Author: Joseph Heller, a twentieth-century American novelist.
A war novel unlike any other ever written, this darkly comic satire of convoluted logic used in wartime by people undertaking Sisyphean tasks, moves back and forth in time, describing almost at random the ludicrousness of the people and events. The title of the bitterly funny story has become a part of our lexicon, with even civilians identifying Catch-22 situations in their daily brush with bureaucracy.
Yossarian is a United States Air Force bombardier, Captain of his squadron, at Pianosa, an island off the coast of Italy, in 1944, trying to complete a number of missions for being relieved from active combat duty, which the group commander Colonel Cathcart keeps raising. Censoring letters written by enlisted men in the hospital, where he is admitted with liver pain, Yossarian makes a game of deleting words arbitrarily. He signs as Washington Irving, the novelist, as a censoring officer, which brings a CID investigator disguised as a patient. He gets himself discharged within ten days of a good-natured but annoyingly garrulous, vociferously patriotic Texan arriving there.
Yossarian finds Clevinger missing in action returning to his tent, comfortable and spacious due to the ingenuity of his roommate Orr. Clevinger calls him crazy because Yossarian argues that everybody is out to kill him, total strangers trying to shoot him out of the sky. Appeals to his patriotism fall on deaf ears, as Yossarian’s irrefutable reasoning is that it does not matter to you whether you have won when you are dead.
Yossarian goes to flight surgeon Doc Daneeka to get a certificate releasing him, but Cathcart has raised the bar yet again. Doc advises Yossarian to be like their best bombardier Havermeyer, but Havermeyer refuses to take evasive action making his squadron sitting ducks for enemy bullets. Yossarian’s only objective is to return unhurt. Efficient earlier, after forty four missions, his goal now is to get out of the war alive or die trying. Yossarian pesters Doc to take him off duty as Clevinger calls him crazy, and crazy people can be grounded. Catch-22, the all-encompassing rule, stipulates that Doc can only ground those who ask for it. However, if someone is sane enough to comprehend the dangers of combat duty, he cannot possibly be crazy. Hence, Doc cannot ground one who asks to be grounded.
Few examples from the numerous interconnected sub-plots are mentioned here. General Peckem, leading special operations headquartered in Rome, issues absurd directives, ignored by General Dreedle at Pianosa, till Colonel Scheisskopf, the trainer, becomes Lieutenant General, and commanding officer of both. Havermeyer shoots field mice while eating peanut brittles. Hungry Joe pursues women to pose naked for him, pretending to be a ‘Life Magazine’ photographer. Chief White Halfoat, part-Indian from Oklahoma, cannot stand roommate Daneeka. Lead navigator Aardvaark, the pipe-smoking always unruffled Aarfy, gets lost on the streets of Rome and on missions. Milo Minderbinder, the Mess Officer, heads a black-market empire and makes huge profits. He even leases planes to Germans, which bomb Milo’s own squadron. The squadron commander Major Major Major Major is named in jest by his father and promoted to the rank of Major by the whim of an IBM computer. Lieutenant Dunbar is Yossarian’s friend and frequent companion in hospitals and recreation.
Yossarian often remembers the bomb run of Avignon. Dobbs, the co-pilot, loses his mind and snatches the controls from the fifteen-year-old but capable pilot Huple on whom he has no confidence. The plane nosedives and Huple levels it but Snowden, Yossarian’s radio gunner, is hit inside his flak suit. Snowden dies with his insides spilling out, and Yossarian goes about naked feeling all his clothes have Snowden’s blood. Yossarian attends Snowden’s funeral sitting naked on a tree, where Chaplain Tappman sees him, and later feels a sense of déjà vu on meeting Yossarian. When Dreedle awards Yossarian a medal for bombing the bridge at Ferrara, he accepts it naked.
The Great Big Siege of Bologna in which Cathcart volunteers his men is another recurring memory. To avoid the mission being delayed by rain, Yossarian secretly moves the bomb line on the map over Bologna and puts laundry soap in the sweet potatoes causing widespread diarrhea. They ultimately go on the mission and German flak hits the floor tearing through Aarfy’s maps missing Yossarian by inches.
Doc Daneeka fears flying and is not on the plane, though registered as a passenger with McWatt to collect his requisite flight time, the day McWatt, flying dangerously low as usual, accidentally cuts Kid Sampson in half, and dashes his plane in the mountains. Doc becomes officially dead and his pay is stopped, living on Milo’s mercy. When he writes to his wife, she moves without leaving a forwarding address, as his death makes her rich from insurance and allowances.
Yossarian is injured in a mission and sent to a psychiatrist as he dreams of holding a live fish. The psychiatrist thinks he is crazy but also thinks Yossarian is Fortiori, so Fortiori is released instead. The genteel Nately is in love with a prostitute in Rome. Yossarian and friends rescue Nately’s whore kept captive by military big shots in Rome. She wakes up the next morning in love with Nately, but Nately dies in the next mission. She somehow supposes Yossarian is responsible and stalks him with a knife.
When four young noisy boys replace the dead Orr as his roommates, Yossarian feels too old and jaded at twenty-eight. Refusing to fly any more missions, he runs away to Rome, where he encounters every kind of crime and misery. Aarfy rapes and throws the maid from the window, killing her. Military Police arrest Yossarian for being in Rome without a pass, but not Aarfy. Cathcart and Korn propose to promote and send Yossarian home, provided he praises them publicly. Yossarian agrees to avert court-martial. Nately’s whore, disguised as a soldier, attacks him. Yossarian returns to the hospital, where Chaplain announces Orr is alive in neutral Sweden. Yossarian takes off for Sweden narrowly escaping Nately’s whore’s knife.