Catch-22 Thematic Essay

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In life, we may all at times experience our own version of a catch-22; a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions. (Dictionary.com). Our desired outcome of the situation appears unattainable due to the ridiculous rules we are to abide by. In the novel Catch-22, the author Joseph Heller makes his thematic statement clear; war traps you in a catch-22, and there’s no way of escaping it. Joseph Heller develops this thematic statement through the main character Yossarian, a bombardier who is caught in the middle of the Catch-22 of the Second World War, with little hopes of ever getting out. As a bombardier in the war, Yossarian is ordered to fly bombing missions over enemy territory. These missions are extremely dangerous and put anyone who takes part in them at serious risk for being killed. Ironically, while the missions could very well get Yossarian killed, they are supposedly his only hope of ever getting out of the war alive. This is because once he flies enough missions, he will be sent home. (Or so his superior officers tell him). Each time Yossarian comes close to completing all of his missions, the colonels raise the number of missions. This way, no one completes their required number of missions, and no one gets sent home. Eventually, Yossarian becomes so fed up with the unjust bureaucracy and violence of the war, he abandons it altogether and secretly flees to Sweden. Although Yossarian did away with war, he knows that he will never be out of the dark. His commanding officers will be hot on his tail until he is found again and the never ending vicious cycle of Catch-22 will linger with him always.

In the first chapter we are introduced to Yossarian, who has taken refuge from the war in an Italian Military Hospital because of a pain in his liver. Lucky enough for Yossarian, his liver ailment is so short of being jaundice that it could not be treated, but he could not be discharged back out into war, either. Eventually, the pain in his liver disappears, but Yossarian can’t help but take advantage of the safe haven he is in. “Actually, the pain in his liver had gone away, but Yossarian didn’t say anything and the doctors never suspected.” (7). This is the perfect portrayal of the fact that Yossarian will take advantage of any loophole he can find to avoid being on the battlefront. Yossarian loathes the war so much, he will milk this “pain in his liver” for all it’s worth. Unfortunately, if we stand back and take a look at the big picture, Yossarian’s hospital stays are only temporary, and he must return to the war. In this specific instance, Yossarian eventually chooses to leave the hospital due to his deep annoyance with a patriotic Texan. No matter how many excuses Yossarian finds to avoid flying his missions, Catch-22 is always there to rear its ugly head.

A little further into the book, Yossarian’s paranoia of being killed in the war becomes more apparent. Yossarian is in the midst of battle with a fellow man named Clevinger while they argue about the enemy shooting at them. “’They’re trying to kill me,’ Yossarian told them calmly. ‘No one’s trying to kill you,’ Clevinger cried. ‘Then why are they shooting at me?’ Yossarian asked. ‘They’re shooting at everyone,’ Clevinger answered. ‘They’re trying to kill everyone.’ ‘And what difference does that make?’” (16). Yossarian is trying to explain to Clevinger why he is not crazy for thinking that people are trying to kill him. Clevinger views the war in a more casual manner because he knows it’s inevitable that the enemy is trying to kill them all. Yossarian takes the war very personally. He views it as the enemy pinpointing him, rather than his allies as a whole. Yossarian’s only concern is whether he gets out alive and he can’t help but be shaken up by the shots the enemy is firing. If he had his way, he would never step foot in the war again; but like always, the rule of Catch-22 stands like an...
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