Catch-22

Posted in Words by Sandra on February 5, 2009

Wikipedia Says:
Catch-22 is a satirical, historical novel by the American author Joseph Heller, first published in 1961. The novel, set during the later stages of World War II from 1943 onwards, is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century.

The novel follows Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a number of other characters. Most events occur while the airmen of the fictional Fighting 256th (or “two to the fighting eighth power”) Squadron are based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy.

I’ve been re-reading Catch-22 these few days, at a much more leisurely pace than the first time. I tore through the book the first time, finishing it within two days because it was just so good.

Issues are often looked at from several perspectives, thus completing a joke, pun, or story.

The explanation of Catch-22 in Heller’s own words is as follows:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

The confusion is of an enjoyable nature to me. The almost overwhelming verbosity tickles my fancy. Heller just goes on and on and on and on and links so naturally to the next chapter/topic that it almost seems right. The strict adherence to using full titles and names in the military as Heller writes it seems comical. All of the characters have endearing flaws, like Orr and his crab apple cheeks. Or poor Major Major who wanted nothing more to have friends, but just as he was becoming accepted in the squadron, was promoted to Major Major Major for no reason at all, and was hence alienated from everyone else again.

The action is fast, colliding often, and barely clear enough to prevent panic from rising in the reader. It delivers jokes and puns and contradictions with a straight face and stiff upper lip.

A fantastic book, and I’m still gushing about it after reading it one and a half times… It should be a measure of how much I love this book!

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