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Catch-22, Joseph Heller

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There's a war on, everyone is crazy, and none of the airmen who has flown close to the mandatory number of missions seems very happy when someone raises the number of mandatory missions. There's a way out: all a crazy airman has to do is to ask the doctor to ground him. But there's a catch.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. 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. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

Thus Joseph Heller introduced a new term into the English vernacular. Catch-22 is a view of the world in all its absurdity and contradiction. It's a novel that explores critical issues like war, identity, and the struggle of the individual against bureaucracy run amok—all while being tremendously funny.

The story centers around Yossarian, a bombardier trying desperately to save himself; men he knows keep dying because they're sent on one dangerous mission after another in an effort by their commanding officer to show his zeal and to be promoted.

Each chapter in the novel is entitled for a character or location in the story, allowing us to focus before moving on to the next part of the story. In this structure, we learn the absurdity of the situation, the apparent inability of anyone to stop the wheels of the bureaucracy, and the success of those who exploit it to their own ends, all while proclaiming themselves to be working for the greater good. (Everyone, after all, has a share.) Then there are the efforts to achieve recognition by the sincerity of the form-letters sent to the families of the airmen killed. And the work of a schemer trying to get his picture the Saturday Evening Post.

Some call it bitter or critical of bureaucracy. I call it an honest look at the results of consolidating power. Catch-22 is a brilliant work, well-deserving of its reputation as a classic of American literature, one of the best novels of the twentieth century, a thoughtful commentary that apparently heeds the advice offered by another brilliant explorer of the human condition from a century before.

“If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you.” —Oscar Wilde.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2006-08-28 08:24 AM
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