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CHAPTER 39: THE ETERNAL CITY
Yossarian is flying with Milo to Rome. He is going AWOL. Milo upbraided Yossarian for his refusal to fly more missions. Milo is afraid that other soldiers might also refuse to fly more missions. Milo advises Yossarian to go to Russia instead of stirring up trouble in Pianosa.
When Yossarian arrives in Rome, he sees a city in ruins. The airdrome has been bombed, and the Coliseum is a dilapidated shell. In the apartment he meets the old woman who lives there. She tells Yossarian that all the young girls were chased away into the street by the military police. When the girls asked why they were being thrown out, the police replied "Catch-22." The lecherous old man is dead. Yossarian asks the old woman about Nately’s girlfriend and her kid sister. The old woman can only tell him that they have "gone."
Yossarian asks Milo to help him find Nately’s prostitute’s twelve-year-old kid sister. They go to the Italian police headquarters where the police commissioner gets Milo interested by talking to him about illegal dealings in tobacco. Milo loses interest in the search. Yossarian leaves Milo at the police headquarters and walks out into a "dark, tomblike street."
In the street he sees a poor boy in tattered clothes with a sad, sickly face. Yossarian is moved by his poverty. Yossarian’s mind is full of sadness at the thought of so much sickness and evil in the world. As he walks he hears the cries of prostitutes and battered women. It is a night filled with horrors, and Yossarian has a strange feeling that he has seen it all before. He wishes that he could lie down with some girl and make love to her; but all the girls he knows and desires are gone.
Yossarian thinks of Michaela, a maid in the officer’s apartment. When he reaches the apartment he is shocked to find her dead body lying on the pavement. Aarfy has raped and killed her. Yossarian finds Aarfy inside the building and asks him why he killed Michaela. He tells Aarfy that the police will arrest him for murder, but Aarfy is confident that he will not be arrested. The military police come and arrest Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass. Yossarian spends the night in a cell, and the next day is taken to Pianosa and into Cathcart’s office, where Colonel Korn tells him that he is to be sent home.
Yossarian is taking a big risk when he goes to Rome. If he has come to Rome for a respite, he is in for a shock. The city is in ruins, not just physically but morally. The military police have cleaned up the whore-house. The old woman describes Catch-22 as the right of the authorities to do anything which the ordinary person cannot stop them from doing.
Yossarian’s journey along the street in Rome is a veritable "descent into hell." Yossarian wanders Rome’s streets searching for the twelve-year-old girl. Rome is turned into a nightmarish world of poverty, crime, and death. Yossarian experiences everything as though he has seen it all before; the scenes somehow seem to be a part of the collective unconscious. Like the chaplain, Yossarian, too has a sense of déjà vu.
Towards the end, irrationality and violence prevail. Aarfy is allowed to go free after murdering Michaela while Yossarian is arrested and sent back to Pianosa.