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Friday, July 29, 2011

Essay on Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch 22 is a rule invoked by the military as basis every time a soldier refuses to fly on the ground of insanity.  The idea is that if a soldier claims insanity and asks to be grounded the request is immediately disapproved on the ground that the fact that he claims that he is insane makes him sane and is therefore eligible to fly.  A truly insane man, on the other hand, disregards his own safety and would want to be assigned and would ask for more missions.   The only way for an insane man to be grounded, however, is to ask for it.  The funny thing is that when a person asks for it then he is considered sane.  There is indeed no escape for this illogical military rule.  Since a soldier has no escape from his assignment via Catch-22, it has been used to signify a no-win situation where one does not have control over the matter at hand.

Catch 22 is a novel by Joseph Heller which depicts the insanity of war and the difficulty every person encounters in view of the rules of the institutions.  It stresses that individuals who seek to express their own individuality often find themselves at odds against the social rules and expectations which oftentimes are illogical and insane.

The setting of this story takes place during World War 2.  Yossarian, the lead character who is a bombardier, exerts every effort throughout the story just to avoid flying.   In one scene Yossarian fakes an illness just so he could be assigned in the ward of a hospital.  While in the ward, he lands a job to censor the letters of the enlisted men ranked below him. As Yossarian becomes more and more uninterested in the “monotonous job,” the boredom begins to drive him to true insanity.(8-9) At first, he tries to pretend to be sick and insane to get out of army service, however now he is truly on the verge of lunacy. He begins creating games for himself where he increasingly alters the letters to a greater and greater extent until they do not contain anything comprehensible.

An analysis of the story will reveal that the censoring of the letters is a symbol of Yossarian’s need for freedom. Yossarian is confined in the hospital with no control over his own liberty while serving with the army. Altering the contents of the letters is the only form of expression he has: “When he had exhausted all possibilities in the letters, he began attacking the names and addresses on the envelopes, obliterating whole homes and streets, annihilating entire metropolises with careless flicks of his wrist as though he were God.”(8-9) Altering the letters gives him the sense of power and the false feeling of having authority.   

When he modified the letters, Yossarian used the name of Washington Irving or Irving Washington in place of his own name.  This also led the military to suspect that Irving Washington was the name of an insubordinate soldier.  Washington Irving was a great American writer that lived from 1783-1859. This allusion made to Washington Irving was not done without any reason.  Just like Yossarian, Irving once had a change of heart.  During the war of 1812, Washington Irving very patriotically enrolled in the army but quickly lost his aspiration to serve but he withdrew after he had a change of heart. This is almost identical to Yossarian’s decision to withdraw from the war.

It is apparent that the author of Catch-22, Joseph Heller, had intended a deeper understanding to the context. By installing specific literary devices such as symbols, and allusions, he has allowed the reader to appreciate the text on a much greater level.

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