Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

       Ok, let me say right off the bat that this review will contain spoilers. It’s the only way I know how to do this. I am not skilled in literary analysis. I can only tell you how the book affected me, which is probably more important to the author. (It would be to me if I was the author.) And you can let me know if I should have just used the word “effected” instead of “affected”. I’m not sure anymore. I used to be better at that.

         I’ll give my critical analysis first, which is all my opinion, and then I’ll summarize, and that will be more fun.

  First: Catch 22 exposes the absurdity and insanity of war, and the general crookedness of those running things. In a way it is like Slaughterhouse Five in that the realities of war are explored, but in other ways the two books are quite different. Slaughterhouse Five deals with being a prisoner of war and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that comes after. Catch-22 deals with just wanting to leave the war, and the destruction that is brought on by the dishonest and greedy military hierarchy.  I’ll admit, I enjoy living in my little bubble of false security and naivete.  I like to think of soldiers as being proud of their service and as encouragers to others that serve. (Even those that fight). They have a sacred brotherhood. It has been said that WWII produced the greatest generation in our nation’s history. Their patriotism and willingness to sacrifice at home and abroad is unparalleled. Everyone who was left at home during the war also did their part to keep the country running. It bums me out to see this war painted in any other light.  I know war is war wherever and whenever it is.  I guess I just see that particular time in our history a little differently and I’d rather focus on the good that came out of it. Many people were liberated from unthinkable tyranny because brave soldiers fought for it.

      (If you are not a Christian, or are bothered by Christian themes, go ahead and skip this part. Or, if you are interested in getting to know more about me and how I operate on the inside, read this paragraph. It won’t take long.) 

Second: There is a filter that exists in me. Whenever I see or hear God’s name written or spoken abrasively, it bothers me. That makes it difficult sometimes to enjoy good literature. But I’m glad I have this filter. It is a reminder of Who dwells within me. The importance of His name and the proper use of His name is of immense importance to Him. I know this because He wrote a commandment about it. And then He reinforced the holiness, preciousness, importance and other-ness of His name many, many times throughout the rest of Scripture. That’s why it’s such a big deal to me. So much so that at one time I decided I would not own any book that carried this abuse of His name. It’s the reason I didn’t buy myself a copy of The Help, even though I loved that book. But since I started this reading challenge I haven’t maintained that standard. When I need a book from the list that is not available in the four libraries I have in my community, I have to borrow or purchase them. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m getting. (Which is why I have a free copy of “Of Mice and Men” available to anyone who wants it.) I got Catch 22 from a library and I’m glad I did. That’s not to say I’m not glad I read it, I am, but I began taking notes of the pages where I saw these ultimate profanities, thinking that if I loved the book enough to buy a copy then I could just mark out the ugliness with a black sharpie. Uh, not gonna happen with this one. I quit counting how many offenses there were before I read…well…not that many pages. And I will never give a book five stars that callously and flippantly abuses God’s name.

Now that we have all that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff.

Joseph Heller gets a “G” rating. For Genius.  I don’t know how someone comes up with a story like Catch 22 and sorts it all out and mixes it all back up on paper like this man did. This book is crazy. There are tons of characters. I got a few mixed up for a while and had to read Spark Notes to see if I was following correctly. I was kind of intimidated to read this one because everybody talks about how confusing it can be. They were right. And the copy I read was so dense and there were so many words on the page. It was definitely work at times. But I stuck with it and followed things pretty well.

The humor in this book made me think of MASH with the absurdity kicked up several notches. The main character,Yossarian, reminded me of Clinger and the bantering between characters was similar. And you know how Hawkeye was always doing his best to flirt and grope about with the nurses? Well, THAT is kicked up about 40 thousand notches as well. Heller makes sure the reader understands the loneliness and desperation these men experienced being so far from home and what they did to calm their angst. I won’t dwell there….moving on…..

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Lets talk characters:

Yossarian – Our hero. He has been a good soldier, he has flown his required number of missions and he is ready to go home. However, every time he completes his missions more are added. He believes he has done his fair share of fighting and no longer feels that it is morally correct for him to continue to risk his life. He believes, (and rightly so) that thousands of people want to kill him, and his superiors intentionally put him at risk to make them look better. In an effort of self-preservation, he fakes illness and spends a lot of time in the hospital. He begs the doctor to ground him on account of insanity. But Catch 22 prevents the doctor from doing so. The Catch 22 being that in order to be grounded you must be insane. However, anyone who asks to be grounded on the basis of insanity must be sane because no one sane would want to fly the missions. So therefore, he cannot be grounded. Because he is sane. That is the first Catch 22 mentioned in the book but there are MANY. Yossarian refuses to fly more missions, walks around naked for days, goes AWOL for awhile and even does what he can to sabotage some of the war efforts. He is just about nailed to the wall at the very end when he catches the biggest and best break EVER. I’ll leave it at that.

Milo Minderbinder – This guy drove me crazy. I don’t really know how to explain what all he did. There are a few chapters devoted to him and his “efforts for the war”. Milo was the Mess Hall guy. He was in charge of stocking the mess hall with all their food and supplies. Sounds basic enough, except that this guy gets on a plane, (his own plane) and flies all over Europe, whenever he wants, to buy, sell, and trade on the black market. He flies from country to country buying from this one and selling to that one all for the benefit of the “syndicate”. He is so wildly successful that he even becomes royalty in some countries and politically elite in others. Several of these countries being the enemies of the US. He once even had authority over some of the German army and had them bomb his own US base! Just to keep things fair! That is how ludicrous some of this story is! I thought if I had to go on one more food run with Milo I was gonna lose it. And just when I had decided that I could stand him no longer, he up and did the most selfless, sacrificial thing for Yossarian and Nately and it just blew me away. It really touched me.

Major Major Major – This poor guy, he really was named Major Major Major by his idiotic parents. First, middle and last people. Just let that sink in….Then he arrives on the scene, a soldier, at the airbase the story takes place in. Because of his name, the high ranking officials assume he is a major so they place him in that position automatically. The other guys don’t like that the new guy shows up and is automatically promoted to Major. They’re a little jealous. And Major Major Major becomes Major Major Major Major.

Orr – Yossarian’s roommate. He aggravates the mess out of Yossarian. He is a terrible pilot. Every time he flies a mission he gets shot down or crash lands in the ocean. He begs Yossarian to fly with him but Yossarian is like, “Dude….I’m trying to survive for Pete’s sake!” NO WAY was Yossarian gonna fly with him.

Much later in the story, Orr is shot down, his crew gets in the life boat as usual, Orr heads back in the plane for a second, his crew floats away, he gets in another raft, he continues to drift away from the crew and the rescue boat finds the crew. Not Orr.

This was upsetting to me. After everything I was exposed to in this book, being in the middle of WWII, I really expected death to come by bombs and guns, not by being lost at sea. What a disappointment for me, and for Orr. And EVERYTHING just got worse from there.    Death came in a myriad of ways after Orr. Yossarian’s pilot, McWatt, who was an excellent pilot, liked to play around in the plane and fly low over the base and over the beach and scare the MESS out of everyone. One day while he was training two pilots, he decided to have some fun. He flew low over the beach and his propeller hit one of his buddies standing in a boat and cut him right in half. Yep. (I’m just gonna take you there cause I had to go there). His top half fell in the water and his legs just stood there for a second or two. Everyone was horrified, including McWatt. He apparently forced his two trainee pilots out with their parachutes then he flew the plane into the side of a mountain.  From this point, more characters die and the heaviness just kind of lingers.

There is so much more that happened. There is a tremendous chase that ensues, threatening the life of Yossarian, and the biggest surprise ever on the last couple of pages. It was a VERY satisfying ending and I was really doubting that was possible. But Heller did it. That’s why he gets the “G”.

This is only a smidgen of where this book will take you. It is intricate, smart, ludicrous and mind-blowing. If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought.  I’m still thinking about it every day anyway.

I read Catch 22 as part of my LOST Book Club challenge. Cause, you know, I’m the LOST Super Fan and all that.

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2 thoughts on “Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

  1. This is one of my all time favorite books, I read it in the long long ago for my AP English class my senior year, and then I read it again after I was in the military… it definitely takes on a whole new meaning and feel. Let’s just say that some of the institutional/red tape nonsense isn’t really that far off.

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