AP Lang 5th
Van de Motter
26 February 2013
The Absurdity of War Seen through Catch-22
Literally and figuratively speaking, Catch-22 is a four hundred and sixty two paged mental exercise. It is ridden with paradoxes, a fragmented storyline, imperfect characters, and oddly-timed comedy, all of which Joseph Heller adroitly uses to illustrate a point. Drawing on his service in the United States Air force during World War Two, Joseph Heller utilizes Catch-22 to convey his anti-war message.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1923, Joseph Heller experienced death early in his life when his father died of a failed operation, which would manifest itself in Heller’s darker writing style. With his mother’s help, he was able to graduate from high school in 1941, and went on to fly sixty combat missions as a B-25 Bomber with the 488th Bombardment Squadron of the 340th Bomb Group in the 12th Air Force during World War Two. He formed a negative opinion of war, which he would carry for the rest of his life, due to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. After he was relieved from duty, he aspired to higher education at the University of South Carolina, New York University, and Oxford, using his knowledge of writing and experiences from the war to craft his bestselling novel Catch-22.
Shortly after Catch-22’s release in 1961, it became critically acclaimed by readers nationwide and later worldwide. It especially caught on because of the Vietnam War which was happening at the time. Some characters’ actions were harshly criticized and its anti-war message was negatively received because of America’s involvement in the war at the time (Merrill). However, critics applauded its humor in relation to its horror. Regardless of reception the word Catch-22 was added to the English Language in the same year Catch-22 was released, meaning a frustrating situation in which one is trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.
Catch-22 mainly follows John Yossarian’s experiences and recounts through an omniscient perspective, often exploring other loosely related characters’ experiences and recollections. At the core, Yossarian is a slightly modified version of Heller’s life during the war; Yossarian is a bombardier in the 27th squadron in the United States Air force during World War Two, though the two’s lives diverge. Yossarian becomes deeply concerned with his own safety and quests diligently to be sent home, though he cannot escape because of the paradox of Catch-22. Ultimately, he realizes there is no paradox flees the dangerous machine of the military by desertion.
Heller expresses the absurdity of war partly by satirizing the image of the stereotypical soldier. He deserts the typical portrayal of soldiers as people of upstanding character and morals by giving each their own dramatic affliction, coupled with assigning each character his own chapter as to develop them in such a way that the reader views them as absurd. For example, Colonel Cathcart aspires to impress his superiors by raising the number of required combat missions, though he endangers his soldiers in the process. His endless ambition causes one of the main conflicts in the novel because “‘men in other groups are being sent home with fifty and fifty-five [missions]’” while his quota well above sixty, and he wasn’t going to stop raising it anytime soon (Heller 397). “He ought to increase the number at once to seventy, eighty, a hundred, or even two hundred, three hundred, or six thousand!” (Heller 219). Hungry Joe, one of Yossarian’s fellow soldiers, dutifully fulfills his combat mission quota. However, he screams in his sleep if he doesn’t have a mission the next day. Nately encourages prostitution; Orr fails his missions purposefully; Lieutenant Sceisskopf (German for poop-head) is engrossed with parades; Chief White Halfoat died of pneumonia simply because he wanted to die of pneumonia. Dunbar is lethargic; his maxim being “live forever or die in the...
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