Character AnalysisCaptain John Yossarian is the main character of Joseph Hellers 1961 satirical war novel, Catch-22. Hes a bombardier in the Army Air Corps 256th bomber squadron and he suffers from an intense fear of death. Catch-22 is a mysterious regulation that traps its victims in a web of circular reason. Basically, if theres a rule then theres always an exception to it. For instance, Catch-22 says that no one is allowed to read Catch-22. It always creates circumstances where, when things look fine, Catch-22 appears and ruins everything. Catch-22 keeps Yossarian in the war because his Colonel continues raising the number of missions he has to fly before he can be rotated Stateside.
From the beginning of the book, Yossarian stands out as beeing different from the others, he doesnt care about the war, and hes not interested in risking his life. In addition, his contemporaries think hes insane and they do not understand why he believes that people are trying to kill him.Yossarian is both a member of his squadron and alienated by it (Sparknotes). Throughout the novel he carries with him the badge of being different.
Though he lives and flies with his fellow airmen, he is constantly identified as an outsider. His Assyrian name strikes people as out of the ordinary because no ones ever heard of it before. For instance, the egomaniacal Colonel Cathcart becomes distressed every time he hears the name. Heller writes:Yossarian- the very sight of the name made him shudder. There were so many esses in it.
It just had to be subversive. It was like the word subversive itself. It was like seditious and insidious too, and like socialist, suspicious, fascist and Communist. It was an odious, alien, distasteful name (220).Adding to Yossarians difference is the fact that he just doesnt care. He doesnt care about the war, or the enemy, or his duty, or parades. When he becomes fed up with the war, he simply invents a medical problem such as liver pain, or seeing everything twice, and retreats into the hospital.
He says that, All he was expected to do in the hospital was to die or get better, and since he was perfectly all right to begin with, getting better was easy. (175) As a result, he spends as much of the war as possible in the hospital. On bombing runs, Yossarian is so petrified by flack, antiaircraft guns, and exploding planes that he devotes all of his attention and energy to avoiding the danger. Hes known for making his pilot fly in wild banking, diving, climbing, and rolling maneuvers in order to avoid enemy fire. Heller writes, Yossarian did not give a damn whether he hit the target or not just as long as they never had to go back (130). When his pilot asks, Yossarian, did the bombs hit the target? Heller writes, What bombs? Answered Yossarian, whose only concern had been the flak (367). Yossarian does not risk his life to save others.
He says, I used to get a big kick out of saving peoples lives. Now I wonder what the hells the point, since they all have to die anyway (89) Through the whole novel his primary goal is to avoid risking his life whenever possible. The system of values around Yossarian is so skewed that this approach seems to be the only truly moral stance he can take, if only because it is sological. Because Catch-22 makes life so irrational, and asks people to risk their lives for reasons that are utterly unimportant, like bomb patterns, Yossarian seizes the one truly logical idea, that he should try to preserve life, his own life (Sparknotes).
Additionally, everyone thinks Yossarian is insane. Catch-22 keeps Yossarian in the war because concern for ones own life proves that he is not really crazy, and to get out of combat a person has to be crazy. When Yossarian is wounded in the leg and interviewed by a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist believes Yossarian to be crazy because the official medical records list him as a soldier named A.
Fortiori, who is in the hospital for a stone in his salivary gland. When Yossarian insists that he is himself and that he has an injured leg, the psychiatrist disagrees, because paperwork is always correct, and labels him insane. A. Fortiori is sent home and Yossarian goes back on duty. Ironically, many of the men in Yossarians squadron are insane, but cannot be removed from duty until they ask, and they never ask because theyre crazy.
The most distinguishing feature that isolates Yossarian is his unyielding belief that people are trying to kill him. When he explains that thousands of people hes never met before are persistently tying to kill him, people respond that the enemy is trying to kill everyone. It makes no difference to Yossarian, who takes the war personally. He explains, The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart (402). Yossarian comes to realize that every time he goes up, his only mission is to come down alive. The war takes on an intensely personal meaning to him, and he becomes almost paranoid about his own impending death (Bellmore). He says:There were lymph glands that might do him in.
There were kidneys, nerve sheathes and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There were fertile meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer cell. There were diseases of the skin; diseases of the bone there even were diseases of the feet. There were billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential traitor and foe (206).In the end, Yossarians insistence on self-preservation forms a conflict within him. Though he has previously decided to keep himself safe at all cost, he still cares deeply for his friends and hes greatly disturbed by their deaths.
Throughout the book Yossarian is haunted by the death of an ambiguous man named Snowden who died in Yossarian’s arms on a mission over Avignon. Snowdens chilling death brings Yossarian to the conclusion that life is nothing more than a contest against death and that he should do everything in his power to stay alive as long as possible. However, when Yossarian is finally offered the choice of his own safety at the expense of the rest of his squadron, he is unable to choose himself over his friends. Yossarians concern for others confuses the straightforward common sense of self-preservation, and creates its own Catch-22: life isnt worth living without a concern for the welfare of others, but a concern for the well being of others endangers ones life (Sparknotes). Ultimately, Yossarian is incapable of choosing, and he simple runs away from the war. Because Catch-22 makes all the rules unfair, Yossarian decides that the only reasonable thing to do is not to participate.Works CitedCatch-22.
(2000). 11/01/04 ;http://www.bellmore-merrick.k12.ny.us/catch22.
(2000). Sparknotes. 11/08/04 ;http://www.sparknotes.
com;.Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1961.