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An analysis of catch 22 by joseph heller

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

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