The main character in Catch-22, which was written by Joseph Heller in 1960, was Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the 256th Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII. Yossarian’s commanding officer, Colonel Cathcart, wanted a promotion so badly that he kept raising the number of missions the men in his squadron were required to fight. Yossarian resented this very much, but he couldn’t do anything about it because a bureaucratic trap, known as catch-22, said that the men did not have the right to go home after they completed forty missions (the number of missions the Army demands they fly) because they had to obey their commanding officers. Yossarian was controlled by the higher authority like the doctors restrained Joe. The whole novel was basically about how Yossarian tried to fight catch-22.
Yossarian can be seen as an anti-hero. Many of his actions could be considered immoral or cowardly. For example, in the hospital, he forged and tampered with letters he censored. Whenever he was overwhelmed by the horrors of war and by memories of his friends’ deaths, he created symptoms that got him admitted to hospitals. He also made repeated attempts to be judged as certifiably insane so that he could be discharged. In the end, Yossarian deserted the Army and fled to Sweden, the only place he knew to be safe and sane.
However, Yossarian also possessed traits we would expect to find in a hero. He was intelligent. For example, he knew enough about world literature to identify himself with heroic loners from all kinds of classics. He had few illusions, unlike Pip and Henry. For example, in cadet training, Clevinger thought Lieutenant Scheisskopf really wanted suggestions, but Yossarian knew Scheisskopf didn’t mean it. He was respected, admired, and liked by others. For example, Dobbs would not carry out his plot to kill Colonel Cathcart unless Yossarian approved. Milo admired Yossarian and asked him for business advice. The chaplain also liked Yossarian enough no to speak up when he recognized a “Washington Irving” forgery as Yossarian’s. In many ways, Yossarian was also a very moral person. For example, he turned down the hero deal (his irritated commanding officers offered to send him home as a hero if he would praise them publicly). He did not sleep with a woman unless he was in love with her, unlike Odysseus who was unfaithful to his wife in order to save him and his men.
Essay on Satire and Black Humor in Catch-22
Satire and Black Humor in Catch-22
The only thing going on was a war, and no one seemed to notice but Yossarian and Dunbar. Yossarian is one of the few “normal” characters found in the books, or at least he thinks he is. As the story progresses, it appears that no one is “normal.” Values either no longer apply, or do in reverse. In this backwards world of Catch-22, where everyone is crazy, Heller uses black humor and satire to make light of an otherwise dismal situation.
Satire in the book mainly attacks three general things: senior military officers, professional and business interests, and society’s remarkable reliance on forms, papers, rules and regulations. The senior officers are generally trying to intimidate and persecute the soldiers, most obviously by raising the number of missions, endangering the men’s lives even more (Young 2). They are very selfish and have warped ideas about what they can do and what they can make the squadron do. They only do what they have been told to do, and have very few if any original thoughts. General Dreedle, for example, tries to have Danby shot for moaning during a mission briefing while in his presence. Another example of their warped beliefs is when Lieutenant Schisskopf comes up with the idea that they could stick pegs into each man’s thighs and hook them together with copper wire so that the men would march better. Captain Black starts the Loyalty Oath Crusade, in which the men have to sign loyalty oaths for practically every task they need to perform throughout the day. They have to sign oaths to get their map cases, obtaining flak suits, being driven to their planes, and even eat or get their hair cut. His theory is that the more loyalty oaths the men sign, th…
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…found in all parts of the book, they play crucial roles in making Catch-22 more enjoyable to read, and depicting the conditions felt by soldiers. Without the humor, it seems like a very disturbing and depressing tale. The characters are crazy, but we do get a good laugh at their expense. Catch-22 can be interpreted in many different ways though. What may be humorous to one person may be disturbing to another. Like any book, there is no wrong interpretation.
Heller, Joseph. Catch 22. New York: Simon