Antiheroism in Catch-22

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Anti Heroism in American Literature
       In America today, soldiers are portrayed as vigorously heroic men who are passionate about defending their country. Joseph Heller’s wartime novel Catch-22, however, depicts soldiers as men that oppose the typical definition of “hero.” These men value their own prosperity over their countries’ welfare and also the other men in their squadron. The main character, Yossarian, fears the inevitable force of death that he faces everyday, and because of this, he does not fit the standard image of an American soldier. Hypocrisy is also extremely prevalent in Catch-22, and this common theme conflicts with the gallantry that is expected of all soldiers. The lack of freedom that the soldiers on the Island of Pianosa experience prevents them from pursuing happiness and learning integrity, which are extremely important characteristics in the typical protagonist. From this lack of freedom, catch-22 is created—an idea that describes a problematic situation where resolutions are unattainable. These forces of opposition coerce the men to be seen as antiheroes. However, despite the fact that they don’t agree with all of common traits of a hero, they can still be seen as compassionate men, who are willing to fight for what they think is just.        Heller's main character, Yossarian, represents America's idea of an anti-hero. He does not conform, for he does not believe in what we think is rational and he does not accept the ideas of Modernism (Telgen). Yossarian’s anxiety often takes over his decision-making and this prevents him from going on missions to defend his country in the war. His fear of death began when he experienced his combat partner, Snowden, dying in combat: Yossarian was cold, too, and shivering uncontrollably. He felt goose pimples clacking all over him as he gazed down despondently at the grim secret Snowden had spilled all over the messy floor. It was easy to read the message in his entrails. Man was matter that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all. (442) Death is irrevocable, and this fact causes Yossarian to break apart from the conformity in his squadron and also creates a façade of insanity in Yossarian. His obsession in staying alive and keeping himself independent creates a desperado in a world where one must risk his life and kill innocents in circumstances deemed unnecessary. Since his life does not seem to matter to those around him, he is viewed as hero to those who remain alien to the military world because he is struggling to keep his sanity (Gillespie and Naden). Because of his immense form of anxiety, Yossarian starts to form lies that will keep him from going on more missions. He lies to the doctors of his squadron, “Actually, the pain in his liver had gone away, but Yossarian didn't say anything and the doctors never suspected” (2). A typical hero is morally just, and would not lie to his superiors. Therefore, Yossarian is essentially the epitome of an anti-hero in American literature, whether his insanity is justifiable or not.

A characteristic of an anti-hero is hypocrisy. There are many hypocrites in Catch-22, and these men fabricate many situations of irony that also emphasize the lack of heroism in the novel. Much of this corruption is centered on the leaders of the squadron, especially Colonel Cathcart. This Colonel only cares about his own image, and he is constantly putting his men in danger by increasing the number of missions they must go on in order for him to gain benefit. “Thus, he represents not just military corruption, but the self-absorbed American businessman. Down deep, he is insecure, and relies on Colonel Korn to help him succeed. He hates Yossarian for standing up to him” (Telgen). This fact does not portray a hero at all, and is also a reason why many of the men are not heroes...
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