Yossarian's Journey Through the World of Catch-22

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Yossarian's Journey through the World of Catch-22

Philosophers and intellectuals have examined man's status as a social being in every era of human history. The three strongest stances on this issue – each overlapping one another to some extent – generated from the Renaissance era, over four hundred years ago. The first viewpoint, proposed by John Locke, was that humans were innately good, and that all humans, through sacrificing some of his individuality to a collective unit of humans called ‘society', would gain by moving forward together. The second viewpoint, proposed by Thomas Hobbes, concurs with Locke that man's ideal position is within a society; however, Hobbes argued that humans are essentially evil and that civilization restrains humans from their primitive urges. The third viewpoint – and that most pertinent to Joseph Heller's Catch-22 – was championed by Jean-Paul Rousseau. He agreed with Locke that man was essentially good (thereby disagreeing with Hobbes), and he agreed with Hobbes that society restrains humans from their natural state. However, the natural state Rousseau refers to is the ideal state of man – unrestrained by society, free to do whatever he wishes. In this sense, he disagrees with Locke that sacrificing to the collective results in an advancement of mankind, and founds his own brand of individualism that focuses on man apart from society as man is meant to be. This theme is also central to Catch-22, as Heller asserts man can only save himself from the fetters of society by refusing its dominance over the self. In the novel Catch-22, Yossarian – the protagonist – is a lead bombardier during WWII in the U.S. Air Force in Italy determined to stay alive. Their base in fictitious Pianosa and the military bureaucracy that runs it becomes a metaphor for what Heller considers a dangerously collectivist society. In Catch-22, Yossarian struggles to preserve himself and his sanity in the face of an absurd world run by an amoral bureaucracy. Although he fails to effectively subvert the system while submerged in it, through realizing that saving the spiritual self takes precedence over saving the physical self, he emerges as a manifestation of Heller's morality of refusal by refusing to serve the military and deserting it.

The antihero is a staple of literary absurdism – a type of literature that maintains man's surroundings are indifferent or hostile to his struggles in life. The antihero – as implied by his name – carries nontraditional values and performs non-heroic acts because of his values. In the first half of the novel, Yossarian's antiheroism results from his discontinuous and hostile environment; however, his actions do not properly serve his goal of survival. To establish a discontinuous environment, Heller employs a seemingly haphazard – but in fact quite structured – style of cyclical narration that adds layers of depth to each event each time around. Although many people have tried to place each event in Catch-22 in ‘real time', "the real point to be made about the chronology is that Heller chose not to unravel it… It seems that Heller quite seriously wished to create the impression of chaos or formlessness" (Merrill 39). It makes sense, for the pseudo-formlessness that Heller creates allows him to "introduce numerous repetitions without undue awkwardness" (Merrill 40). Heller uses repetitions – most frequently in the form of déjà vu – to emphasize important events (Potts 28). The first time Heller introduces an event – such as Snowden's death, the soldier in white, Mudd's death – he treats it lightly with a dash of satirical humor, but as the novel proceeds and the passage reappears, the tone darkens and more of the event's true significance appears (Potts 28). Thus, "Heller will never use comedy for its own sake; each joke has a wider significance in the intricate pattern, so that laughter becomes a prologue for some grotesque revelation" (Brustein 30). Heller...
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