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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, one of the best literary works of the twentieth century

Updated on August 24, 2012

Catch-22 Analysis

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Catch-22, indirectly points towards hope, though the novel is all about death and annihilation. Joseph Heller, Catch-22,’s Catch-22 (1961) is an ironic novel having the later periods of Second World War as the background. The novel is historical and is considered as one of the best litearary works of the twentieth century. The story happens in the island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean Sea (near to Elba). Island of Pianosa is the geographical location of the novel. The story belongs to the period 1943 onwards and includes the character Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air ForcesB-25bombardier and various other characters. Catch-22, the satirizing novel has death as the underlying theme. Catch-22 can otherwise be termed as a black comedy about death. It is about what human beings do when they face death or destruction. The emotional theme of the novel is the human craze for survival. Survival and death thus constitutes the theme of the novel.

Catch-22 themes

Death is frequently quoted in the novel. The inevitability of death and matter of survival is mentioned throughout. Even though horror death is the theme of the novel, it never introduces any bloody scene, fight or evil episode to illustrate the point. The author instead makes us of irony and humor to effectively present the theme. There is not even a violent depiction of death or fighting in the novel. Catch-22 indirectly speaks of hope though the novel is all about death and annihilation. The novel becomes a real battlefield where hope and encouragement fights against death, chaos and discouragement.

Catch-22 summary, detailed study - Catch-22 characters analysis

Death and Horror in Catch-22

Prevailing death and horror is the central theme of the novel. Protagonist encounter with death and horror is the major incident. Matter of survival, death and hope prevails in the novel. Catch-22 reiterates the fact that death is inevitable and important. The protagonist Yossarian finally realizes that it is not enough to live. He understands that it is important to live a life free of hypocrisy and oppression. The novel still speaks of the importance of the desire to live even though death is unavoidable. The character Nately's and her whore plays is crucial in depicting the theme of death and survival in the novel even though she becomes a major character only in the climax of the novel. Yossarian just holds the role of the messenger who bears the bad news of the death of Nately. Nately’s whore, on the other hand, puts the whole responsibility on him. It takes him back to Pianosa with the intention to kill him. Yossarian was always successful from escaping from her. He could, however, save himself as long as he refused to obey the immoral, illogical and strict rules of the military. As Yossarian finds Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn, she gets hold of him and injures him badly. Yossarian moved towards disaster and death as he willfully surrendered to the oppression and cruelty of the bureaucratic military system. Yossarian gets a proper revelation and boldly takes the decision to leave the military. In this scene Nately's whore hides herself behind the door to stab and kill him. In spite of all these attempts Nately's whore was never successful in killing Yossarian as he refused to submit his life to a worthless, hypocritical cause. This again confirms the chances of hope and survival in the midst of horror and death. Hope and life exceeds death and horror in Catch-22

Death, horror and darkness always surrounded Yossarian The protagonist’s most astonishing view of horror and death comes during the nights when he stayed alone in the streets of Rome. There he watched a rape, a convulsing soldier, homeless children, men beating children and dogs, and various other horrifying scenes. He was again frightened to see the street being littered by broken human teeth. This is one of the rare parts of the novel that do not make use of humor to depict cruelty, inhumanity and pain in the world. In the closing of this scene Yossarian returns to his apartment and finds that Aarfy had raped an innocent maid. She was found dead in the sidewalk as she was raped and thrown out through the window. It is ironical to note that Yossarian is arrested here for not holding a pass. Aarfy is offered an apology for the brief disturbance and he is left unpunished for the brutal murder that he committed. This is also the place where Yossarian recognizes the true face of military and the real meaning of Catch-22. Aarfy was never punished for the heinous crime that he committed. As he visits the brothel he hears from the old woman how the soldiers cruelly treat girls. They are raped and thrown out of the house.

Catch-22 meaning

Catch-22 is the justification for every wrong the military commits, and it overrides every other moral law. Military is the ultimate authority and they have the power to do anything. According to her, the cruelties and the horror deeds of the military will never stop. This brings a real revelation before Yossarian. He understands how meaningless it is to fight for a system those implements nothing but injustice, horror and death. Yossarian decides that he will not fight and die for a system that makes horror, fight and meaningless death. The moods change from death to hope here. He no longer admires the death and chaos initiated by the military.

The novel undergoes a transition from death and horror to hope and happiness. The final step in the change of the attitude of the protagonist from defiance to hope is the death of Snowden. Even though Snowden’s death happens before several other main events in the novel, it signifies the climax of the novel, as the readers could not understand the entire events until they reach the end of the novel. Yossarian finds the worn out Snowden with the gigantic hole in his ribs and he witnesses the death of Snowden (Snowden dies on the floor of the plane). This made Yossarian understand that Snowden’s death revealed various secrets. Yossarian refuses to contend with a life of hypocrisy, cruelty and oppression under the military. He hates the life under the military and decides to go to the desert. He however understands the fact that Orr at last paddled all the way to Sweden. This upholds his hope and takes the decision, as this was the only path he can take to be free. Even though he knew that it was risky, he did not have any other alternative before him. In the midst of horror and death the protagonist was still able to trace a path of hope and encouragement.

Catch-22 definition, the true message of the story

Catch-22 thus highlights hope, light and encouragement though the novel is stuffed with death, horror and darkness. Although Catch-22 is painted in a war scene, peace and hope stem out ironically in the novel. The ultimate message of the story is nothing but hope. The protagonist finally understands that the basic nature to survive is the most important quality of human beings. He learns that he should follow his impulse and somehow escape from the cruel hands of military that propagate death and horror. Catch-22 ensures that military is in control of everything and no man can stop military from accomplishing its cruel motives. However the whole story gives out the message that though death and horror endures, hope, light and encouragement cannot be completely eliminated from the world. Hope and life rule over dearth and darkness in the novel. Catch-22 thus indirectly points of hope, though the novel is all about death and annihilation. The novel becomes a real battlefield where hope and encouragement fights and wins against death, chaos and discouragement.


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