Catch-22' was Joseph Heller's first novel and arose out of Heller's own experiences as a U.S. bombardier during World War II. It was published in 1961 and was subject to a great deal of criticism. It presented an unsentimental account of war, replacing the ideals of glory and honour with a nightmarish comedy of violence, bureaucracy and paradoxical madness. Most of the novel takes place in the last year of the war in Europe. It is set in Italy and is very much based on what actually happened, accurately depicting the capture of Rome and other such incidents. Initially, the critical response to Joseph Heller's first novel was mixed, with some of the most prestigious reviews being quite negative. Richard G. Stern, in The New York Times Book Review, wrote that the novel "gasps for want of craft and sensibility" and that the book was "no novel." However, it could be said that these views were arrived at care of a misinterpretation of the story because, Catch 22, despite being met by a great deal of criticism, also received much praise. Nelson Algren (The Nation) found that the novel was not only antiwar but a repudiation of all the horror, greed, complacency, ignorance, and "endless cunning" in society. The New Republic called it "one of the most bitterly funny works in the language" and it became widely recognized as the greatest satirical work ever written. It also came to be thought of as the signature novel of the 1960s and 70s, despite its World War II setting, spurring on Americans to question authority during two decades of hippies, protests and civil rights movements with Catch 22 fitting in perfectly. Its tone is shaped by the events of the 1950s (when it was written) and an attitude toward all wars, not just that one. Looking back, Heller recognized that World War II was a relatively popular' war for most Americans, a factor in some critical rejection of the novel. Catch-22 grew in popularity during the years of the Vietnam War, when the general population became more attuned to Yossarian's point of view.
Throughout the novel, the story's main protagonist (or antagonist depending on how you view his actions) is Yossarian, whom, along with his friends, must endure an exasperating and absurd existence defined by bureaucracy and brutality. It is bureaucracy which acts as the main antagonist. In the novel, it is represented by Colonel Cathcart and his commanding officers who constantly endanger the lives of the men under their command. The men are un-human resources in the eyes of their blindly ambitious superior officers. Colonel Cathcart and his commanding officers frame the unwritten rules of Catch-22 leaving the airmen in a no-win situation. It is the illogical laws of Catch-22 which emphasis the absurdity of bureaucracy.
The laws of Catch-22 are irrational and are designed to give the officers a power advantage and hence absolute control over the squadron. There is an abundance of examples of Catch-22 throughout the novel, which constantly recur to highlight the irrationality of what it represents.
One version of Catch-22 results in Yossarian having to continuously keep flying "combat mission after combat mission"; Doc Daneeka cannot ground him for insanity unless he requests him to do so, but, if he does so, he must be sane. This traps Yossarian in a paradox that determines whether he lives or dies, even though it is made only of words.
A more striking example is given by an old Italian woman in a ruined brothel: "They have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing." This is a defining statement, describing Catch-22 as something which doesn't actually exist. It is just the made-up name for an illogical argument, or rather, a series of illogical arguments designed to justify what is going on. It does, however, underpin the steadfast principle that might makes right'. This concept is further developed by the impotence of language in the novel. Snowden's death is an example of the...
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