In Catch-22, Joseph Heller reveals the perversions of the human character and society. Using various themes and a unique style and structure, Heller satirizes war and its values as well as using the war setting to satirize society at large. By manipulating the "classic" war setting and language of the novel Heller is able to depict society as dark and twisted. Heller demonstrates his depiction of society through the institution of war (i.e. it's effects and problems during and after war). In the novel, the loss of individuality through the lives of the soldiers; the insanity of war and Heller's solution to insanity; and the idea of "there is always a catch" in life is shown to a dramatic extent. Heller's novel not only satirizes war, but all of society.
Catch-22 shows how the individual soldier loses his uniqueness not as much from the battlefield like other novels set during a war, but from the bureaucratic mentality. An example of this Lt. Scheisskopf's obsession with parades that he sees the men more as puppets than as human beings. At one point in the novel, he even wants to wire them together so their movements will be perfectly precise--just as mindless puppets would be. This theme also appears when Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions his squadron must fly--not for military purposes, but to solely enhance his prestige. One other example of this theme is in the novel, when Yossarian is wounded. He is told to take better care of his leg because it is government property. Soldiers, therefore, are not even people, but simply property that can be listed on an inventory. In a bureaucracy, as Heller shows, individuality does not matter.
Most war novels show that such things as lying, killing, adultery, and stealing are permissible if the ultimate goal is just--Catch-22 demonstrates this idea. For example, the men pleasure themselves with prostitutes in an apartment provided by the army. Also, one of the men steals life-raft supplies to trade. Despite the suppression of these important values, those such as honor and patriotism are also suppressed in the novel. The men fight for "what they had been told" was their country, but it's really only to make their officers look good. The officers at one point tell Yossarian that they are his "country". Here again, Heller shows the failures of a bureaucracy--how no values remain.
Whenever the men think they have found a solution to a problem, a catch defeats them. The men are grounded if they are insane, but if they recognize the insanity of their missions, they are sane--and must fly more missions. These men are trapped in a crazy world--each searching for his own solution. Each of them has their own unique and bizarre personal insanity (e.g. The bombardier, Havermeyer, zeroes straight in on targets, no matter how much antiaircraft fire peppers his plane. Other members of the squadron seem even crazier. Chief White Halfoat keeps threatening to slit his roommate's throat. Hungry Joe keeps everyone awake with his screaming nightmares. Corporal Snark puts soap in the men's food. Yossarian starts signing "Washington Irving" to letters he censors, and he goes naked for a few days--even when he is being awarded a medal.)--and as Heller suggests, the only sane response to a crazy situation is insanity. When Yossarian and his friends begin asking clever questions to disrupt boring educational sessions, Colonel Korn decides that only those who never ask questions may ask questions. When they want to discuss a problem with Major Major, they are allowed into his office only when he is out. Even when Yossarian is offered an apparently harmless deal that would allow him to go home as a hero, there is a catch. He must betray his friends by praising the officers who caused many of them to die. And as Heller shows, life is reduced to one frustrating paradox after another.
In form, Catch-22 is a social satire--it's a novel using absurd humor to discredit or ridicule aspects of our society. The target in Catch-22 is not just the self-serving attitudes of some military officers, but also the Air Force itself as a mad military bureaucracy. The humor in the novel along with descriptive styles such as:
Doc Daneeka, "roosted dolorously like a shivering turkey buzzard"; the mountains, blanketed in a "mesmerizing quiet," Yossarian, wet "with the feeling of warm