catch-22 technique #
Literature of the Absurd #
Society is usually controlled and manipulated by the powerful over the weak. Perhaps the first absurdist writer was Aesop: “We hang petty thieves, the great ones are appointed to high office.”
Horace and Juvenal used their wit to send up the pompous leaders of their times.
European Carnivals of Medieval and the Renaissance “were a subversive force, turning power and authority on its head and inverting the priorities of power. humour stems from a desire to be free of oppression. It deflates the pompous and pretentious, restoring the human dignity of ordinary people”.
Jonathon Swift and Samuel Johnson both ridicule authorities for their nonsence.
George Orwell and Aldous Huxley created Juvenalian mirrors of their own societies to address what they saw as dangerous social and political tendencies.
The ghastly effects of the two wars led to generations embracing silliness or absurdism as a reaction to the absurdity of modern warfare.
Alice in Wonderland, the Dadaist movement, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers, Spike Milligan, , the Goons, Peter Dudley and Peter Moore, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Heller, John Cleese and Monty Python, … All were indications of a transcendent silliness.
Giving up on rational comment and resorting to buffoonery and ridicule to highlight the infinite ignorance of a world that refuses to make sense. Spin doctors create a narrative that we are simply expected to accept as real – when it is so patently obvious it bears no resemblance to the real world.
Heller invents a series of lunatic incidents to show that the comic formula of Catch-22, applies not only to the insanity of war, but to love, business, medicine and even religion.
Non-lineal time #
Catch-22 uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from the points of view of different characters.
The separate storylines are out of sequence so the timeline develops along with the plot. The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home.
The development of the novel can be split into segments.
The first (chapters 1–11) broadly follows the story fragmented between characters, but in a single chronological time in 1944.
The second (chapters 12–20) flashes back to focus primarily on the “Great Big Siege of Bologna” before once again jumping to the chronological ‘present’ of 1944 in the third part (chapter 21–25).
The fourth (chapters 26–28) flashes back to the origins and growth of Milo’s syndicate, with the fifth part (chapter 28–32) returning again to the narrative present but keeping to the same tone of the previous four.
The sixth and final part (chapter 32 on) remains in the story’s present, but takes a much darker turn and spends the remaining chapters focusing on the serious and brutal nature of war and life in general.
Previously the reader had been cushioned from experiencing the full horror of events, but in the final section, the events are laid bare. The horror begins with the attack on the undefended Italian mountain village, with the following chapters involving despair (Doc Daneeka and the Chaplain), disappearance in combat (Orr and Clevinger), disappearance caused by the army (Dunbar) or death of most of Yossarian’s friends (Nately, McWatt, Mudd, Kid Sampson, Dobbs, Chief White Halfoat and Hungry Joe), culminating in the unspeakable horrors of Chapter 39, in particular the rape and murder of Michaela, who represents pure innocence.
In Chapter 41 the full details of the gruesome death of Snowden are finally revealed. Despite this, the novel ends on an upbeat note with Yossarian learning of Orr’s miraculous escape to Sweden and Yossarian’s pledge to follow him there.
Literature of the Absurd #
The Literature of the absurd attempts to depict a grotesque caricature of our world; a world without faith, meaning, direction or freedom of will. Human life is more and more removed from natural; we are alienated from the earth and each other. As human behaviour becomes more conditioned and psychologically manipulated and pre-determined by the conformity of the mass media, it is no longer governed by logic or the rational.
The meaningless and fecklessness (loss of a sense of direction and purpose) of life is depicted as rambling often chaotic structure of the works. Nothing is sequential and nothing follows from that which went before.
The arbitrariness of decision making is indicated in the capricious way the promotions system works in most bureaucracies, especially the army. There seems little rhyme or reason for many decisions that are made- they are whimsical and illogical.
The Literature of the Absurd shows the world as an incomprehensible place. Distortions occur both in time and place that perplex us. Language fails to communicate and explain symptoms.
The ghastly effects of the two wars led to generations embracing silliness or absurdism as a reaction to the absurdity of modern warfare. Alice in Wonderland, the Dadaist movement, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx brothers, Spike Milligan, , the Goons, Peter Dudley and Peter Moore, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Heller, John Cleese and Monty Python, … All were indications of a transcendent silliness. Giving up on rational comment and resorting to buffoonery and ridicule to highlight the infinite ignorance of a world that refuses to make sense. Spin doctors create a narrative that we are simply expected to accept as real – when it is so patently obvious it bears no resemblance to the real world. Specious arguments trump genuine dialogue.
For a full discussion of the literature of Absurd see:
For a fuller analysis of satire see:
The Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade Parodies McCarthism’s obsession with patriotism.
Captain Black insisted that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. (McCarthism)
And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was the greatest piece of music ever composed.
To Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren, the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a glorious pain in the ass, since it complicated their task of organizing the crews for each combat mission. Men were tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and singing, and the missions took hours longer to get under way. Effective emergency action became impossible, but Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren were both too timid to raise any outcry against Captain Black, who scrupulously enforced each day the doctrine of ‘Continual Reaffirmation’ that he had originated, a doctrine designed to trap all those men who had become disloyal since the last time they had signed a loyalty oath the day before .
Satire uses humour in poking fun, ridiculing or deriding the behaviour of people, especially those who pretend or are filled with self-importance without cause.
- Lieutenant Scheisskopf was rather glad that war had broken out, since it gave him an opportunity to wear an officer’s uniform every day and say ‘Men’ in a clipped, military voice to the bunches of kids who fell into his clutches every eight weeks on their way to the butcher’s block.
Irony has the ability to heighten and hold the reader’s interest by giving pleasure, relief, humour and stimulus. It is an inclusive device seeming to take the responder into the composer’s confidence. Irony is seldom malicious or spiteful.
Milo’s economic activities are all justified because he makes a profit; his best costumers are the Germans, he bombs his own airstrip, he appropriates the medicines from the first aid kits…
While in Rome, Aarfy kills a girl, but when the police arrive, they arrest Yossarian for AWOL.
The Chaplain’s assistant, Whitcombe is an atheist.
Cathcart wants the Chaplain to offer prayers that stay away from biblical references and don’t mention God.
In Rome a man calls “police! Help!” while the Police are beating him.
Little official correspondence reflects reality - pro-forma letters for fatalities, impersonal notifications for solemn occasions.
The system sends men to war. “They’re not going to send a crazy man out ot get kill, are they?”
“Who else would go?”
Mudd’s belongings, left in Yossarian’s tent, could not be moved because he didn’t officially exist.
The country was in peril; he was jeopardising his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.
Through grotesque comedy, Heller has found a way to confront the humbug, hypocrisy, cruelty and sheer stupidity of our mass society, exposing ruthless self-advancement, gruesome callousness and flagrant disregard for human life.
Colonel Korn, on Yossarian’s failures and the mentality of war: “to act boastfully about something we should be ashamed of - that’s a trick that never seems to fail.”
Havermeyer is praised as the best bombardier because he refuses to take evasive action, risking the lives of all his crew.
“Yossarian’s heart sank. Something was terribly wrong if everything was all right and they had no excuse for turning back.”
Kid Sampson- only a young kid, but strong like Samson in the Bible.
Scheisskopf - German for shit head. Rises to the top.
Orr - alternative options, he uses his oar to paddle to Sweden, a neutral country.
Chief Whiteoat - Half breed, exists in two world - a fractured identity.
Peckham - Pecking order - pecky.
Mudd - Dead man whose belonging remain in Yossarian’s tent. His name was mudd.
Nately - innate - born to a good family.
Colonel Black - evil
Doris Duz - or does she? (Emily Mae or she may not)
Appleby - as American as apple pie.
Snowden - pure as snow - Sweden. “I’m cold”" Luciana - latin for light
Unifying and recurring incidents #
- Number of Missions raised from 25, 30, 40, 50, 80…
- Nately’s whore
- Milo’s missions
- Doc Daneeka (22 times)
- Hospital visits
- Mudd mentioned 21 times -“dead man wasn’t easy to live with”.
- Snowden’s death alluded to 22 times before his “secret” revealed.
- Rome as a place of rest and recreation.
- Eyes: diseased, amaged, distorted -
a) doctor’s - insufficient to diagnose illnesses
b) Dunbar staring at ceiling like a doll’s
c) dyding colonel - cavernous, sad, mildewed
d) Clevenger’s undernourished - sees one side of question, but never the other side.
e) Sheisskopf has poor eyesight
f) Aarfy has little reptilian eyes
g) Milo’s “disunited eyes” never looked at the same thing at the same time.
h) Appleby - Orr claims he has “flies in his eyes” so he can’t see things as they really are.
Heller appears to be saying that people only see what they want to see and fail to see reality; only illusions. The High Command are not interested in the suffering of people, merely how they will appear - Cathcart’s obsession with “feathers in his cap” compared to “Black marks”
- I.B.M. not around until the early 1950’s
- Helicopters not used till after WWII
- Business ethics arose in the 1950’s.
- Loyalty Oaths - a feature of McCarthism from 1948.