Catch 22 Critical Essays

Catch-22 was the first of the post-World War II novels to convey the sense of war as so insane and so negligent of humane values that it can be treated only through exaggerated ridicule. One means whereby Joseph Heller suggests the ways in which war violates humanity is by violating the conventions of realistic fiction. The individual chapters are, for example, named after the different characters, although the character for whom a chapter is named may or may not be important in that chapter or anywhere else in the book. The chapters follow no evident plan; time in the novel is confused because there is no narrative line. Such structure as exists is based on recurrent references to specific situations. Only toward the end is there a progression in time from one chapter to the next.

The salient element that distinguishes Catch-22 from more conventional war novels is its outrageous humor, much of it black and having to do with death and injury. In the late twentieth century, the term “metafiction” began to be applied to this kind of novel, suggesting a kind of fiction that does not pretend to portray reality and continually calls attention to its fictive nature. The cruel joke that gives the novel its title typifies its humor and the situation of the aviators. Each man is required to fly a certain number of missions against the Germans before he can be rotated home. Each time, however, a significant number of men approach that number, Colonel Cathcart, the commanding officer, raises the required number. Those in command are uniformly corrupt and have the power to force their subordinates to do whatever they wish; they plan dangerous missions, choose the most beautiful nurses, and make monetary profits from the war. The subordinate officers, led by Yossarian, have no choice but to act subversively to try to survive.

Many of the episodes of the novel reflect outrageous humor. There are many instances of wordplay, puns, and jokes the characters tell and play on one another, yet underlying the humor are always constant reminders of death and the grisly business of war. One of the threads that holds the novel together is found in the frequent references to a character named Snowden. His death is alluded to very early in the novel,...

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Sites about Catch-22

by Joseph Heller

Critical sites about Catch-22

Deadly Unconscious Logics in Joseph Heller�s Catch-22
"Catch-22 is a black comedy novel about death, about what people do when faced with the daily likelihood of annihilation. For the most part what they do is try to survive in any way they can. The book begins, 'The island of Pianosa lies in the Mediterranean Sea eight miles south of Elba.' That is the geographical location of the action. Much of the emotional plot of the book turns on the question of who�s crazy, and I suggest that it is illuminating to look at its world in Kleinian terms."
Author: Robert M. Young
From:The Psychoanalytic Review
The Loony Horror of it All, 'Catch-22' Turns 25
"John W. Aldridge examines the changing critical attitudes towards 'Catch-22' over the years. At first, many reviewers were perplexed by the book's surrealism and grotesquery. As writers like Heller and Phillip Roth began to grow in prominence, and realistic literature became less dominant in the postwar years, critics grew to consider 'Catch-22' a 'monumental artifact of contemporary American literature.'"
Contains: Historical Context
Author: John W. Aldridge
From:The New York Times Book Review October 26, 1986, Sunday, Late City Final Edition Section 7; Page 3, Column 1

Other (non-critical) sites about Catch-22

Bombers Away
"'Catch-22' has much passion, comic and fervent, but it gasps for want of craft and sensibility. A portrait gallery, a collection of anecdotes, some of them wonderful, a parade of scenes, some of them finely assembled, a series of descriptions, yes, but the book is no novel. One can say that it is much too long because its material--the cavortings and miseries of an American bomber squadron stationed in late World War II Italy--is repetitive and monotonous. Or one can say that it is too short because none of its many interesting characters and actions is given enough play to become a controlling interest Its author, Joseph Heller, is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design."
Contains: Review,
Author: Richard G. Stern
From:The New York Times October 22, 1961
Author: Richard G. Stern
From:The New York Times October 22, 1961
'Catch-22': Cadets Hail a Chronicler of the Absurd
"At a celebration for the 25th anniversary of the publication of "Catch-22," Heller was warmly greeted at the Air Force Academy. Teachers at the academy reveal that the anti-war classic, a searing indictment of military bureaucracy, has become required reading for cadets."
Author: Andrew H. Malcolm
From:The New York Times October 6, 1986, Monday, Late City Final Edition Section B; Page 10, Column 3
Author: Andrew H. Malcolm
From:The New York Times October 6, 1986, Monday, Late City Final Edition Section B; Page 10, Column 3

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