An Analysis of Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, is a critique of the society that we live in.
Whoever is proud of what we have advanced to, and is unwilling to look at it in
a negative light, would find this book very subversive. It threatens and
criticizes the way of living of most who pride themselves in living a modern
life. Heller shows through the ridiculousness of war how misguided much of
modern society has become, in spite of all our so called civilized advancement.
Some will find this interesting, thought provoking and enjoy this book. Others
will take it as a direct threat and insult to all the work they have done.
From the very beginning, Heller shows some of the most popular ideas and
values of the day in a negative, questioning light. In particular, he shows the
negative consequences of conformity and highlights individuality as a way to
survive. He wants us to recognize how one is controlled and stifled by society.
The leading character in this novel, addressing what has gone wrong with
society, is Yossarian. He is the only one who recognizes the full craziness of
what everyone is living for: wealth, false happiness, society's approval, etc.
He is one of the few who tries to fight the power and elitism that have become
so sought after in America. Throughout the novel, he tries to find a way to live
a fuller life as a real human individual. He looks to many of the other
characters in the book for help but only finds unsatisfactory answers.
Each of the characters in Yossarian's life at the base shows the reader
one more example of how bad society has become. Clavinger tries to live life by
reasoning. He looks for a reason in everything. In constantly looking for a
reason why, he never enjoys life to it fullest. As further proof that this life
leads nowhere, he is shot down and killed, certainly not an event with a
rational explanation. Major Major is the person who obeys everyone, always
trying to be perfect. He does everything that anyone asks of him, but takes it
to an extreme. By being so naively obedient, instead of being helped by his
comrades, he is shunned. This callousness from all humans soon leads him to be
scared of any human contact. Aarfy seems to live happily, but only by giving up
his integrity. He is totally unremorseful almost to the point of being inhuman.
One witnesses the result of this unhealthy way of living when he murders a
prostitute by throwing her out the window. He shows no emotion about this and
barely realizes the gravity of what he has done. At the time, only Yossarian is
arrested for a minor matter, as he did not sell out to the system. Though Aarfy
never dies, Heller, in showing what kind of a monster he becomes, is directly
attacking a the large part of society whose members sell their integrity for
what they hope is success.
In Milo, Heller attacks the capitalist business practice of making money
at any cost. When we first come across Milo, he is shown to have high moral
standards. His lust for profit, however, soon overcomes these earlier leanings.
At one point, he bombs his own friends and fellow army men for profit. By the
end of the book, Milo has become such a robot, succumbed to greed and profit,
that, because Milo has just found out a new way to make money, he walks out on
Yossarian at a time when Yossarian desperately needs his help. For Heller, Milo
is a symbol of the corporate greed that has taken over America. Heller is
attacking all the people who only care about money and don't care about others.
He brings to light the egocentric tendency of Americans.
In the chaplain, Heller portrays someone who is genuinely selfless and
concerned about others. His heart is always wishing others well. However, he, as
many others like him, is never heard or listened to and eventually turns to
devious methods to be noticed. The chaplain represents the minority that is
deserving of attention, but never listened to until it is too late. He gets so
lonely and frustrated that even he starts to sin.
Heller most actively challenges the pureness and rightness of the
bureaucratic institutions that control and limit the human spirit . The upper
echelons of the army are a mockery of the mess that government has become.
Colonel Cathcart stands for the average politician, whose only goal to rise in
power. Colonel Corn, one of Cathcart's cronies, in describing his desire for
power, states, "Why not... What else have we got to do?". All Colonial Cathcart
cares about is a "feather in his cap" or a "black eye". He does not care how
the men feel. He raises the number of missions to impossible highs only for his
personal gain. This is perhaps a parallel to Washington D. C., where politicians
often have become so caught up in bureaucracies that they forget about their
General Scheisskoph achieves such a high rank only because he conforms.
His only passion in life is marching - the ultimate conformity. He works at
stifling the men's spirits so that they all obey. He stops thinking of them as
people, just stupid machines. He never tries to stick out, as Yossarian does,
and therefore has a successful career. This too mocks the tendency in modern
society to conform and continually go with the flow, even if it is totally wrong,
just to be similar and possibly successful.
Heller, through satire, also brings to light some of the other
institutions in America and the modern world that have gotten out of control and
gone too far. The prime example of this is the medical profession. When
Yossarian goes to the hospital, everyone has a different idea of what he has.
Doctors say he has this or that just because they like saying he has this or
that, even though they have little idea of his real condition. Though this area
is exaggerated in the book, it still makes us look again at the medical
professionals that we trust our lives in. He also makes out psychiatry to be
absolutely foolish. Yossarian only has to make up a dream, before the
psychiatrist is in deep discussions about what the dream means in his life. This
rings very true when one thinks of real life psychiatrists always trying to make
significant issues out of what may actually be trivial matters.
In Catch 22 , Heller exaggerates everything to an extreme, but it is
only to get our attention. By seeing the extreme, we realize how close our
society is to that point. Heller implies that everyone is to blame for where our
society is at. Yossarian says while walking through the eternal city, "What a
lousy earth!...When you added them (all the bad people) all up and subtracted
you might only be left with the children...and an old violinist or sculptor..."
(p.414). By saying this, Heller blames every one for how are world is except for
the children who know no better. To the many Americans who have been brought up
on red, white, and blue and Fourth of July celebrations this could be an insult.
They might feel this book is subversive to the American dream that people like
Yossarian have fought wars for. They are scared to face the truth and prefer to
believe in the institutions that have been in place for hundreds of years
without a second thought. To except that something is wrong in our culture would
rock their souls too much.
Perhaps the largest group of people who would