by Joseph Heller

A Review by Scott finished Jan. 15, 2012

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

Utterly amazing book. I don't know where to start when it comes to Catch-22. My paltry synopsis above does nothing to capture what makes this book so great, and I don't have much faith that my critique here will either. Suffice it to say, this book is wonderful, and though I've only just finished it, I think it is easily one of the best books I've ever read. I can't wait to read it again because there are so many great moments that are so small a synopsis or critique could never mention them all, and only by reading the book again could I experience them. If that's not high praise, I don't know what is.

Two things entered my head as I started reading Catch-22. First, all these people are crazy. Second, the structure of this book is crazy. Let's start with the second. The book frequently, and without indication or warning, jumps back and forth through time. A character's name may pop up, and suddenly the text will relate a story about that character from the past or future. This technique is quite disorienting at first, but once I became accustomed to it, I began to really enjoy.

There are a few reasons the technique works despite initially being disorienting and difficult to follow. First, Catch-22 is more a book about characters than one about a specific plot. Thus, it's okay if you are slightly confused by the order of events, because what is more important is that these "asides" allow you to understand the numerous characters better. Second, Heller uses certain key points to help orient the reader to when things are happening. In particular, the number of missions the squadron has to fly. Depending on that number, you know "when" you are in the timeline of the novel.

Finally, by the middle of the book, you are so familiar with the rhythm and style of these transitions, as well as the stories and characters they revolve around, that it's no trouble at all to determine what is happening. This aspect of the book is another reason I want to read it again. A second time through it won't take as long to fall into this grove, and I think it will make the beginning of the book even better.

The book is also extremely funny, though the humor is often very bitter and very ironic. Still, scenes such as Clevinger's "who's on first" style trial, or the entire scenario surrounding Yossarian being attacked by Nately's girlfriend and dropping her from the plan with a parachute, are funny in their own way.

I absolutely loved everything surrounding Orr and his slow, steady nature and planning for escape. It was great the way Yossarian initially is able to imagine him surviving the crash, and then the realization that he actually did at the end was simply perfect. It was also nice to get a little hope at the end, especially considering how depressing the chapter "The Eternal City" was.

Back to my original claim that the characters are crazy - this aspect is interesting because, initially, I could not relate or sympathize with any of the characters very easily. Suddenly, halfway through the book, characters started dying left and right and, suddenly, I realized how attached I had grown to them. They weren't crazy anymore, but just men dealing with a shocking and terrible situation in the only way they could. Each had their own way, but all of them were just trying to survive. The fact that Heller was able to execute on this was really impressive.

Yossarian is worth more investigation. At times he seems to be a coward, and yet he flew over 70 combat missions, and even went back for a second run on the bridge in order to destroy it. He seems insane at times, but how else can you deal with an insane situation? How can you make impossible decisions (betray the men in the company and go home, or risk more flights and die) without acting a little mad? There is one scene in particular, when Yossarian is being evaluated by a psychologist, and the psychologist lists all the reasons he's crazy. And yet, all the reasons he lists, are completely reasonable ways to react to a war. I certainly wouldn't expect that I could act any differently.

"'You're a frustrated, unhappy, disillusioned, undisciplined, maladjusted young man!' Major Sanderson's disposition seemed to mellow as he reeled off the uncomplimentary adjectives. "¦. 'You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you're at war and might get your head blown off any second.' 'I more than resent it, sir. I'm absolutely incensed.' 'You have deep-seated survival anxieties. And you don't like bigots, bullies, snobs, or hypocrites. Subconsciously there are many people you hate.' 'Consciously, sir, consciously,' Yossarian corrected in an effort to help. 'I hate them consciously.' 'You're antagonistic to the idea of being robbed, exploited, degraded, humiliated or deceived. Misery depresses you. Ignorance depresses you. Persecution depresses you. Violence depresses you. Slums depress you. Greed depresses you. Crime depresses you. Corruption depresses you.'"

I mean, is any of the unreasonable or unfair? Should we really look down upon Yossarian for feeling that way about any of those things?

The title of the book, which subsequently resulted in the phrase being added to the dictionary, is not surprisingly core to the book. There are times when it is explicit, and others when it is not, but there are constantly catch-22s throughout the text. I've recorded as many as I found and will list them below:

"There was only catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind"¦.Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to" (46). This is basically where the book defines the issue.

P. 58 contains an explicit reference to Catch-22, in which Doc Daneeka says it means "you've always got to do what your commanding officer tells you to." P. 101 contains a Catch-22 in relation to the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Major Major has forfeited the right to remove the dead man's belongings and thought Yossarian had the right, but Yossarian himself had no right to do it either.

P. 105 - Ex-P.F.C Wintergreen refers to Catch-22 explicitly in relation to his having to keep going "back over the hill" to get his job back, but that the next time he does he will be placed in the stockade. P.114 - the men of the squadron are faced with a Catch-22 when they must sign the loyalty oath, otherwise Milo won't feed them and they will starve to death.

P. 133 - Yossarian faces a Catch-22 with regard to the maid in the lime-colored panties when he falls in love with her "because she seemed to be the only woman left he could make love to without falling in love with." Yossarian faces another entertaining Catch-22 on p. 159 when he asks Luciana to marry him, but she refuses because he's crazy. When he asks why he's crazy, she tells him it is because he wants to marry her.

We see that Colonel Cathcart has created a Catch-22 for himself on p. 187 when we learn that he thinks highly of himself whenever he thinks of all those his own age who have not attained the rank of major, but then gets depressed when he thinks of those his age and younger who are already generals!

Aarfy describes a disturbing Catch-22 (p. 241) involving his fraternity brothers forcing girls to sleep with them, by threatening that if they didn't they would tell their parents that the girls were sleeping with them.

The old woman who ran the brothel tells Yossarian that the soldiers came and drove them away because of Catch-22 on p. 407. Yossarian is presented with the Catch-22 of betraying his friends and speaking well of Catchcart and Korn or being forced to fly more missions on p. 428.

Colonel Cathcart becomes caught in his own Catch-22 when, having forced so many men to fly upwards of 70 missions, he can't allow them to go home because he would have to requisition too many inexperienced men, thus causing an investigation (p. 442).

First Line

"It was love at first sight."

Joseph Heller the First Line of Catch-22

Last Line

"The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off."

Joseph Heller the Last Line of in Catch-22

Favorite Quote

"It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all."

Joseph Heller in Catch-22

Favorite Quote

"What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused, or abandoned. How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph? How many winners were losers, successes failures, and rich men poor men? How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings? How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to bodyguards, how many had never had souls? How many straight-and-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families and how many good people were bad people? When you added them all up and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere."

Joseph Heller in Catch-22

Originally Published Jan. 1, 1955

Paperback edition:

453 pages - Sept. 4, 1996

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