Catch-22 (Catch-22 #1) – Joseph Heller
“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 was 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.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.” [Joseph Heller, Catch-22]
Catch 22 confronts the sheer madness of war. There are characters in the novel who see the utter craziness of the situation they are in and characters who don’t seem aware of what is happening to them and around them. Yossarian the main protagonist of the novel sees that he is in an insane situation and it drives him mad that he can’t escape from it, except by having it kill him.
Catch 22 is regarded as one of the great books of the 20th Century and one of the great ‘war’ books and justifiably so. It examines how war – especially modern warfare – is as much a matter of bureaucracy – and bureaucracy’s infamous blind stupidity – as it is of fighting the enemy. So much so that the frontline soldier is as much at war with his own side as he is with the enemy. Both – as Yossarian discovers – seem intent on getting him killed, for what he can see as no particular reason. Neither the enemy, nor the bureaucracy of his own side, have any great enmity towards him as an individual but both are out to kill him.
“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.” [Joseph Heller, Catch-22]
No wonder Yossarian can make no sense of it all.
Catch 22 is a truly great book and one that rewards rereading.
The novel is set during World War II, from 1942 to 1944. It mainly follows the life of 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, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so that they may return home.