More coursework: 1 - A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I - J | K - L | M | N - O | P - S | T | U - Y

Catch 22 satire on wwii

Catch 22: Satire on WWII

Joseph Heller who is perhaps one of the most famous writers of the 20th

century writes on some emotional issues such as war. He does not deal with these

issues in the normal fashion instead he criticizes them and the institutions

that help carry these things out. Heller in fact goes beyond criticizing he

satirizes. Throughout his two major novels Catch-22 and Good as Gold he

satirizes almost all of America's respectful institutions. To truly understand

these novels you must recognize that they are satires and why they are.

Catch-22 is a satire on World War II. This novel takes place on the

small island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean sea late in the war when Germany is

no longer a threat. It is the struggle of one man, Yossarian, to survive the war.

Throughout this novel Yossarian is trying to escape the war, and in order to do

so he does many improper things.

Good as Gold is about a Jewish man named Gold. It is about Gold's

experiences with the government while being employed in the White House. It also

deals in detail with Gold's family problems and Gold's struggle to write a book

on the contemporary Jewish society.

Throughout these two novels, Catch-22 and Good as Gold, Heller

criticizes many institutions. In Good as Gold it is the White House and

government as a whole, and in Catch-22 it is the military and medical


In Catch-22 the military is heavily satirized. Heller does this by

criticizing it. Karl agrees with this statement by offering an example of the

satire of both the military and civilian institutions in Catch-22:

The influence of mail clerk Wintergreen, the computer

foul-up that promotes Major Major, and the petty

rivalries among officers satirizes the communication

failures and the cut-throat competition Heller saw

within both the civilian and military bureaucracies of

the 1950's. Even the Civil Rights movement, not yet

widespread in the 1950's, is satirized in Colonel

Cathcart attitudes toward enlisted men. (23)

Karl summarizes the satirazation of the military with this:

The enemy in Heller's book is not simply the chaos of

war, but also the deadly inhuman bureaucracy of the

military-economic establishment which clams to be a

stay against chaos while it threatens human life more

insidiously then battle itself.

Heller also questions the need for the death and carnage throughout the novel

asking if it is really necessary.

Many other institutions are also satirized in Catch-22. Bryant points

out the extreme variety of institutions that Heller satirizes with this "His

satire is directed toward the institutions that make up society, business,

psychiatry, medicine, law, the military. . ." (Bryant 228).

Medicine is one of the institutions that is heavily satirized. He does

this by portraying medicine as a science that is almost barbaric and not exact.

He writes of how the men of the squadron used the hospital as a way out of

battle. Catch-22 it self begins in the hospital where Yossarian is faking

Jaundice of the liver in order to avoid battle. Many characters also take this

up as a form of staying out of battle. Heller addresses the barbarism of

medicine with Dr. Daneeka's aides. He writes of them painting peoples gums and

feet violet in order to ward of certain illnesses.

In Catch-22 Heller also satirize religion. This occurs in Chapter

Nineteen when Colonel Cathcart is aspiring to become a general. In this chapter

religion is satirized in a number of ways. The first is when Colonel Cathcart

uses it for a social icon to improve his chance of becoming general. Dr. Peek

agrees with this by saying ". . . we see a satire on religion used as a matter

of social status" (25).

In Catch-22 there is also one more major satiriazation it is that of

industry and finance. The reason this is true is because of certain things Milo

says such as "What's good for the syndicate is good for the country" (Karl 34).

Good as Gold is manly a satire on the White House and government. Heller

portrays the White House as being, "disgraceful," according to Merrill. Merrill

believes that this work criticizes politics almost from page one and that it

does an excellent job of it in fact he writes "A number of reviewers found that

the Washington satire ‘brilliant and incisive'. . . (103).

The other device that Heller uses is humor. Catch-22 is so satirical in

places that it is hilarious. Mr. Heller's talent and use of comedy is so

prevalent in these novels that it caused The Atlantic to write "Mr. Heller's

talents for comedy are so considerable that one gets irritated when he keeps

pressing" (Phoenix 31). Other critics such as Brustein also wrote that Heller's

works are extremely hilarious (228).

Although the novel is funny is uses humor in order to further satirize.

Dr. Peek agrees with this statement by saying that "It's [Catch-22] not a flag-

-waving war adventure, but a novel using humor to discredit or ridicule aspects

of out society" (24). Dr. Peek also goes on to comment on the amount of comical

dialogue in the novel. He says that it contains a significant amount of this

dialogue and that it further adds to the humor (11). Heller even takes his humor

as far as naming his characters comically. Dr. Karl points out the comical

naming of Major Major which turns into Major Major Major Major with his

accidental promotion (11). The attaching of the prefix "Hungry" to Joe's name in

the novel is also comical, but Heller does not stop at that he goes as far as

naming a character Scheisskopf, the parade crazed lieutenant, which actually

means "shithead." (Peek 10).

Not only does Heller name characters comically he makes them act

comically. The Loyalty Oath Crusade is an excellent example of this. This

crusade is so completely absurd that it is humorous. Another example of the

humor in this novel is the parades that Scheisskopf orders. It is not that he

orders these parades that is comical it is his how serious he takes them. He

comments to himself throughout the novel on how he will improve his parades.

These ideas include nailing his marchers arms in the proper place.

Perhaps one of the best examples of a comical character and who acts

satirically is Milo Minderbinder. Milo runs a black-market syndicate in which he

claims everyone gets the profits. Milo's company acts as everything from a food

supplier to a mercenary. The Germans hire Milo to do a number of missions. The

one that Heller writes about in particular detail is the mission where Milo

bombs his own squadron killing countless lives. Heller writes that Milo claimed

responsibility for the act. As one would expect Milo would be arrested, but

Heller carries the satire further by having Milo go scott free after he says "it

made a huge net profit" (Peek 27).

Another of Heller's comical characters is the character of Peckem. In

the novel Peckem along with Colonel Korn plot to take over General Dreedle's

command. They do this by placing priority on such things as a perfect bomb

pattern which endangers many men's life's. Heller's description of Peckem is in

itself comical he describes him as having the "ability to get men to agree"

(Peek 20).

Still one further element of Heller's humor is his comical language. The

dialogue is extremely comical at times. An example of this is the hearing where

Clevinger is being tried. Throughout this entire scene the characters often

retort with just one word and even contradict something they said a moment ago.

Dr.Peek believes that the squadron sometimes overcomes the officers command of

the them by comical language (36).

Heller uses irony throughout both novels in titles and characters in

order to satirize. Throughout Catch-22 Heller discusses the theme of reality and

appearance. He also discusses the difference between what is said and what is

real. This leads to Heller's irony. The best example of this theme of reality is

when Colonel Catchart is discussing whether to punish Yossarian or give him a

medal (Peek 21). Dr. Peek also believes that the novel juxtaposes scenes in

order to great a "ironic perspective" (Peek 10).

In both Good as Gold and Catch-22 Heller names the books ironically. The

title of Catch-22 is very ironic because the definition of Catch-22 is that in

order to be removed from duty you must be insane. The catch to it is that if you

go to a doctor because you believe that you are insane and you want to be

removed from combat duty you cannot. The reason for this is that if you believe

you are insane and want to be removed from duty you must be sane because you

don't want to fight, hence risking death, any more. Olderman wrote about the

catch saying this " Catch-22 is the principle that informs the military-economic

machine, giving it power and making war possible in the first place . . . the

illogical must be done because the high command [Catch-22] says it is logical"


The title of Good as Gold is also ironic. It is because Good as Gold is

the name of the contemporary Jewish novel that Professor Gold writes in Heller's

work. The irony of the title means to say that the novel he writes is only as

true and good as Gold is himself.

Heller also makes his characters act ironically in both novels. In

Catch-22 "Heller treats the senior officers in his book with criticism and scorn.

General Dreedle's want to shoot Danby for moaning is an excellent example of his

portrayal of senior officers as incompetent, ridiculous characters" (Merrill 16).

The pinnacle of Heller's irony and therefore satire is in the characters and

situations surrounding the characters of Dr. Daneeka and Mudd. The satire in

both these incidents is directed toward record keeping. In Dr. Daneeka's case he

is believed dead because the plane he was supposed to be on crashed, yet he is

really alive. The opposite is true in the Mudd situation. In this situation Mudd

is killed before he signs onto the combat roster so therefore he is treated as

being alive while really dead as being alive. This treatment is such as his bags

will not be removed from his former tent, and also all of the enlisted men speak

of him throughout the book. Dr. Peek also points out one further ironic

highlight in the novel, McWatt's death. He believes that McWatt's death is

ironic because McWatt had no malice yet he was violently killed (Peek 24).

Good as Gold also has a certain element of irony although it is less

apparent. The characters of the White House seem to take their job lightly and

do the improper things. The offering of a White House job as high-level as the

Secretary of State to Professor Gold by Ralph Newsome, the presidential aide,

simply because the president liked Gold's book on him is ironic and a excellent

example of satire.

In Catch-22 Heller also portrays characters that hold high level

positions in the military as being incompetent and irresponsible. Merrill

believes that almost all of the characters in the novel are portrayed

incompetent which is according to satiric fashions. He sites the numerous

doctors that Yossarian fooled by faking a liver condition. He also cites Gus and

Wes, Doctor Daneeka's assistants, as being incompetent for their rushing of

people to the hospital for a fever and their painting to ill people's' toes and

gums violet (Merrill 18).

It is also obvious in the novel that the military decisions are made in

a absurd way and are highly illogical. The prime example of this is in the

character Wintergreen who intercepts mail between the generals and doctors

thereby allowing him to change orders to his liking. On this subject Burgess

commented in his work on contemporary fiction by saying "His approach [Heller's]

is not merely satirical it is surrealistic, absurd, even lunatic, though the aim

is serious enough to show . . . the monstrous egotism of the top brass" (Burgess

140). This example of Wintergreen and the Burgess quote further show the

irresponsibility and incompetence of high ranking officers.

Heller portrays the military in Catch-22 as being exploitative of it's

soldiers and society. This is true in certain circumstances such as the tight

bomb pattern that Colonel Cathcart deems imperative in order for him to be

raised in command level. The military seems to act irresponsibly almost all the

time. At one point in the novel the military ordered a whole civilian town

destroyed in order to obtain a picture of a tight bomb pattern. This portraysion

goes farther then a tight bomb pattern it extends to the point of total control

of the soldiers in the military. Dr. Peek comments on this saying that ". . .

satire against dominating bureaucracy in general as the squadron begins to

realize that administrators whose job is to serve them have taken control of

their lives instead" (20).

The last device that Heller uses to create satire is in Good as Gold. In

this novel he uses extreme amounts of caricature. This occurs especially in the

White House characters. Merrill also points out Heller's caricature of Jewish

people as whole by saying that their are no Jews in Good as Gold only

"caricatures conceived on a level somewhat between sitcom and slapstick" (100).

Heller's two novels, Catch-22 and Good as Gold, in short contain much

satire. Catch-22 contains satire which is deeply integrated into it's

architecture, while Good as Gold is more superficial but still substantial.

While Catch-22 satirizes primarily the military, Good as Gold satirizes the

White House and government. These two novels contain many devices such as humor,

irony, and caricature in order to achieve the desired effect of satire. As Karl

points out Catch-22 had a profound effect on peoples views on war and also a

impact on war novel's of the 1960's and 1970's. If these novels are read as

anything but satires they will not be appreciated nor understood totally.

Works Cited

Brustein, Robert. "The Logic of Survival in a Lunatic World." The Critic as

Artist: Essay on Books 1920-1970 1972:47-54. Rpt. in "Heller, Joseph."

Contemporary Literary Criticism. Eds. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale,

1975. 228.

Bryant, Jerry H. The Open Decision: The Contemporary American Novel

and It's Intellectual Background. 1970:156-159. Rpt. in. "Heller,

Joseph." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Eds. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 3.

Detroit: Gale, 1975. 229.

Burgess, Anthony. The Novel: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction. 1967:53. Rpt.

in "Heller, Joseph." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley.

Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1973. 140.

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Dell, Aug 1963.

Heller, Joseph. Good as Gold. New York: Simon,1979.

Karl, Frederick R. Barron's Book Notes Joseph Heller's Catch-22 (1983).

American Online.

Merrill, Robert. Joseph Heller. Ed. Warren French. Twayne's United

States Authors Series. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

Olderman, Raymond M. "The Grail Knight Departs." Beyond the Waste Lands: A

Study of the American Novel in the Nineteen-Sixties. Rpt. in "Heller,

Joseph." Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 3.

Detroit: Gale, 1975. 229-230.

Peek, C. A., Ph.D. Cliffs Notes on Heller's Catch-22. Ed. Gary Carey. Cliff

Notes. Lincoln: Cliff, 1993.

Phoenix, James. "Joseph Heller: The Comedian." Atlantic Sept 1987: 47-52.

About this resource

This coursework was submitted to us by a student in order to help you with your studies.

Search our content:

  • Download this page
  • Print this page
  • Search again

  • Word count:

    This page has approximately words.



    If you use part of this page in your own work, you need to provide a citation, as follows:

    Essay UK, Catch 22 Satire On Wwii. Available from: <> [28-05-20].

    More information:

    If you are the original author of this content and no longer wish to have it published on our website then please click on the link below to request removal: