Analysing the impact of Joseph Heller's satiric writing style in the novel Catch-22
The novel Catch-22 written by Joseph Heller is set in World War II. Heller wrote the novel in a satirical way, which also contains black humour. Satire can be defined as "a way of criticizing a person, idea or institution in which you use humour to show their faults or weaknesses" (Oxford, 2010). Heller makes use of satire to showcase the faults or weaknesses of war and the impact it has on the men in combat, especially Yossarian. Yossarian is the protagonist who just wants to complete the amount of missions that he has to fly in order to go home. In this essay, we will analyse the impact of Heller's satiric writing style, with the use of examples from the novel. We will also be discussing whether or not the novel would have been more effective if it was written in a more serious matter. This essay will aim to prove that the satiric writing style is effective in the novel.
Heller was in the war, but he felt "much differently than Yossarian felt" (Bates, 2011) about the war. The first instance where we encounter satire, is the conversation that takes place between the chaplain and Yossarian in the hospital. In this conversation they keep repeating each other's words when asking questions and answering these questions. This adds to the comic effect of the novel. Yossarian says to the chaplain that he did not know that he was a chaplain, to which the chaplain answered "Didn't you know I was a chaplain?" (Heller, 1994: 1) and Yossarian replies "..I didn't know you were a chaplain". (Heller, 1994: 1). This is a good example of Heller's satiric writing style. It is not seen as "normal" to repeat other people's words or phrases when you are talking to them. If Heller wrote this conversation in a more serious manner, the reader will have experienced it in a very different way. For example, if the conversation happened without the repetition of words and phrases, it might have been shorter and more to the point. This satiric way of having a conversation adds to the comedic theme of the rest of the novel.
Along with satire, Heller uses black humour throughout the novel. Black humour and satire go hand in hand. Black humour is when a person makes fun of something serious, in most cases death. One example would be the death of Kid Sampson and McWatt. Another example is the so called "death" of Doc Daneeka. Doc Daneeka makes Yossarian forge documents that he has to sign in order to get his flight pay. When McWatt crashes into a mountain after killing Kid Sampson, it is assumed that Doc Daneeka died as well, seeing that he was supposed to be on the plane. Seargent Knight said that Doc Daneeka was on the plane, although he was standing next to him saying "I'm right here" (Heller, 1994: 30). This use of satire can state the absurd nature of war that these men encounter on a daily basis. All the men ignore the fact that Doc Daneeka is still amongst them, because of the fact that he had to be on the plane. Without this satire and black humour, the novel could have turned out very differently. For example, Doc Daneeka could have been punished for collecting his flight pay, without even being on a plane. Another example, is the dead man in Yossarian's tent. This is in a sense very funny, although it is a serious matter. The man, named Mudd, was assigned to share a tent with Yossarian. There was a shortage on men to fly out on a mission and Mudd was sent out. He was killed within two hours of his arrival. Although he never actually arrived at the base camp, his belongings are kept in Yossarian's tent. They cannot be removed, because the dead man was never there. This brings comic relief to the reader, because it is ironic to think how his belongings can stay there if he is not going to return. This lets the reader think about how brutal and absurd the war really is. It is