Themes in Catch-22

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In Catch-22, Joseph Heller explores the value of life and morality and the absurdity of war through his contrasting characterizations of Milo Minderbinder and Yossarian, the military base setting, and the conflict between Yossarian and Colonel Cathcart. Catch-22 is a satire on the bureaucratic nature of the military during World War II. Throughout Catch-22, Heller explores different character’s reactions to the insane and arbitrary nature of the military bureaucracy. The protagonist, Yossarian, desires above all to preserve his life. However, his life is continually threatened by the increasing number of missions Colonel Cathcart, the principle antagonist of Catch-22, requires him to fly.

Heller characterizes Milo Minderbinder through the physiognomy of his last name. Minderbinder combines two of Milo’s characteristics - “mind” and “bind”. Milo has the lowly job of mess hall officer when he arrives on the military base in Pianosa. Milo explains to Yossarian that his goal is “give the men in this squadron the best meals in the whole world” (64). Milo creates an international syndicate that makes money by trading between the companies it owns. Even Yossarian frequently fails to understand how such a system is possible. Milo explains the system behind the syndicate: “I make a profit of three quarter cents apiece when I sell [the eggs] to me and a profit of two and three quarter cents apiece when I buy them back from me. That’s a total profit of six cents an egg” (230). However, what starts as a brilliant scheme to make money by buying food becomes sidelined when Milo begins selling information to both the Americans and the Germans. Heller explains Milo’s ability to manipulate both sides: “His planes were able to steal over in a sneak attack without alerting the German antiaircraft gunners; and since Milo knew about the attack, he was able to alert the German anti-aircraft gunners in sufficient time for them to begin firing accurately the moment the...
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