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For other uses, see Catch-22 (disambiguation).
Catch-22
Catch22.jpg
First edition cover
Author Joseph Heller
Cover artist Paul Bacon[1]
Country USA
Language English
Genre Black humor, absurdist fiction, satire, war fiction, historical fiction
Publisher Simon & Schuster
Publication date
11 November 1961
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 453 pp (1st edition hardback)
ISBN 0-684-83339-5
OCLC 35231812
813/.54 22
LC Class PS3558.E476 C3 2004
Followed by Closing Time (1994)

Catch-22 is a satirical novel by the American author Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953; the novel was first published in 1961. It is set during World War II from 1942 to 1944. It is frequently cited as one of the greatest literary works of the twentieth century.[2] It uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from the point of view of different characters. The separate storylines are out of sequence so that the timeline develops along with the plot.

The novel follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th Squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea, west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp. It focuses on their attempts to keep their sanity in order to fulfill their service requirements so that they may return home.

The phrase "Catch-22" has entered the English language, referring to a type of unsolvable logic puzzle.

Concept[edit]

Strictly speaking, a "Catch-22" is "a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule."[3] For example, losing something is typically a conventional problem; to solve it, you look for the lost item until you find it. But if the thing you've lost is your glasses, you can't see to look for them – a Catch-22. A few more examples: If the lights are out in a room, you can't see to find the light switch. If you lock your keys in your car, you can't unlock the car to retrieve them. If you don't have work experience, you can't get a job to gain experience. If you don't have money, you can't invest to make money. The term "Catch-22" is also used more broadly to mean a tricky problem or a no-win or absurd situation.

In the book, Catch-22 is a military rule typifying bureaucratic operation and reasoning. The rule is never explicitly stated, but the principal example in the book fits the definition above: If you are crazy, you can be discharged from the army. But you have to apply for the discharge, and applying demonstrates that you are not crazy. As a result, you will not be discharged. The narrator explains:

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 were 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. (p. 56, ch. 5)

Other forms of Catch-22 are invoked throughout the novel to justify various bureaucratic actions. At one point, victims of harassment by military police quote the MPs' explanation of one of Catch-22's provisions: "Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating." Another character explains: "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing."

Yossarian comes to realize that Catch-22 does not actually exist, but because the powers that be claim it does, and the world believes it does, it nevertheless has potent effects. Indeed, because it does not exist, there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown, or denounced. The combination of force with specious and spurious legalistic justification is one of the book's primary motifs.

The motif of bureaucratic absurdity is further explored in 1994's Closing Time, Heller's sequel to Catch-22. This darker, slower-paced, apocalyptic novel explores the pre- and post-war lives of some of the major characters in Catch-22, with particular emphasis on the relationship between Yossarian and tailgunner Sammy Singer.

Synopsis[edit]

The development of the novel can be split into segments. The first (chapters 1–11) broadly follows the story fragmented between characters, but in a single chronological time in 1943. The second (chapters 12–20) flashes back to focus primarily on the "Great Big Siege of Bologna" before once again jumping to the chronological "present" of 1943 in the third part (chapter 21–25). The fourth (chapters 26–28) flashes back to the origins and growth of Milo's syndicate, with the fifth part (chapter 28–32) returning again to the narrative "present" but keeping to the same tone of the previous four. In the sixth and final part (chapter 32 on) while remaining in the "present" time the novel takes a much darker turn and spends the remaining chapters focusing on the serious and brutal nature of war and life in general.[4]

While the first five parts "sections" develop the novel in the present and through use of flash-backs, the novel significantly darkens in chapters 32–41. Previously the reader had been cushioned from experiencing the full horror of events, but now the events are laid bare, allowing the full effect to take place. The horror begins with the attack on the undefended Italian mountain village, with the following chapters involving despair (Doc Daneeka and the Chaplain), disappearance in combat (Orr and Clevinger), disappearance caused by the army (Dunbar) or death of most of Yossarian's friends (Nately, McWatt, Mudd, Kid Sampson, Dobbs, Chief White Halfoat and Hungry Joe), culminating in the unspeakable horrors of Chapter 39, in particular the rape and murder of Michaela, who represents pure innocence.[4] In Chapter 41, the full details of the gruesome death of Snowden are finally revealed.

Despite this, the novel ends on an upbeat note with Yossarian learning of Orr's miraculous escape to Sweden and Yossarian's pledge to follow him there.

Style[edit]

Many events in the book are repeatedly described from differing points of view, so the reader learns more about each event from each iteration, with the new information often completing a joke, the punchline of which was told several chapters previously. The narrative's events are out of sequence, but events are referred to as if the reader is already familiar with them, so that the reader must ultimately piece together a timeline of events. Specific words, phrases, and questions are also repeated frequently, generally to comic effect.

Much of Heller's prose in Catch-22 is circular and repetitive, exemplifying in its form the structure of a Catch-22. Heller revels in paradox, for example: "The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likable. In three days no one could stand him", and "The case against Clevinger was open and shut. The only thing missing was something to charge him with." This atmosphere of apparently logical irrationality pervades the book.

While a few characters are most prominent, notably Yossarian and the Chaplain, the majority of named characters are described in detail with fleshed out or multidimensional personas to the extent that there are few if any "minor characters."

Although its non-chronological structure may at first seem aleatoric, Catch 22 is actually highly structured. A structure of free association, ideas run into one another through seemingly random connections. For example, Chapter 1 entitled "The Texan" ends with "everybody but the CID man, who had caught cold from the fighter captain and come down with pneumonia."[5] Chapter 2, entitled "Clevinger", begins with "In a way the CID man was pretty lucky, because outside the hospital the war was still going on."[6] The CID man connects the two chapters like a free association bridge and eventually Chapter 2 flows from the CID man to Clevinger through more free association links.

Yossarian comes to fear his commanding officers more than he fears the Germans attempting to shoot him down and he feels that "they" are "out to get him." Key among the reasons Yossarian fears his commanders more than the enemy is that as he flies more missions, Colonel Cathcart increases the number of required combat missions before a soldier may return home; he reaches the magic number only to have it retroactively raised. He comes to despair of ever getting home and is greatly relieved when he is sent to the hospital for a condition that is almost jaundice. In Yossarian's words:

The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on, and that includes Colonel Cathcart. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it, the longer you might live.[7]

While the military's enemies are Germans, none appear in the story as an enemy combatant. This ironic situation is epitomized in the single appearance of German personnel in the novel, who act as pilots employed by the squadron's Mess Officer, Milo Minderbinder, to bomb the American encampment on Pianosa. This predicament indicates a tension between traditional motives for violence and the modern economic machine, which seems to generate violence simply as another means to profit, quite independent of geographical or ideological constraints. Heller emphasizes the danger of profit seeking by portraying Milo without "evil intent"; Milo's actions are portrayed as the result of greed, not malice.[8]

Characters[edit]

Further information: List of Catch-22 characters

Influences[edit]

Heller wanted to be a writer from an early age; his experiences as a bombardier during World War II inspired Catch-22;[9] Heller later said that he "never had a bad officer." In a 1977 essay on Catch-22, Heller stated that the "antiwar and antigovernment feelings in the book" were a product of the Korean War and the 1950s rather than World War II itself. Heller's criticisms are not intended for World War II but for the Cold War and McCarthyism.[10]

The influence of the 1950s on Catch-22 is evident through Heller's extensive use of anachronism. Though the novel is ostensibly set in World War II, Heller intentionally included anachronisms like loyalty oaths and computers (IBM machines) to situate the novel in the context of the 1950s.[8] Many of the characters are based on or connected to individuals from the 1950s:

  • Milo Minderbinder's maxim "What's good for M&M Enterprises is good for the country" alludes to former president of General Motors Charles Erwin Wilson's statement before the Senate "What's good for General Motors is good for the country."[8]
  • The question of "Who promoted Major Major?" alludes to Joseph McCarthy's questioning of the promotion of Major Peress, an army dentist who refused to sign loyalty oaths.[8]

Czech writer Arnošt Lustig recounts in his book 3x18 that Joseph Heller told him that he would never have written Catch-22 had he not first read The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek.[11]

In 1998, some critics raised the possibility that Heller's book had questionable similarities to Louis Falstein's 1950 novel, Face of a Hero. Falstein never raised the issue between Catch-22's publication and his death in 1995 and Heller claimed never to have been aware of the obscure novel. Heller said that the novel had been influenced by Céline, Waugh and Nabokov. Many of the similarities have been stated to be attributable to the authors' experiences, both having served as U.S. Air Force aircrew in Italy in World War II. However, their themes and styles are different.[12]

Literary allusions[edit]

Catch-22 contains allusions to many works of literature. Howard Jacobson, in his 2004 introduction to the Vintage Classics publication, wrote that the novel was "positioned teasingly ... between literature and literature's opposites – between Shakespeare and Rabelais and Dickens and Dostoevsky and Gogol and Céline and the Absurdists and of course Kafka on the one hand, and on the other vaudeville and slapstick and Bilko and Abbott and Costello and Tom and Jerry and the Goons (if Heller had ever heard of the Goons)."[13] One critic argues that it is Kafka's influence that can be seen most strongly in the novel:

Like Kafka's heroes, Yossarian is riddled with anxiety and caught in an inexorable nightmare – in his case created by Colonel Cathcart and the inevitability of him raising the number of missions he has to fly.[14]

Historical context[edit]

The idea for Catch-22 was based on Joseph Heller's personal experience in World War II. The feelings that Yossarian and the other bomber pilots felt were taken directly from problems he suffered while on duty. Heller flew 60 bombing missions from May to October in 1944. Heller mentions that he should have been killed three times over, since the average death rate was 5% per mission. Heller was able to make it out of the war, but the experience tortured him and it took until 1953 before he could start writing about it. The war experience turned Heller into a "tortured, funny, deeply peculiar human being".[15]

After publication in 1961, Catch-22 became very popular among teenagers at the time. Catch-22 seemed to embody the feelings that young people had toward the Vietnam War. It was joked around that every student who went off to college at the time took along a copy of Catch-22. The popularity of the book created a cult following, which led to over eight million copies being sold in the United States. There are many[who?][not in citation given] who feel that "the comic fable that ends in horror has become more and more clearly a reflection of the altogether uncomic and horrifying realities of the world in which we live and hope to survive."[16]

Explanation of the novel's title[edit]

The title is a reference to a fictional bureaucratic stipulation which embodies forms of illogical and immoral reasoning. The opening chapter of the novel was originally published in New World Writing as Catch-18 in 1955, but Heller's agent, Candida Donadio, requested that he change the title of the novel, so it would not be confused with another recently published World War II novel, Leon Uris's Mila 18. The number 18 has special meaning in Judaism (it means Alive in Gematria; see Chai) and was relevant to early drafts of the novel which had a somewhat greater Jewish emphasis.[17]

The title Catch-11 was suggested, with the duplicated 1 paralleling the repetition found in a number of character exchanges in the novel, but because of the release of the 1960 movie Ocean's Eleven, this was also rejected. Catch-17 was rejected so as not to be confused with the World War II film Stalag 17, as was Catch-14, apparently because the publisher did not feel that 14 was a "funny number." Eventually the title came to be Catch-22, which, like 11, has a duplicated digit, with the 2 also referring to a number of déjà vu-like events common in the novel.[17]

Publication and movie rights[edit]

Catch-22 was sold to Simon & Schuster, where it had been championed by editor Robert Gottlieb, who would edit and oversee the marketing of the book. Nina Bourne also participated in editing the book. Officially published on 10 October 1961, the hardcover sold for $5.95. The book was not a best-seller in hardcover in the United States. Though it sold 12,000 copies by Thanksgiving, it never entered the New York Times Bestseller List. Catch-22 got good notices and was nominated for the National Book Award in March 1962. (Heller lost out to Walker Percy's The Moviegoer.) It went through four printings in hardcover, but only sold well on the East Coast. The book never established itself nationally until it was published in paperback for 75 cents.[18]

Upon publication in Great Britain, the book became the #1 best-seller.[18] Don Fine of Dell Paperbacks bought the paperback reprint rights to Catch-22 for $32,000. Between the paperback's release in September 1962 and April 1963, it sold 1.1 million copies.[18] In August 1962, Donadio brokered the sale of movie rights to Columbia Pictures for $100,000 plus $25,000 to write a treatment or a first draft of a screenplay.[18]

Reception[edit]

The initial reviews of the book ranged from very positive to very negative. There were positive reviews from The Nation, ("the best novel to come out in years"), the New York Herald Tribune ("A wild, moving, shocking, hilarious, raging, exhilarating, giant roller-coaster of a book") and The New York Times ("A dazzling performance that will outrage nearly as many readers as it delights"). On the other hand, The New Yorker, ("doesn't even seem to be written; instead, it gives the impression of having been shouted onto paper," "what remains is a debris of sour jokes") and a second review from the New York Times ("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")[19] disliked it. One commentator of Catch-22 recognized that "many early audiences liked the book for just the same reasons that caused others to hate it"[20] The book had a cult following though, especially among teenagers and college students. Heller remarks that in 1962, after appearing on the Today show he went out drinking with the host at the time, John Chancellor, who handed him stickers that Chancellor got privately printed reading "YOSSARIAN LIVES". Heller also said that Chancellor had been secretly putting them on the walls of the corridors and executive bathrooms in the NBC building.[20]

Although the novel won no awards upon release, it has remained in print and is seen as one of the most significant American novels of the 20th century.[2] Scholar and fellow World War II veteran Hugh Nibley said it was the most accurate book he ever read about the military.[21] Since its release in 1961, the book has sold 10 million copies.

Rankings[edit]

  • The Modern Library ranked Catch-22 as the 7th (by review panel) and 12th (by public) greatest English language novel of the 20th century.[22]
  • The Radcliffe Publishing Course rank Catch-22 as number 15 of the 20th century's top 100 novels.[23]
  • The Observer listed Catch-22 as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.[24]
  • TIME puts Catch-22 in the top 100 English language modern novels (1923 onwards, unranked).[25]
  • The Big Read by the BBC ranked Catch-22 as number 11 on a web poll of the UK's best-loved book.[26]

Adaptations[edit]

Opening title of the film adaptation

Selected releases[edit]

This list covers the first and most recent printed publications by the original publisher Simon & Schuster as well as all other formats. Other print publishers include Dell, Corgi, Vintage, Knopf, Black Swan, Grasset & Fasquelle and Wahlström & Widstrand.

The original manuscript is held by Brandeis University.[29]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Paul Bacon cover artist". Solothurnli.com. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  2. ^ a b "What is Catch-22? And why does the book matter?". BBC News. 12 March 2002. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  3. ^ catch-22. 2012. In Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catch%2022
  4. ^ a b Clinton S. Burhans, Jr. Spindrift and the Sea: Structural Patterns and Unifying Elements in Catch 22. Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 239–250, 1973. JSTOR online access
  5. ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 24
  6. ^ Joseph Heller, Catch 22 (Simon and Schuster, New York. 1996), p. 25
  7. ^ Heller, Joseph (1961). Catch-22. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 124. 
  8. ^ a b c d Sorkin, Adam J. (1993). Conversations with Joseph Heller. Jackson, MO: University Press of Mississippi. p. 150. ISBN 0-87805-635-1. 
  9. ^ DM Craig. From Avignon to Catch-22. War, Literature, and the Arts 6, no. 2, 1994 pp27-54.
  10. ^ Heller, Joseph (1977). "Reeling in Catch-22". In Lynda Rosen Obst. The Sixties. New York: Random House/Rolling Stone Press. pp. 50–52. 
  11. ^ Zenny Sadlon. "Personal testimony by Arnošt Lustig". Zenny.com. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  12. ^ Gussow, Mel (29 April 1998). "Critic's Notebook; Questioning the Provenance of the Iconic Catch-22". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2010. 
  13. ^ Random House ISBN 978-0-09-947046-5 Vintage Classics
  14. ^ McDonald, Paul. Reading Catch-22. Humanities E-Books
  15. ^ Bailey, Blake (26 August 2011). "The Enigma of Joseph Heller". New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Aldride, John W. (26 October 1986). "The Loony Horror of it all - Catch-22 Turns 25". Sunday New York TImes. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  17. ^ a b N James. "The Early Composition History of Catch-22". In Biographies of Books: The Compositional Histories of Notable American Writings, J Barbour, T Quirk (edi.) pp. 262–290. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1996.
  18. ^ a b c d Daugherty, Tracy (2011). Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 224–230. ISBN 978-0312596859. 
  19. ^ "The Internet Public Library: Online Literary Criticism Collection". Ipl.org. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  20. ^ a b Heller, Joseph (1994). Catch-22. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 11. ISBN 0-671-50233-6. 
  21. ^ Hugh Nibley and Alex Nibley, Sergeant Nibley PhD.: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle, Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2006, p. 255
  22. ^ Randomhouse.com Modern Library's 100 best novels of the 20th century
  23. ^ Herbert Huber. "Radcliffe Publishing Course: the twentieth century's top 100 novels". Lesekost.de. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  24. ^ Robert McCrum (8 August 2006). "The Observer's greatest novels of all time". The Observer (UK). Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  25. ^ "Time's top 100 English language modern novels". TIME. 16 October 2005. Retrieved 11 March 2011. 
  26. ^ The BBC's Big Read
  27. ^ Phythyon Jr., John. R. (2 March 2008). "Catch-22 a nearly perfect adaptation". The Lawrence Journal-World & News. 
  28. ^ Catch-22 (TV Movie 1973) at the Internet Movie Database.
  29. ^ Heller archive, Brandeis University.

External links[edit]


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