An Analysis of Catch 22 by Joseph HellerCatch 22, by Joseph Heller, is a critique of the society that we live in.Whoever is proud of what we have advanced to, and is unwilling to look at it ina negative light, would find this book very subversive. It threatens andcriticizes the way of living of most who pride themselves in living a modernlife.
Heller shows through the ridiculousness of war how misguided much ofmodern society has become, in spite of all our so called civilized advancement.Some will find this interesting, thought provoking and enjoy this book. Otherswill take it as a direct threat and insult to all the work they have done.From the very beginning, Heller shows some of the most popular ideas andvalues of the day in a negative, questioning light. In particular, he shows thenegative consequences of conformity and highlights individuality as a way tosurvive. He wants us to recognize how one is controlled and stifled by society.
The leading character in this novel, addressing what has gone wrong withsociety, is Yossarian. He is the only one who recognizes the full craziness ofwhat everyone is living for: wealth, false happiness, society’s approval, etc.He is one of the few who tries to fight the power and elitism that have becomeso sought after in America. Throughout the novel, he tries to find a way to livea fuller life as a real human individual.
He looks to many of the othercharacters in the book for help but only finds unsatisfactory answers.Each of the characters in Yossarian’s life at the base shows the readerone more example of how bad society has become. Clavinger tries to live life byreasoning. He looks for a reason in everything. In constantly looking for areason why, he never enjoys life to it fullest. As further proof that this lifeleads nowhere, he is shot down and killed, certainly not an event with arational explanation.
Major Major is the person who obeys everyone, alwaystrying to be perfect. He does everything that anyone asks of him, but takes itto an extreme. By being so naively obedient, instead of being helped by hiscomrades, he is shunned. This callousness from all humans soon leads him to bescared of any human contact. Aarfy seems to live happily, but only by giving uphis integrity. He is totally unremorseful almost to the point of being inhuman.
One witnesses the result of this unhealthy way of living when he murders aprostitute by throwing her out the window. He shows no emotion about this andbarely realizes the gravity of what he has done. At the time, only Yossarian isarrested for a minor matter, as he did not sell out to the system. Though Aarfynever dies, Heller, in showing what kind of a monster he becomes, is directlyattacking a the large part of society whose members sell their integrity forwhat they hope is success.In Milo, Heller attacks the capitalist business practice of making moneyat any cost. When we first come across Milo, he is shown to have high moralstandards.
His lust for profit, however, soon overcomes these earlier leanings.At one point, he bombs his own friends and fellow army men for profit. By theend of the book, Milo has become such a robot, succumbed to greed and profit,that, because Milo has just found out a new way to make money, he walks out onYossarian at a time when Yossarian desperately needs his help. For Heller, Milois a symbol of the corporate greed that has taken over America. Heller isattacking all the people who only care about money and don’t care about others.He brings to light the egocentric tendency of Americans.
In the chaplain, Heller portrays someone who is genuinely selfless andconcerned about others. His heart is always wishing others well. However, he, asmany others like him, is never heard or listened to and eventually turns todevious methods to be noticed. The chaplain represents the minority that isdeserving of attention, but never listened to until it is too late. He gets solonely and frustrated that even he starts to sin.
Heller most actively challenges the pureness and rightness of thebureaucratic institutions that control and limit the human spirit . The upperechelons of the army are a mockery of the mess that government has become.Colonel Cathcart stands for the average politician, whose only goal to rise inpower. Colonel Corn, one of Cathcart’s cronies, in describing his desire forpower, states, “Why not.
.. What else have we got to do?”.
All Colonial Cathcartcares about is a “feather in his cap” or a “black eye”. He does not care howthe men feel. He raises the number of missions to impossible highs only for hispersonal gain. This is perhaps a parallel to Washington D. C., where politiciansoften have become so caught up in bureaucracies that they forget about theirconstituents.
General Scheisskoph achieves such a high rank only because he conforms.His only passion in life is marching – the ultimate conformity. He works atstifling the men’s spirits so that they all obey. He stops thinking of them aspeople, just stupid machines. He never tries to stick out, as Yossarian does,and therefore has a successful career. This too mocks the tendency in modernsociety to conform and continually go with the flow, even if it is totally wrong,just to be similar and possibly successful.
Heller, through satire, also brings to light some of the otherinstitutions in America and the modern world that have gotten out of control andgone too far. The prime example of this is the medical profession. WhenYossarian goes to the hospital, everyone has a different idea of what he has.
Doctors say he has this or that just because they like saying he has this orthat, even though they have little idea of his real condition. Though this areais exaggerated in the book, it still makes us look again at the medicalprofessionals that we trust our lives in. He also makes out psychiatry to beabsolutely foolish.
Yossarian only has to make up a dream, before thepsychiatrist is in deep discussions about what the dream means in his life. Thisrings very true when one thinks of real life psychiatrists always trying to makesignificant issues out of what may actually be trivial matters.In Catch 22 , Heller exaggerates everything to an extreme, but it isonly to get our attention. By seeing the extreme, we realize how close oursociety is to that point. Heller implies that everyone is to blame for where oursociety is at. Yossarian says while walking through the eternal city, “What alousy earth!..
.When you added them (all the bad people) all up and subtractedyou might only be left with the children…and an old violinist or sculptor..
.”(p.414). By saying this, Heller blames every one for how are world is except forthe children who know no better. To the many Americans who have been brought upon red, white, and blue and Fourth of July celebrations this could be an insult.
They might feel this book is subversive to the American dream that people likeYossarian have fought wars for. They are scared to face the truth and prefer tobelieve in the institutions that have been in place for hundreds of yearswithout a second thought. To except that something is wrong in our culture wouldrock their souls too much.Perhaps the largest group of people who would