison of de Coverley with Jehovah is strengthened by omission of his first name. The ancient Hebrews used synonyms instead of God's actual name, which they considered too sacred to utter. "De Coverley" also suggests the fictitious Sir Roger de Coverley, created by English essayist Joseph Addison (1672-1719). Sir Roger headed the small Spectator Club, composed of representatives of the country gentry, townsmen, merchants, and the military. "Mr. Spectator" himself was an educated traveler who visited London as an observer, but avoided politics. He aimed "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality." To what extent would Major __ de Coverley fit into such a club?

The chapter comments on the officers' apartment in Rome, making Yossarian think of time spent there with different women and friends. Focus returns, however, to de Coverley. He was injured in the eye during the taking of Rome- a Satanic old man fired a flower at him. Back on Pianosa no one takes such liberties with de Coverley; Milo is the only man who dares approach him. Even the Zeus-like de Coverley can be bribed, however: in exchange for regular eggs and butter, de Coverley makes Milo mess officer and grants him planes to go to Malta and Sicily for the food. Many squadrons and bomb groups soon make the same deal, and Milo operates daily shuttles to procure everything from lobster tail to artichokes.

Colonel Cathcart is so delighted at the new importance of his squadron's mess officer that he proposes promoting Major Major to Lieutenant Colonel. (What does this suggest about reasons for promotions?) But ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen foils the plan. He scribbles an unsigned note onto the request, saying that the Army has no intention of losing its only Major Major Major Major. Cathcart accepts the rebuke; Korn concludes that it is therefore also impossible to demote Major Major. Why does neither man even question Wintergreen's scribbling? To console himself, Cathcart recalls his skill at obtaining a medal for Yossarian when he led six planes over Ferrara a second time, causing Kraft to be shot down. At the time Cathcart was upset that Yossarian went in twice, but Korn found a solution: ignore Kraft's death, give Yossarian a medal for hitting the target, and promote Yossarian to captain. This information clarifies earlier allusions to Ferrara. Why does Yossarian feel guilty? Should he? How do you now view the entire incident?

THE STORY, continued


ECC [Catch-22 Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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