June 2, 2008
By Megan Matula, Mason, OH

Prompt: 2001. One definition of madness is “mental delusion or the eccentric behavior arising from it.” But Emily Dickinson wrote

Much madness is divinest Sense-
To a discerning Eye-

Novelists and playwrights have often seen madness with a “discerning Eye.” Select a novel or play in which a character’s apparent madness or irrational behavior plays an important role. Then write a well-organized essay in which you explain what this delusion or eccentric behavior consists of and how it might be judged reasonable. Explain the significance of the “madness” to the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

In a cast of die-hard soldiers fighting in World War II, there is one who is notable for his odd behavior and expression of beliefs. The idealized American soldier is expected to die for his country, but Yossarian will do no such thing and his actions appear crazy to those around him. The insanities and ironies that war present make it seem more like a silly game, than an effective tactic. Generals, Colonels, Majors, even enlisted soldiers, are being brainwashed into believing that they are fighting for a good cause. Yossarian knows that they have only become their own worst enemies though. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller, shines a light on the irony of war and forces the reader to ask: how much is too much?

The realization of death is very clear to Yossarian and unlike the other majors and generals; he does not want to die for his country. Many readers may argue that these feelings are wrong and immoral for a soldier to feel, but Yossarian’s arguments make perfect sense. He says to Clevinger, “Open your eyes, Clevinger. It doesn’t make a damned difference who wins the war to someone who’s dead.” (123) Of course Clevinger retorts saying that Yossarian’s words are only giving comfort to the enemy, but I wonder who the enemy is. According to Yossarian, “The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he’s on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart.” (124) By increasing the missions, he is slowly killing each one of his soldiers. Like Colonel Cathcart, other men are quick to turn their backs on each other. Dobbs pleads Yossarian to approve his plan to murder Colonel Cathcart and Milo will sell anything to collect money for himself. The old legend says to keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but Yossarian is the only soldier who sees that this is the wrong suggestion in the time of war.

While Yossarian may be the only sane one fighting, he has no way of leaving the war. He claims to be crazy several times and when Doc Daneeka says, “There’s a rule saying I have to ground anyone who’s crazy.” (45), Yossarian nearly rejoices. But there’s a catch. Catch-22, “specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.” (46) These overlapping rules add to the idea the war is a game. The ambiguity of war really conveys the point that all the efforts a man may put into escaping the war will never pay off. Even if a soldier was mentally ill and was a threat to those people around him, it would not be anything out of the ordinary. Once you add Catch-22, there is no point to sending him home.

Yossarian commits many acts in the novel that others see as “madness”. As the reader though you understand why he does these things. Colonel Cathcart makes a list of all the happenings associated with Yossarian, including, “Ferrara, Bologna (bomb line moved on map during), Skeet range, Naked man in formation (during Avignon), Food poisoning (during Bologna), Moaning (epidemic of during Avignon briefing)” (212). A glance at this list could easily make the reader think Yossarian is crazy, but each occurrence has an explanation. For instance, the “Naked man in formation (during Avignon)” was Yossarian and the reason he was naked was because one of his flight partners bled all over his uniform while he was dying. It makes perfect sense that Yossarian would not want to wear the blood of a dead man. The blood of a man he knew and worked with. The blood of a man that could have easily been him. There are many instances where Yossarian is mild in comparison to the acts of other men. It is insane that Dobbs would actually consider murdering Colonel Cathcart. It is insane that Colonel Cathcart continues to increase the flight mission number. And it is also insane that Milo would try to feed his soldiers cotton in order to cover up his own mistakes. All the actions that the other men commit get overshadowed by the spotlight that is shined on Yossarian.

Yossarian is the soldier that stands and represents the whole. He sees the reality and continues to be sane when everyone else is being brain-washed by the war. These men do not even know what they are fighting for. They are each others enemies and only wish the worst for each other. This is why Yossarian needs to escape the war. If he doesn’t than he will be sucked into something so warped and twisted. And if he doesn’t die during a mission, he will surely be murder by the men around him who actually are crazy.

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