Catch 22 PDF, the novel by Joseph Heller, is an eye-opening representation of the insanity of war. Not necessarily the atrocities perpetrated during times of war, but rather the illogic, chaos, and absurdity of it. The novel ties in satire, absurd antics, dark humor and even some not so humorous darker parts.
This novel is also adapted into a film, released in 1970, and while any film adaptation of a book leaves a lot to be desired, the director Mike Nichols did quite an excellent job portraying the characters in depth, while still maintaining the satirical comedy and conveying the anti-war message expressed in the novel.
Summarizing the plot may be an exercise in futility due to the complexity and depth of this story so that I will outline the key details. The novel depicts the exploits and experiences of the character Captain John Yossarian, stationed on the fictional island Pianosa, near the Italian coast on the Mediterranean. The story also follows a non-chronological narrative that switches viewpoints frequently, which adds to the chaos of the story as well, which makes for an exciting and stimulating read.
Captain John Yossarian is a bomber pilot who’s the main aspiration is to “live forever or die in the attempt”. He often skews his perception of ‘the enemy’, deciding that his enemy is truly anyone who is going to get you killed, no matter what side they are on. He often concocts zany strategies to maintain his aspiration of living forever, including scenarios wherein he poisons his squadron, and also fakes a wide variety of illnesses to avoid combat.
Often acting out of self-preservation, and less so morality, Yossarian is ultimately the conscience of the story and helps to maintain the context of the story. He finds himself fighting internally with the bureaucracy of war, the propagators of said bureaucracy, as well as the God, who allows such wars even to occur.
In the situations where he is exposed to the war, we find Yossarian the subject to a variety of absurd, unfortunate, and tragic circumstances. Such as the death of his friend, the soldiers being offered up as pawns in battle by their leaders as a means to advance their military reputations and the bombing of his squadron by their mess officer.
The name of the novel, Catch 22, makes itself present in the story as a paradoxical law that is supposedly a set of regulations that were used to define a soldier as either fit for war, or not. This was a law established by the military that is illegal to read. Unfortunately, the only place where is defined as illegal to read is written within the legislation of Catch 22, hence the paradox. Yossarian learns of one of the factors used to determine whether someone was mentally stable for battle, and attempts to plead insanity. Unfortunately, the military used someone claiming insanity to avoid war, as showing reasonable concern for their well-being and was thus sane and still capable of serving in combat.
The novel draws to an end after Yossarian finds himself troubled by a comrade’s death, and decides only to wander the streets of Rome while bearing witness to human horrors conceived by the implications of war. He is eventually arrested for being without a pass and is faced with a choice. He can either face a court-martial or be released with an honorable discharge, on one condition. He must support his superior officers, Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn, the policy which requires all the men in his squadron to fly eighty missions. His decision? You’ll have to read and find out for yourself.
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The novel is very well structured regarding the development of both plot and comedy, the writing is quirky and engaging, and the depth and internal conflict of the main character that you experience are memorable. To spend time with this book is priceless, and it will have you wanting to read it again and again.
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Catch-22: A Novel