Catch 22 - Satire


Catch 22 Joseph Heller satirizes, among other matters, red tape and bureaucracy in his first novel, Catch-22. The novel concerns itself with a World War II bombardier named Yossarian who suddenly realizes the danger of his position and tries various means to extricate himself from further missions. Yossarian is driven crazy by the Germans, who keep shooting at him when he drops bombs on them, and by his American superiors, who seem less concerned about winning the war than they are about getting promoted. Heller spent eight years writing Catch-22, is a former student at three universities--New York, Columbia and Oxford--and a former teacher at Pennsylvania State College. From 1942 to 1945 he served as a combat bombardier in the Twelfth Air Force and was stationed on the island of Corsica where he flew over 60 combat missions. That experience provided the groundwork for this novel. (Way, 120) (Usborne) The protagonist and hero of the novel is John Yossarian, a captain in the Air Force and a lead bombardier in his squadron, but he hates the war. During the latter half of World War II, Yossarian is stationed with his Air Force squadron on the island of Pianosa, near the Italian coast and the Mediterranean Sea. (Heller) The squadron is thrown thoughtlessly into brutal combat situations and bombing runs on which it is more important for them to capture a good aerial photograph of an explosion than to destroy their target. Their colonels continually raise the number of missions they are required to fly before being sent home so that no one is ever sent home. Heller's satire targets a variety of bureaucrats, the military-industrial complex, and the business ethic and economic arrangements of American society. Humor rising out of the crazy logic of modern warfare hits squarely on the mark. (Hicks 32). The following passage demonstrates the humor and enlightens the reader about the book's title and the major cause of Yossarian's problems: Yossarian looked at him soberly and tried another approach. " Is Orr crazy?" "He sure is," Doc Daneeka said. "Can you ground him?" "I sure can. But first he has to ask me to. That's part of the rule." "Then why doesn't he ask you to?" "Because he's crazy, " Doc Daneeka said. " He has to be crazy to keep flying combat missions after all the close calls he's had. Sure, I can ground him. But first he has to ask me to." "That's all he has to do to be grounded?" "That's all. Let him ask me." "And then you can ground him?" Yossarian asked. "No. Then I can't ground him." "You mean there's a catch?" "Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy." Most of the supporting characters in Catch-22 are cardboard figures that are only distinctive to the reader by their inane obsessions. Each lives with a particularly contorted view of the war in which he believes that he can function in the world as he pleases and that his dealings will achieve his objectives. (Kennard 83) The fantastically powerful mess officer, Milo controls an international black market syndicate and is revered in obscure corners all over the world. He ruthlessly chases after profit and bombs his own men as part of a contract with Germany. Milo insists that everyone in the squadron will benefit from being part of the syndicate, and that "everyone has a share." The ambitious, unintelligent colonel in charge of Yossarian's squadron, Colonel Cathcart, wants to be a general. He tries to impress his superiors by bravely volunteering his men for dangerous combat duty whenever he gets the chance. He continually raises the number of combat missions required of the men before they can be sent home. Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder, the mess officer, is the supreme champion of the profit motive and free enterprise. He knows how to buy eggs for 7 cents and to sell them at a profit for 5 cents. He contrives with Axis agents to bomb his own airfield when the Germans make him a reasonable offer: cost plus 6 per cent. He does this because he desperately needs more funds in his misguided quest to corner the Egyptian cotton market. Milo's loyalties lay in general with capitalistic enterprise and specifically with M & M Enterprises. He lives by the principle that