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Literary Analysis of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 Essay

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Literary Analysis of Joseph Heller's Catch 22 Laughing in the face of war and death, literally, is one of the things that make the novel Catch-22 by Joseph Heller such an intriguing and original story. It was written in 1961, a time when, due to the fighting of the Second World War, all war novels were written with a dark and dreary tone, while still trying to continue the pre-conceived romantic notions about war. However, Joseph Heller strips away all of the romantic pretense, and pulling heavily on his own Air Force experience during WWII, presents war in its most raw, un-censored version. It takes away thoughts of being the amazing hero, and winning medals, and replaces them with the screwed up, bureaucratic way that we fight wars.…show more content…

While that alone, obviously, does not make the novel unique, the fact that the stories come in no particular order does. They do not appear to even be linked at times, yet in the end, through his masterful command of the English language, he manages to make all of the non-sense, and non-sequential stories come together to create one large picture. Each of these short stories has either their own lesson, or in some cases, its own conflict, rising action, resolution, and falling action. But even with this, they all are nothing more than a small piece of the puzzle that is the novel Catch-22. The book’s structure almost resembles what could be called a shotgun effect. There are many different little stories, or pellets, that all help add up to the central story, or the main grouping. Some of the stories intersect, and many of them pull up on experiences that occurred in other chapters. Other than paying attention to what past experiences are brought up and when, the novel still works hard to make sure that by the end of each chapter, even if the reader doesn’t understand it, the reader knows in which time period it happened, and where it fits in the timeline. The most common way that it accomplishes this is by bringing up the number of missions that they are now required to fly before they could be sent home. So even the fact that the 42 different stories occur in no particular order, and very often they don’t

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In Catch-22, Joseph Heller reveals the perversions of the human character and society. Using various themes and a unique style and structure, Heller satirizes war and its values as well as using the war setting to satirize society at large. By manipulating the "classic" war setting and language of the novel Heller is able to depict society as dark and twisted. Heller demonstrates his depiction of society through the institution of war (i.e. it's effects and problems during and after war). In the novel, the loss of individuality through the lives of the soldiers; the insanity of war and Heller's solution to insanity; and the idea of "there is always a catch" in life is shown to a dramatic extent. Heller's novel not only satirizes war, but all of society.

Catch-22 shows how the individual soldier loses his uniqueness not as much from the battlefield like other novels set during a war, but from the bureaucratic mentality. An example of this Lt. Scheisskopf's obsession with parades that he sees the men more as puppets than as human beings. At one point in the novel, he even wants to wire them together so their movements will be perfectly precise--just as mindless puppets would be. This theme also appears when Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions his squadron must fly--not for military purposes, but to solely enhance his prestige. One other example of this theme is in the novel, when Yossarian is wounded. He is told to take better care of his leg because it is government property. Soldiers, therefore, are not even people, but simply property that can be listed on an inventory. In a bureaucracy, as Heller shows, individuality does not matter.

Most war novels show that such things as lying, killing, adultery, and stealing are permissible if the ultimate goal is just--Catch-22 demonstrates this idea. For example, the men pleasure themselves with prostitutes in an apartment provided by the army. Also, one of the men steals life-raft supplies to trade. Despite the suppression of these important values, those such as honor and patriotism are also suppressed in the novel. The men fight for "what they had been told" was their country, but it's really only to make their officers look good. The officers at one point tell Yossarian that they are his "country". Here again, Heller shows the failures of a bureaucracy--how no values remain.

Whenever the men think they have found a solution to a problem, a catch defeats them. The men are grounded if they are insane, but if they recognize the insanity of their missions, they are sane--and must fly more missions. These men are trapped in a crazy world--each searching for his own solution. Each of them has their own unique and bizarre personal insanity (e.g. The bombardier, Havermeyer, zeroes straight in on targets, no matter how much antiaircraft fire peppers his plane. Other members of the squadron seem even crazier. Chief White Halfoat keeps threatening to slit his roommate's throat. Hungry Joe keeps everyone awake with his screaming nightmares. Corporal Snark puts soap in the men's food. Yossarian starts signing "Washington Irving" to letters he censors, and he goes naked for a few days--even when he is being awarded a medal.)--and as Heller suggests, the only sane response to a crazy situation is insanity. When Yossarian and his friends begin asking clever questions to disrupt boring educational sessions, Colonel Korn decides that only those who never ask questions may ask questions. When they want to discuss a problem with Major Major, they are allowed into his office only when he is out. Even when Yossarian is offered an apparently harmless deal that would allow him to go home as a hero, there is a catch. He must betray his friends by praising the officers who caused many of them to die. And as Heller shows, life is reduced to one frustrating paradox after another.

In form, Catch-22 is a social satire--it's a novel using absurd humor to discredit or ridicule aspects of our society. The target in Catch-22 is not just the self-serving attitudes of some military officers, but also the Air Force itself as a mad military bureaucracy. The humor in the novel along with descriptive styles such as:

Doc Daneeka, "roosted dolorously like a shivering turkey buzzard"; the mountains, blanketed in a "mesmerizing quiet," Yossarian, wet "with the feeling of warm slime," "lavender gloom clouding the entrance of the operations tent"

These descriptive styles help depart from pure realism--they serve to transcend physical reality by making sensations metaphors for states of mind and by attributing unusual qualities to objects, making the reader take a second look at familiar objects and feelings. These help to create new and altered perceptions of the world--common in satires as they try to solve the problem being satirized by having those satirized (the human character) realize its faults. One example of the absurd humor that helps to abandon realism for the reader are the deaths of some of the men--the war kills men in both expected and unexpected ways--some die through anti-aircraft fire, while others did in odd ways such as Clevinger whose plane disappeared in the clouds; Dunbar who simply disappears from the hospital; and Sampson who is killed by a propeller of one of the bombers--

this departure from pure realism (i.e. the exaggeration, the grotesque, the comic-like characters, the unusual deaths) is aimed to first make the reader laugh, then look back at horror at what amused them--and this is the technique Heller applies to satirize society.

One other obvious structural style that adds to the satirical purpose of the novel how it is organized--the novel is not organized chronologically--time is disjointed. This disjoining of time is used for effects in the novel such as deja vu to show that time equals mortality and to give the mind set and psychological impact of the men to the reader; but it primarily serves to confuse the reader--to have the reader take a second look--just as the descriptive sensation metaphors purposes.

Through various themes and structural and descriptive styles, Heller's Catch-22 is not the typical war story, but a satire. Heller gives us a different perception of war and society--such as the pointlessness of war and how when it is looked at closely hurts both the enemy and the allies--and from a greater perspective, how we humans inflict catastrophe on ourselves. Catch-22 ultimately makes us stop and think about the faults and tendencies of the human character. 

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