Joseph Heller who is perhaps one of the most famous writers of the 20th century writes on some emotional issues such as war. He does not deal with these issues in the normal fashion instead he criticizes them and the institutions that help carry these things out. Heller in fact goes beyond criticizing he satirizes. Throughout his two major novels Catch-22 and Good as Gold he satirizes almost all of America’s respectful institutions.
Catch-22 is a satire on World War II. This novel takes place on the small island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean sea late in the war when Germany is no longer a threat. It is the struggle of one man, Yossarian, to survive the war. Throughout this novel Yossarian is trying to escape the war, and in order to do so he does many improper things.
Good as Gold is about a Jewish man named Gold. It is about Gold’s experiences with the government while being employed in the White House. It also deals in detail with Gold’s family problems and Gold’s struggle to write a book on the contemporary Jewish society. Throughout these two novels, Catch-22 and Good as Gold, Heller criticizes many institutions. In Good as Gold it is the White House and government as a whole, and in Catch-22 it is the military and medical institutions.
In Catch-22 the military is heavily satirized. Heller does this by criticizing it. Karl agrees with this statement by offering an example of the satire of both the military and civilian institutions in Catch-22:
The influence of mail clerk Wintergreen, the computer foul-up that promotes Major Major, and the petty rivalries among officers satirizes the communication failures and the cut-throat competition Heller saw within both the civilian and military bureaucracies of the 1950’s. Even the Civil Rights movement, not yet widespread in the 1950’s, is satirized in Colonel Cathcart attitudes toward enlisted men. (23)
Karl summarizes the satirazation of the military with this:
The enemy in Heller’s book is not simply the chaos of war, but also the deadly inhuman bureaucracy of the military-economic establishment which clams to be a stay against chaos while it threatens human life more insidiously then battle itself.
Heller also questions the need for the death and carnage throughout the novel asking if it is really necessary.
Essay on Social Commentary in Catch-22
Social Commentary in Catch-22
Life is filled with situations that are very difficult to find an escape. Even once in a while, life presents a situation that is beyond difficult, and completely impossible to escape from. These situations were expanded upon and brought to obvious light in Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22. This novel was such a masterful work that the phrase, catch-22 came to be synonymous with the situations that Heller portrays in his novel. Set in the final months of World War II, Catch-22 tells the story of a bomber squadron on the mythical island of Pinosa, just off of Italy. The story is told through the eyes of Captain John Yossarian, one of the few sane men in the novel, who sees all of the impossible situations his squadron is placed in. “For Catch-22 is the unwritten loophole in every written law which empowers the authorities to revoke your rights whenever it suits their cruel whims; it is, in short, the principle of absolute evil in a malevolent, mechanical, and incompetent world. Because of Catch-22, justice is mocked, the innocent are victimized, and Yossarian’s squadron is forced to fly more than double the number of missions prescribed by Air Force code” (Skreiner 1). The mops vivid examples of the paradoxes created by catch-22 come from the specific characters; Hungry Joe, Doc Daneeka, Orr, Milo Minderbinder, and Yossarian.
Probably the most peculiar paradox presented in Catch-22 is formed around a pilot named Hungry Joe. Following a common, logical train of thought, Hungry Joe wishes to finish his time in the war and return home, where his safety is guaranteed, and he is in no danger of being killed. The catch originates from a common junction of many of the catches characters …
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… that he is so quickly able to persuade us (1) that the most lunatic are the most logical, and (2) that it is our conventional standards which lack any logical consistency”(Brustein 228). Catch-22 is about coping with what life throws you, then understanding the hopelessness, and still never giving up. Catch-22 is a novel that instructs the reader to do as Heller did, leave convention behind. It is wrong, only the individual matters, because without the soul, man is garbage.
Brustein, Robert. “Joseph Heller”. CLC. 3:228.
Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Skreiner, David. “Catch-22” Downloaded from http://www.schoolsucks.com/. March 17, 1998.
Kennard, Jean. “Joseph Heller”. CLC. 8:278.
Littlejohn, David. “Joseph Heller”. CLC. 3:229.
Burhans, Clinton. “Joseph Heller”. CLC. 3:230.