22 September 2014
It is often said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. While this statement may be a little extreme, the basic concept that power corrupts those it is given to is shown and satirized in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Heller emphasizes the incompetence, pettiness, and corruption rampant within the ranks. The officers are often blindly selfish, heartless, and wildly ambitious. They would do anything to simply gain more power, and use their power to subjugate those beneath them. The titular Catch-22s in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 are used as symbols of the power and oppression of bureaucratic authority. Catch-22s appear throughout the novel, in different contexts and for different purposes, but the result is always the same. The Catch-22 serves to remind those who it is used against that they are not in power. It is the embodiment of the power wielded by the bureaucratic organizations that govern their lives. Yossarian first experiences this when he begs Doc Daneeka to ground him, and Daneeka responds by introducing the concept of the Catch-22. “Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions” (Heller 46). The organization in this case is the military, which is trying to get its members to fly more missions and advance the war. The members are continuously pressured, squeezed, and cajoled into flying them with the patriotic messages and campaigns, but those who refuse are simply forced to. The Catch-22 is implemented for the sole purpose of forcing the men to do what they are told. It has no logic, and warrants no explanation other than the fact that it is being used. As illustrated in Daneeka’s example of Orr, victims of the Catch-22 were always given a path out, but the alternative was always either so undesirable or false that the victim had no other choice than to agree. Similar strands of logic permeate the novel, even outside the official uses of the Catch-22. Once again, Yossarian is subject to the paradoxical logic, only this time at the hands of Luciana. “You won’t marry me because I’m crazy, and you say I’m crazy because I want to marry you? Is that right?” (Heller 159) Luciana refuses to marry Yossarian because he is crazy, but what constitutes his craziness is the fact that he wants to marry her. It is this same twisted logic as that used by the army, only here it forbids him from marrying Luciana. However, once again, it keeps him from getting what he really wants. If he wants to marry Luciana, he is unable to because of his craziness, but if he is allowed to marry Luciana, it is because he doesn’t want to. No matter what he says or does, he is being blocked. While this particular use of the Catch-22 keeps its victims away from their goals, the logic can also be used by higher powers to manipulate the public opinion of certain topics. This is seen through Captain Black’s manipulation of others’ outward opinion of Major Major. Captain Black’s Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade required men to sign loyalty oaths before they were to be given food to eat as proof of their loyalty and patriotism. Black uses this opportunity to take revenge against Major Major, by accusing him of Communism, refusing to allow Major Major to sign loyalty oaths on the grounds of this false accusation. He then imparts the reasoning upon others that Major Major’s refusal to sign loyalty oaths and pledge to the US was a consequence of his Communist political affiliations. When he was confronted about this, he brushed it aside, merely stating that it would defeat the whole purpose of the crusade – essentially an admission that he was merely using the loyalty oaths to ostracize and foster public outrage at Major Major. Being as versatile as it is, the Catch-22’s logic can be used to achieve virtually any result. When Yossarian finds the old woman sobbing in Rome, he once again...
Cited: Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
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