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Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

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Joseph Heller’s Catch -22 is about war and friendship, resistance and compliance, love and hate, loyalty and desertion. It is a comedy and a tragedy. It calls into the question the fine line between sanity and derangement, democracy and dictatorships, paranoia and level-headedness, right and wrong. After Heller has posed his data he asks the question: Is there really a difference between all of these things? Catch-22 is riddled with blatantly contradictory statements and nonsensical explanations. Humorous quips carried throughout the book which start out as hilarious jests eventually become merciless and cruel, and those jokes you were laughing at before really aren’t that funny anymore. Catch-22 catches you off guard, and while you are trying desperately to regain your wits, it hits you with life’s questions, forcing you evaluate your core beliefs and everything you thought you knew.
I read this book on a sort of dare. “You should read this book, it’s hilarious”, Said my literary snob of a friend. What he really meant (or how I interpreted it) was, “Read this book, I dare you to understand it.” I accepted the mission with much gusto and cracked open my slightly tattered copy excitedly to chapter 1. It started out simply enough, but I soon became intimidated by the endless introductions of multitudes of characters, all with their own individual quirks and idiosyncrasies. That, paired with the fact that the story is not written in chronological order, makes it extremely difficult to follow.
Yossarian is a WWII bombardier, stationed on an island just south of Italy. When he enlists in the US Army, the required number of missions is 45. As the story proceeds the number is raised periodically, usually as Yossarian is just below the current requirement. As we gain insight into the lives and motives of Colonels Cathcart and Korn, we understand why the missions are raised and the explanations don’t make much sense at all. Yossarian becomes restless and threatens to desert the army on grounds of insanity, but there’s a catch, well, a Catch 22. Catch 22 states that to stay in the army one would have to be crazy, but to ask to be discharged would make you sane, dismissing one’s plea of insanity. “’That's some catch, that Catch-22,’ he observed. ‘It's the best there is,’ Doc Daneeka agreed.”
Every additional character ranging to quintessential to unimportant has their own story, that, by the climax, has wound its way into the convoluted web that is Heller’s conclusion. Whether Major Major Major Major’s unfortunate resemblance to Henry Fonda, Orr’s youth of keeping crabapples in his cheeks, Milo Minderbinder’s disastrous purchase of the entire crop of the Egyptian cotton or Nately’s undying belief in human virtue, every character’s story hits the reader with a irreplaceable relevance. We begin to love these characters, even if they are corrupt, annoying, cruel or mistaken. We discover their importance to the story and Yossarian’s life in the army.
As the story rounds to an end, fate plays its cruel tricks on humanity, doling out portions of ironic punishment and oftentimes unnecessary brutality. We may begin to lose hope, just as Yossarian begins to, except for one unassuming hero, who teaches us of the importance of human endurance. He teaches us never to give up, to work with life’s ups and downs in order to reach your goal in one piece. Although the road is long and cruel, and usually doesn’t make much sense, it ends with the hope of a better future if you are willing to endure.
As closed the back cover page of Catch-22, I felt drained. I was not quite sure what I had read and could make even less sense of it. I knew Heller’s point must be something monumental, life-changing, but, try as I might, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Even now, months later, I’m not quite sure. Maybe everyone is able to take something unique and different from it. I personally think it is about a human’s right to live. Yossarian would do anything to live and to live the way he believed was right, even if it meant doing something that seemed insane, immoral or nonsensical. And doesn’t he have that right? And who has the right to stop him in his perusal of eternal life? “He was going to live forever, or die in the attempt.”
I know that I could not have come near to gleaning all of the ideas that Catch-22 has to offer. Perhaps one day, when I am feeling particularly brave, I will try again, and see what else I can take away. I would encourage anyone and everyone to read it at least once, and see what Catch-22 has to offer you.




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