The Lack of Comprehensive Speech in Catch 22
Most of what we really say has no meaning. This concept is perfectly supported in Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. Almost every character and scene in the novel contain dialogues where the people speak aimlessly and have no explanation for why they are talking. Colonel Cargill addresses his men by saying, ÒYouÕre American officers. The officers of no other army in the world can make that statement. Think about it.Ó(29) Even though the remark is true, it has no meaning. These type of random statements and dialogues occur throughout the whole book.
Another situation when two people speak without making any sense is when Clevinger is being questioned.
ÒI didnÕt say you couldnÕt punish me,Ó said Clevinger.
ÒWhen?Ó asked the colonel.
ÒWhen what, sir?Ó
ÒNow youÕre asking me questions again.Ó
ÒI am sorry, sir. IÕm afraid I donÕt understand your question.Ó(79)
Later in the interrogation, the colonel is so twisted in his conversation that he no longer wants to know when Clevinger said that he could not be punished. He now wants to know when Clevinger did not say that he could not be punished. Clevinger quickly rebuts and states, ÒI always didnÕt say you couldnÕt punish me, sir.Ó Finally, the colonel is satisfied with that answer even though ClevingerÕs statement did not answer the question and has no meaning.
Major Major often spoke with a lack of meaning. He simply did not make sense. For instance, he told Sergeant Towser, his assistant, ÒFrom now on, I donÕt want anyone to come in to see me while IÕm here.Ó(102) According to this statement, when would anyone be able to see him if they could only go to his office when Major Major was out? When Appleby once went to see Major Major, he started to talk to Sergeant Towser.
ÒAbout how long will I have to wait before I can go in to see the major?Ó
ÒJust until he goes to lunch,Ó Sergeant Towser replied. ÒThen you can go right in.Ó
ÒBut he wont be there then. Will he?Ó
ÒNo, sir. Major Major wonÕt be back in his office until after lunch.Ó(110)
The famous catch 22, stated that one can only be grounded from flying if he/she is crazy. However, if one asks to be grounded, he/she is no longer considered to be crazy and the soldier would have to fly more missions. Yossarian always fell into this trap. He wants to be grounded but he couldnÕt be considered insane because he keeps on asking to be grounded. Dr. Stubbs comments about YossarianÕs catch 22. He says, ÒThat crazy bastard may be the only sane one left.Ó This obviously represents a complete contradiction.
When Orr explains why he walks around as a kid with crab apples in his cheeks, he too speaks with no meaning. His explanation was, Òbecause theyÕve got a better shape than horse chestnuts.Ó(23) But, why put anything in your cheeks? This conversation is so ambiguous and had such little meaning that the answer to Òwhy?Ó is never explained to Yossarian.
For no reason, Yossarian and Orr convince Appleby that he has flies in his eyes. Appleby becomes extremely worried and asks Havermeyer if he truly has flies in his eyes. Havermeyer confirms that he does not. A few minutes later, Appleby says to Havermeyer, ÒYouÕve got peanut brittle crumbs on your face.Ó(48) Havermeyer quickly responds by saying, ÒIÕd rather have peanut brittle crumbs on my face than flies in my eyes.Ó(48) Havermeyer contradicts himself because he first says that Applyby has nothing in his eyes and then moments later abruptly says that he has flies in his eyes.
Another example of when the characters in the novel talk and act without making any sense is when Captain Black started the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade. Captain Black encouraged the soldiers to sign this optional oath to show that they were not communists. However, he says to Milo, ÒThe men donÕt have to sign.......if they donÕt want to. But we need you to starve them to death if they donÕt.Ó(118) Obviously, this statement is a contradiction. If Captain Black is going to starve them to death, then the oath is, in fact, forcing every member of the squadron to sign.
Colonel Cargill, Clevinger, Major Major, Dr. Stubbs, Sergeant Towser, Captain Black, Appleby, Havermeyer, Orr, and of course, Yossarian are all notorious for speaking profusely and rarely saying anything of substance. Frequently, the jumbled dialogues are a result of two characters communicating on different wave lengths. This is seen when Clevinger is being questioned. The colonel and Clevinger are thinking so differently at the time, that there is no way they would be able to understand one another. This book definitely makes one realize how difficult it is to communicate, the problems people have trying to understand one another, and realizing that sometimes what we say has no meaning.