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Free Study Guide-Catch-22 by Joseph Heller-Free Online Booknotes Summary
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THEME ANALYSIS

Catch-22 depicts the absurdities and excesses of life in war time conditions; on the other hand , it castigates the insanity and inhumanity of bureaucratic systems both in wartime and in peace. It is not surprising, then that the postwar generation of the 1950s and 1960s identified closely with the attempt to expose the vicious strengths and flaws of any bureaucracy. They saw the book as a tirade against the hatreds of the cold war ethos, the suspicions and persecution of the McCarthy era, and the mindless military and industrial expansion.

An example of Hellerís technique of parodying the contemporary post-World War II scenarios is evident in the portrayal of Milo Minderbinderís black-market operations. Miloís syndicate becomes a symbol for the a moral tactics employed by entrepreneurs in a free market.

Though Catch-22 deals with many contemporary issues of the 1950s and early Ď60s, its central concern is with Yossarianís search for a strategy of survival amid the horrors and absurdities of war. The novel is a bitter and savage attack on the illogical and inhumane regulations enshrined by the military bureaucracy in the form of the Catch-22. Yossarian and the men are reduced to a state of near impotence which drives them to varying depths of psychological despair.


Hellerís novel depicts not just manís struggles with life, but also his all-pervasive fear of death. All through the novel Yossarian is preoccupied with death. He remarks at one stage: "The enemy is anyone whoís going to get you killed, no matter which side heís on." His own commanders keep irrationally raising the required number of missions. In his desperate bid for life, Yossarian asserts: "Iíve been fighting all along to save my country. Now Iím going to fight a little to save myself." His desire for self- preservation stems immediately from his fear of death, and his growing awareness that his impending death will serve no worthwhile purpose except to boost his superiors. He becomes painfully aware that his military bosses are bent on sending him to his death; their objective is not at all different from the enemyís.

In the final analysis, Catch-22 may be read as a sort of "bildungsroman." This leads him on to a newer consciousness which forces him to react against the death-principle inherent in war by embracing the all-important principles of life and love.

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