Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers

Help / FAQ

printable study guide online download notes summary

Joseph Heller



The 256th Squadron of the Twenty-seventh United States Army Air Force is based on the tiny island of Pianosa between Corsica and Italy. It's mid-1944, and the Allied powers have captured Rome. Whenever conditions permit, bombing groups make runs to southern France and to cities in Italy.

It's a crazy world. A feud between two generals makes picture-perfect placement of bombs more important than hitting the target. The major in command is a recluse who orders his aide to let the men in to see him only when he is out. Colonel Cathcart wants promotion so badly that he keeps raising the number of missions the men in his squadron must fly. Even though the Army says they need fly only forty, a bureaucratic trap called "Catch-22" says they can't go home at forty because they must obey their commanding officers. The commanding officer keeps raising the required number of missions- it's Catch-22!

Some of the men enjoy themselves anyway. The daredevil pilot, McWatt, loves to buzz his friend Yossarian's tent. Mess officer Milo Minderbinder turns his job into an international black-market food syndicate. Lead bombardier Havermeyer zeroes straight in on targets, no matter how much antiaircraft fire peppers his plane. Other members of the squadron seem even crazier. Chief White Halfoat keeps threatening to slit his roommate's throat. Hungry Joe keeps everyone awake with his screaming nightmares. Corporal Snark puts soap in the men's food. Yossarian starts signing "Washington Irving" to letters he censors, and he goes naked for a few days- even when he is being awarded a medal.

Between missions over Ferrara, Bologna, Orvieto, Avignon, and Parma, many of the men find release with prostitutes in apartments provided for them in Rome. People from their military past also reappear, such as Lieutenant Scheisskopf from a training camp in the States who turns up as a colonel on General Peckem's staff.

But the war goes on, and it kills men both in expected and unexpected ways. Some die when flak hits their planes, as do Snowden, Mudd, and Nately. Clevinger's plane disappears into a cloud; Dunbar simply disappears from the base hospital; and Kid Sampson is killed by the propeller of a bomber. Whenever the horror threatens to overwhelm Yossarian and his friends, they create symptoms that get them admitted to the hospital. Yossarian makes repeated attempts to be judged as certifiably insane so he can be discharged. His commanding officers grow so irritated that they finally offer to send him home as a hero if he will praise them publicly.

Only Yossarian's roommate, Orr, successfully extricates himself from the madness. Shot down into the ocean time after time, he finally floats off in a raft, rowing with a tiny blue oar. By the time that word of his safety in neutral Sweden reaches Pianosa, Yossarian is in deep trouble. He's refused the hero deal; most of his friends are dead; he's afraid his next mission will kill him; and he is being chased by a woman who is trying to kill him because she blames him for her man's death. Seeing safety and sanity in no choice but Orr's, Yossarian decides to desert and run to Sweden.

[Catch-22 Contents]


Catch-22 features a large cast of characters, many of whom Joseph Heller describes in some detail more than once. The chapter references given at the end of the discussion of each character will help you locate these passages.


    Captain John Yossarian is a bombardier in the 256th Squadron of the United States Army Air Force. He is twenty-eight years old, strong enough to do the heavy work on Orr's projects in their tent, and big enough to find the tunnel to the bombardier's compartment in a B-25 a tight fit. He is called an Assyrian, but the name Yossarian suggests an Armenian background. He despises the nickname "Yo-Yo" sometimes applied to him. You are given no other details of his appearance or life history. Instead you must deduce what he is like from his and other characters' words and actions. For example, he must be well read, because he knows enough world literature to identify himself with heroic loners from all kinds of classics, and his madcap sense of humor shows up immediately in the way he censors letters in Chapter One.

    Yossarian emerges, though, as more than a clown- as a complex, intelligent, sensitive man who has few illusions. In cadet training, for example, Clevinger thinks Lt. Scheisskopf really wants suggestions, but Yossarian knows Scheisskopf doesn't mean it. Later, Yossarian holds his own in arguments with the psychiatrist Major Sanderson and the university professor Major Danby. Yossarian refuses to accept the flaws he spots in the military system, and constantly questions Doc Daneeka about how he can get out of flying the additional missions ordered by Colonel Cathcart but not by the Twenty-seventh Air Force. Is he merely attempting to escape duty, or do you find his questions reasonable? His superiors are embarrassed when he gets men killed by making a second bombing run over Ferrara, so they give him a medal. Whatever their reasoning, do you think he earned the medal?

    Yossarian comes to see himself as one powerless man in an overpoweringly insane situation. Notice, though, that Dobbs will not carry out his plot to kill Colonel Cathcart unless Yossarian approves, and Milo admires Yossarian and asks him for business advice. Major Major imitates Yossarian without realizing it by signing documents "Washington Irving," and the chaplain likes Yossarian enough not to speak up when he recognizes a "Washington Irving" forgery as Yossarian's. Toward the end, man after man pops up after dark to ask Yossarian what has come of his refusal to fly the missions Colonel Cathcart has ordered. Cathcart himself cannot cope with Yossarian, and finally tries to bribe him. What does all of this suggest to you? Is Yossarian as powerless as he thinks, or does he actually exert considerable influence?

    Then, too, you might ask whether Yossarian is really a loner. He grieves deeply for Snowden, and when Orr is shot down and does not return, he resents the way his new roommates use things Orr had laboriously made for the two of them. McWatt and Doc tend Yossarian gently when he is wounded. What do these facts suggest to you about Yossarian's ability to form friendships with other men? With women, Yossarian appears to be less successful than some of his friends. Unlike them, he needs to fall in love to feel at ease. Is he really unsuccessful, or simply too human to treat women purely as sex objects? He is concerned enough about the little girl, Kid Sister, to go AWOL to try to rescue her.

    Yossarian does have a zany sense of humor, but his comic side coexists with a horror for war and an insight into the disregard the Air Force has for any one man's individual safety. Is his moving of the bomb line to delay the Bologna mission pure mischief, or does it have a serious element, too, like the clowning of the doctors in the television series "M*A*S*H"? Yossarian repeatedly relives the death of Snowden in increasing detail, and his moods grow darker until he is driven to take command of his own life. Some consider his desertion the act of a coward, but Yossarian claims that following Orr to Sweden is running to responsibility. What do you think? If you were in his position, would you react as he did, or stay to fly more missions? In other words, do you see Yossarian as a cowardly anti-hero, or as a new kind of hero? (Chapters 1, 2, 5, 10, 14, 16 to 18, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 38 to 42.)

  • ORR
    Orr is a skillful combat pilot and a gifted handyman who converts his and Yossarian's tent to a luxury residence. He is proud of the bright red cheeks he claims to have developed by holding chestnuts or crab apples in his mouth when he was a boy. He is so small that Yossarian sometimes thinks of him as a dwarf or a gnome. His tinkering annoys Yossarian, but he is still Yossarian's special friend. The two of them accompany Milo Minderbinder on a business trip around the Mediterranean, and Yossarian later resents it when his new roommates use things Orr made.

    Although Orr is an excellent pilot, he seems to attract enemy fire, and he ditches into the ocean more often than the other pilots. Each time he crashes, he giggles and fidgets as if he were empty-headed, but he is actually cool and practical. Each time, he gets his crew safely to a raft, and then plays with the survival equipment. One time Orr almost begs Yossarian to fly with him. His purpose becomes clear only after he is again shot down. He leaves the plane later than the others, in a separate raft, and is last seen paddling off into the distance. Yossarian grieves until word arrives that Orr is safe in neutral Sweden- a destination until then almost mythical in Yossarian's imagination. Many readers conclude that Yossarian and Orr have been the perfect partners all along. Do you agree? If so, what does each man contribute to the partnership?

    Orr's name can be read as a homophone for two words- "oar," the tiny blue paddle he uses to get to Sweden, and "or," the alternative he selects for getting out of an insane situation. (Chapters 2, 3, 5, 14, 22, 28, 42.)

    Captain Albert Taylor Tappman, an introverted Anabaptist minister, is almost always referred to by his role as group chaplain. He desperately misses his wife and children, and prefers living alone in a tent in the woods, because the other officers make him ill at ease. He spends time in the officers' club as ordered, but resents being scheduled to eat in so many different mess tents that he never knows where to go.

    Others often take advantage of the chaplain. His aide, Corporal Whitcomb, causes him to be accused of forging "Washington Irving" on letters and documents. Colonel Cathcart forgets that he gave the chaplain a plum tomato, and accuses him of stealing it. But the chaplain opposes Corporal Whitcomb's idea of sending form letters to the families of men killed in combat, and also opposes Colonel Cathcart by protesting the number of missions the men must fly. Would you say that the chaplain is stronger or weaker than he thinks he is?

    The chaplain's last name might be interpreted as meaning one who tries to "tap" or pierce the meaning of issues, such as the nature of good and evil. He has trouble holding to his faith in the war setting, but his faith is strengthened by what he sees as "signs" encountering Captain Flume as a "voice in the wilderness," and having a "vision" of a naked man in a tree during a funeral. The chaplain suffers from a feeling of deja vu- of playing a role that occurred before. By the end of the novel, he does reenact some elements of the past role of Christ, a man who suffered for others. He refuses to name Yossarian as a forger, even though he himself becomes the scapegoat. He learns to place his own conscience above military codes, and even enjoys inventing a new disease, "Wisconsin shingles," so he can go to the hospital to join his friend Yossarian. (Chapters 19, 20, 25, 34, 36.)

    "Chuck" Cathcart is a full colonel, a large, broad-shouldered, thirty-six-year-old man with curly dark hair that is beginning to turn gray. His one ambition is to become a general. He often gestures with his onyx and ivory cigarette holder-he considers it sophisticated and debonair. He second-guesses himself on everything he does: was it a feather in his cap or a black eye? Did it please General Dreedle or offend General Dreedle? He is especially insecure around the self-assured Lieutenant Colonel Korn. He never knows exactly how to treat the chaplain, and is completely frustrated when a talk with him leads to giving up the idea of prayers for tight bombing patterns. He had hoped the practice would feature him in a national magazine and move him closer to a generalship.

    One tactic Cathcart employs to reach his goal is volunteering his men for dangerous missions. He also keeps increasing the number of missions they must fly. His purpose is to use the squadron's record to boost him in rank. Yossarian, however, is Cathcart's nemesis. Cathcart cannot control the man. At last he and Lt. Col. "Blackie" Korn develop a plan to get Yossarian out of their way while furthering their own ambitions. They propose sending Yossarian home as a hero if he will praise them publicly. Some readers consider Cathcart a sort of "mad god," an insane arch-villain. Yossarian includes him, simply, among "the enemy." How do you view him? (Chapters 19, 21, 35, 40.)

    Daneeka is a cynical flight surgeon who was forced to leave an unethical (but money-making) practice when he was drafted. He is a hypochondriac who has the orderlies Gus and Wes check his subnormal temperature daily. This dread of being sent to a country in the disease-laden Pacific prevents his speaking out against Colonel Cathcart's constant increase in the number of missions. He contrasts with Dr. Stubbs who later does speak out and is sent to the Pacific. To earn flight pay, Doc Daneeka has Yossarian list him on McWatt's flights, but he never returns the favor by recommending Yossarian for discharge on the basis of insanity. Is Daneeka completely cowardly and unethical, however? What does it add to your view of his character when he attends the wounded during Milo's bombing of the squadron, and when he treats Yossarian for shock after Snowden's death?

    Doc begins to grow haggard after McWatt crashes. McWatt's flight plan listed Daneeka as passenger. Therefore, as far as the army is concerned, Doc is dead. He sends frantic letters to his wife telling her not to believe reports of his death, but his letters keep arriving together with insurance money and official death notices. Eventually Mrs. Daneeka takes the money and moves. In this situation Doc contrasts with Mudd, an officer who died before he could check in, and who is therefore still officially alive. (Chapters 3, 4, 5, 24, 30, 31.)

    McWatt is the pilot with whom Yossarian regularly flies. He is a cheerful, boyish man. He loves noisy card-playing and practical jokes such as buzzing Yossarian's tent. He never really understands that Yossarian sees genuine danger in his stunts until Yossarian nearly strangles him in the air for crazy flying. After that McWatt no longer buzzes the tent, but he continues to buzz the men at the beach. In a freak accident over a raft some yards out from shore, his propeller slices Kid Sampson in half as he stands up to wave. McWatt matures instantly. He has his crew parachute to safety, and he flies the plane into a mountain. (Chapters 2, 7, 12, 15, 30.)

    Major Major is stuck for life at a rank and in a role for which he is totally unsuited. His father gave him the odd name of Major Major Major, and an army computer was unable to see his name as anything but a rank. It promoted him to major while he was still in training camp. He was an embarrassment to Colonel Cathcart until a vacancy at the rank of major occurred in Cathcart's command.

    Timid and unable to relate to others, the major is not much of a leader. He doesn't know whether he is Major de Coverley's superior or de Coverley is his. He doesn't understand why Captain Black hates him so much that he won't even let him sign a loyalty oath. Once he disguises himself to hide his "sickly" resemblance to Henry Fonda so he can play basketball with the men who used to be his friends. But they batter him unmercifully to express their hatred of all officers.

    Finally the major becomes a recluse. He refuses to see anyone unless he is out, and he sneaks through a ditch to reach his trailer unseen. He finds relief in signing documents "Washington Irving," lying to government investigators, and then adopting the signature "John Milton." Only Yossarian is inventive enough to speak with him by blocking his usual exit- the window of his office. But the major will not help Yossarian because he cannot. Can you list the ways in which he becomes a caricature of the ineffective man promoted beyond his talents? (Chapters 9, 20, 25.)

    Although Snowden does not appear as a live character, he influences your view of Yossarian each time Yossarian remembers Snowden's death in greater detail. When assigned to Pianosa, Yossarian was apparently no more opposed to flying missions than anyone else. He even returns a second time to a target at Ferrara. But Snowden's death on the Avignon mission affects him profoundly. While Yossarian is treating Snowden's obvious wound, the man is dying of another which has torn him apart internally. His blood covers Yossarian, and, afterwards, Yossarian refuses for a time to wear his uniform- the symbol of a war he has come to loathe. Some readers suggest that Snowden's death is what causes Yossarian to desert. Others argue that it simply foreshadows, to Yossarian, his own future if he continues to play Colonel Cathcart's game. Which interpretation do you think best fits Yossarian's reactions? (Chapters 4, 5, 17, 21, 22, 30, 41.)

    Although Lieutenant Milo Minderbinder owes his position as mess officer to the mysterious Major de Coverley, he builds his empire himself. Just as his eyes do not focus properly, so his mind cannot take in any value other than profit. He is single-minded: everything he does is designed to enhance his profitable black-market syndicate. He draws group after group into his plan by doubletalk, flattery, or blackmail, Even civilians grant him honorary titles and join his syndicate because it boosts sagging local economies. Nothing stops Milo. Even when he makes a deal with the Germans that requires him to bomb his own squadron, he convinces his superior officers that it was good for everyone- because his syndicate made a profit on the deal. He is generous enough to feed outcasts like Major Major and the "dead" Doc Daneeka, but greed ultimately devours even his good qualities. When loyalty to Yossarian conflicts with a business deal with Cathcart and Korn, Milo deserts Yossarian.

    The name "Milo" is that of a Greek athlete who killed a cow with one blow and ate it in one day, and "Minderbinder" suggests twisted thinking or double-talk. Because Milo operates entirely on his own, twisting the military system to his purposes, some readers see him as a terrifying but accurate symbol of immoral international business practices. Others regard Milo as a Satan, especially in the scene in the tree when he "tempts" Yossarian with chocolate-covered cotton and a role in his syndicate. Do you agree with one of these views, or do you see Milo in some other way? Does his taking advantage of the military situation differ from Yossarian's refusal to obey Colonel Cathcart? If so, how? (Chapters 2, 7, 11, 13, 22, 24, 35, 39.)


    Captain Aardvaark is a navigator who giggles and smokes his pipe in the bombardier's compartment during missions. An aardvark is an African mammal similar to a hyena, and "Aarfy" suggests a noisy dog. Aarfy is a sadist who enjoys others' pain. He laughs at Yossarian's terror on the second Bologna mission; he laughs when Nately is scorned in love; he laughs when Yossarian is wounded. He feels no guilt for raping and killing a prostitute. (Chapters 5, 12, 15, 16, 23, 26, 30, 33, 39, 41.)

    Orr claims there are flies in Appleby's eyes. Appleby is a cheerful Iowa boy who is expert at ping-pong and skeet shooting- perhaps because serious thinking never distracts him. His name suggests that he is all-American, as in "flag, mom, and apple pie." (Chapters 2, 5, 10, 38.)

    Captain Black is the noncombat officer in charge of intelligence. His name suggests a character who sees only black and white and not the shades of gray that exist on all issues. It also suggests blackness in the sense of evil, and contrasts with the red of "red Communist." Captain Black hates Major Major for getting the job Black wanted, and initiates the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade to discredit the major. He takes cruel delight in frustrating Nately by hiring the prostitute Nately loves. (Chapters 4, 11, 12, 14, 38.)

    Colonel Cargill is Peckem's subordinate in Special Services. His special talent is to turn even sure successes into failures. This talent gave him income tax write-offs in civilian business. In the military, it guarantees that the men will hate the entertainment that is supposed to raise their morale. (Chapters 3, 4, 29.)

    Clevinger considers himself an intellectual, but cannot see beyond the literal meaning of words. His name suggests a sharp cleaver that cuts to the core as Clevinger thinks he does. Lt. Scheisskopf calls Clevinger before the Action Board in cadet training. His plane later disappears into a cloud. (Chapters 2, 4, 8, 10, 12, 17.)

    Nurse Cramer usually accompanies Nurse Duckett, especially when Duckett has beach dates with Yossarian. She helps Duckett switch the jars on the soldier in white, and informs Yossarian that his wounded leg belongs to the government. (Chapters 26, 30.)

    Major Danby is more the philosophical university professor than a military operations officer. He is uncomfortable conducting a briefing on the bombing of a defenseless village. His name is similar to "namby-pamby," meaning weak or indecisive. Unlike officers who cannot converse with Yossarian, Danby exchanges ideas with him in a discussion of the ethics of desertion. (Chapters 29, 42.)

    Major __ de Coverley, who is never given a first name, finds recreational apartments for the men and pitches horseshoes for amusement. He seems to speak "translation" English when he ends the Loyalty Oath Crusade by commanding, "Give everybody eat!" Neither Allied nor Axis agents can determine his role. This benign and godlike figure disappears midway through the novel. (Chapters 11, 13.)

    Dobbs is the erratic copilot who grabs the controls from Huple over Avignon. He later proposes killing Colonel Cathcart for constantly increasing the number of missions, but drops the idea when he has completed the new total. He dies on the La Spezia mission when the number is again raised. (Chapters 5, 22, 28, 33, 35.)

    Dori Duz is a friend of Mrs. Scheisskopf's and a member of the Women's Army Corps. She does ("Duz") perform for any man who wants her. Yossarian is in love with her while he is training in California. (Chapters 8, 18.)

    Wing commander General Dreedle is stationed on Corsica. He gives his son-in-law (Colonel Moodus) a safe job, and openly brings his mistress to the front. He does not condemn Yossarian for his nakedness after the Avignon mission, and he dislikes Cathcart and Korn. In his conflict with General Peckem, who wants his job, he is aided by mail clerk Wintergreen who forwards Dreedle's communications but not Peckem's. Nevertheless, Peckem gets his job. Dreedle is no saint, yet readers usually like him. What elements in his portrayal would account for that response? (Chapters 3, 4, 21, 25, 37.)

    Nurse Duckett is a serious person who complains when Yossarian makes a pass at her, but later she has an affair with him. Practicality ultimately wins out- she decides to marry a doctor for his high income. Her name suggests avoiding contact ("duck it") or money (a coin called a "ducat"). (Chapters 1, 27, 30, 32.)

    Dunbar is Yossarian's frequent hospital companion. At first he is obsessed with making time pass slowly. Issues begin to bother him after he strikes his head in a fall in the hospital, and he and McWatt protest the bombing of a defenseless village to block a road. He "becomes" A. Fortiori by trading beds with him to be near Yossarian during one hospitalization. He is later "disappeared" for becoming troublesome, a frightening sign to Yossarian of how extensive is the power held by his superior officers. (Chapters 1, 4, 10, 12, 17, 26, 30, 33, 34.)

    Captain Flume is a public relations officer so demoralized by Chief White Halfoat's threats that he hides in the woods till the weather turns cold. A flume is a channel for water, or, in the captain's case, for information. (Chapters 25, 32.)

    The phrase "a fortiori" is used by logicians in reference to a conclusion considered more certain than the premise it's based on. The character A. Fortiori, however, is involved in illogical switches. Dunbar trades identities with him to be near Yossarian in the hospital, and Major Sanderson, the psychiatrist, is so convinced that Yossarian is Fortiori that it is Fortiori whom Sanderson sends home as insane. (Chapters 26, 27.)

    Gus and Wes are Doc Daneeka's medical orderlies. Treating people like machines, they offer two treatments only. Men with temperatures over 102 degrees are rushed to the hospital, and the others are sent away with a laxative and their gums and toes painted violet. (Chapter 4.)

    Chief White Halfoat is assistant intelligence officer. He rooms with Captain Flume and then with Doc Daneeka. He represents American Indians and their mistreatment by whites, a parallel to the policies of Hitler's Germany opposed by the Allies in World War II. His name parodies Indian names derived from nature, and also suggests "half-cracked"- insane. Halfoat drinks a good deal, delights General Dreedle by hitting Colonel Moodus from time to time, drives Flume to neurotic withdrawal, and dies of pneumonia as he had predicted. (Chapters 5, 10, 12, 14, 32, 35.)

    Havermeyer is a lead bombardier who contrasts with the evasive Yossarian by zeroing straight in on targets despite danger. In camp he lures mice with rigged candy bars and then blasts them with doctored bullets. He enjoys danger and derives pleasure from killing. (Chapters 2, 3, 29.)

    Hungry Joe is a veteran combat flier who has screaming nightmares every time he completes the required number of missions, because he can't stand the tension of waiting to be rotated to the States. For relief he chases women, pretending to be a photographer, but his nightmares end only when Cathcart increases the missions and returns him to combat. He fights with Huple's cat, but the cat wins- it smothers him in his sleep. (Chapters 3, 6, 12, 13, 23, 33, 38, 41.)

    Huple is a fifteen-year-old who lied to enlist. His cat shares his and Hungry Joe's tent. He is the pilot on the mission to Avignon. (Chapters 5, 6, 12.)

    Kid Sampson is a pilot delighted to turn back when Yossarian aborts a mission. He is killed by McWatt in a gruesome accident. His name recalls the strong, manly Samson of the Bible who is "cut down" when Delilah's scissors cut his hair, the source of his strength. (Chapters 14, 30, 32.)

    Kid Sister is the twelve-year-old sister of Nately's whore. She is eager to grow up fast, and tries to seduce men as her sister does. Nevertheless' both Nately and Yossarian see her as a child, representing hope for the future, and both try to safeguard her. (Chapters 23, 33, 38, 39.)

  • KORN
    Lieutenant Colonel "Blackie" Korn is the bane of Colonel Cathcart's existence, but Cathcart needs him for his ideas. Korn, for instance, decides a medal for Yossarian will solve the embarrassment of a man's having died when Yossarian made a second run over Ferrara. A born manipulator, Korn runs the farm he and Cathcart own as part of Milo's black market. His name suggests "corn" (farm produce) or "corny" (sentimental). (Chapters 20, 40.)

    The young pilot Kraft is killed on the Ferrara mission, leaving Yossarian feeling guilty. In German, "Kraft" means power or strength. It also suggests the English "craft" (skill) or "crafty" (sly), though the character Kraft has little chance to demonstrate either. (Chapters 6, 10, 13.)

    Luciana is an intelligent, straightforward, beautiful woman whom Yossarian picks up in Rome. Her name is based on the Italian word for light. She lets light into Yossarian's room by opening the window, and also correctly predicts Yossarian's responses even before he knows them. (Chapters 13, 16.)

    Colonel Moodus is kept safe but tightly controlled by his father-in-law, General Dreedle, who despises him enough to hire Chief White Halfoat to punch him in the face. His name suggests moodiness. (Chapters 4, 6.)

  • MUDD
    Mudd is "the dead man in Yossarian's tent"- his belongings are there. His name suggests the basic mud or clay from which God creates man in Genesis, and to which everyone returns. In contrast with Doc, who is officially dead, Mudd is officially alive because he did not check in before going on the mission to Orvieto that killed him. What to do about Mudd's effects stumps Major Major and Yossarian, but Yossarian's roommates (acquired after Orr disappears) simply remove them. (Chapters 2, 9, 10, 17, 24, 32.)

    Lieutenant Nately is a nineteen-year-old pilot from a respectable family. His name sounds like "natally," meaning "from birth." He falls in love with a whore whom his family would not likely accept. Shortly after she begins to return his love, he is killed on the La Spezia mission. (Chapters 3, 12, 13, 14, 16, 23, 26, 33, 34, 35.) -

    She is the prostitute Nately loves. She is so physically tired all the time that she doesn't love him back until she's had a good night's sleep. When he is killed almost immediately after that night, she chooses Yossarian as symbolic of the war and tries to kill him. Nevertheless, Yossarian tries to rescue her twelve-year-old sister, whom Nately wanted to save. (Chapters 23, 26, 33, 38 to 42.)

    He is a gnarled old man, described as "Satanic," who wounds Major __ de Coverley in the eye. He runs a house of prostitution and changes his politics to meet the current situation. (Chapters 13, 23.)

    General Peckem, in charge of Special Services, works to gain control of combat operations. He loves dissent and paradox, and delights in setting Scheisskopf and Cargill against each other. His power plays backfire when he gets General Dreedle's job, but combat operations are then placed under Special Services, which he left in Scheisskopf's command. His last name suggests his concern with the pecking order. Since his full name is P. P. Peckem, some bathroom humor may also be intended. He typifies people who are obsessed with appearances and with power rather than with the actual purpose of their jobs. (Chapters 3, 4, 12, 19, 21, 29, 37.)

    Captains Piltchard and Wren are men who enjoy their work organizing combat missions. They are small in their ambitions, as suggested by their names. A pilchard is a sardine, and a wren is a small, brown bird. (Chapters 11, 15, 38.)

    Major Sanderson is a caricature of the extremes of the Freudian school of psychoanalysis. He is so enmeshed in his own problems that he seems to be Yossarian's patient, yet he has the power to decide who is crazy. (Chapter 27.)

    Lieutenant Scheisskopf is obsessed with military parades. If he could, he would wire the cadets together to perfect their marching. He is promoted to Colonel and sent to General Peckem, who allows him to post notices deferring parades. When Peckem leaves to take Dreedle's job, Scheisskopf is promoted to General. When combat operations are placed under Special Services, he becomes Peckem's superior. His name is German for "shit head." (Chapters 8, 29, 37.)

    At one point Yossarian believes he is in love with the wife of Lieutenant Scheisskopf. She is a friend of Dori Duz, but not herself a member of the Women's Army Corps. She is a warmhearted person who claims to be an atheist, but who pictures the God she doesn't believe in as benevolent, not cruel. (Chapter 18.)

    Snark is an obnoxious corporal who puts soap in the men's food to prove they will eat anything. He does it again when Yossarian wants the men sick so they can't bomb Bologna. (Chapter 12.)

    The soldier in white is entirely encased in plaster and bandages. Clear bottles recirculate the same colorless fluid through his body. He appears twice, differing slightly in size. Is he a real man, or a device planted by the government intelligence men? It's left to you to decide. (Chapters 1, 17, 34.)


    An Italian-American soldier who screams "I see everything twice" dies when Yossarian is in the hospital. To the officers all soldiers are interchangeable, and they darken the room and make up Yossarian to play the man's role when his family comes to see him. (Chapter 18.)

    Doctor Stubbs is a dedicated flight surgeon who is deeply concerned with the lack of logic in patching men up so that they can return to combat to die. Unlike Doc Daneeka, he willingly certifies men as unable to fly, and is sent to the Pacific as punishment. His fate suggests that Doc Daneeka's cynicism and self-seeking ways are more appropriate for survival in the military system. (Chapters 10, 17, 32, 36.)

    Sergeant Towser is a faithful servant who keeps watch in Major Major's outer office, allowing men to enter the major's office only when he is out. (Chapters 3, 9, 10.)

    Corporal Whitcomb takes advantage of his position as chaplain's assistant to further his own career. He tries to sell Cathcart on the use of form letters to families of men killed in action, and happily joins the government intelligence men in picking the chaplain as the scapegoat on the forgery issue. His name derives from "white comb," as on the head of a rooster, or could suggest "wit," meaning ingenious reasoning. (Chapters 20, 25.)


    Ex-Private First Class Wintergreen (who makes it to ex-Corporal and even ex-Sergeant) keeps returning, like the perennial evergreen plant named wintergreen. He exerts tremendous power from his hidden place in a mail room. He scribbles acceptances and rejections on papers from Dreedle, Peckem, and Cathcart, with none of them the wiser, although Peckem likes to discuss literary style with Wintergreen. (Chapters 3, 4, 6, 10, 12, 13.)

[Catch-22 Contents]



The time of Catch-22 is late 1944 during World War II. The main setting is the island of Pianosa, near Italy.

World War II battles occurred both in Europe and in the Pacific. In 1943 the Allies (Great Britain, the Soviet Union, France, and the United States) were concentrating in Europe on freeing the large areas controlled by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and other Axis powers. An Allied invasion force from North Africa landed in Sicily in July 1943. British and American troops defeated Italian forces and gained control of southern Italy, but winter weather and mountainous terrain delayed their advance. It was June 1944 before they took Rome, and August before they took Florence. German troops, meanwhile, had become entrenched in northern Italy. Allied tactics turned to bombing from the air, with American bombers based on Corsica and in southern Italy.

This is the setting of Catch-22- late 1944, with General Dreedle's command post on the island of Corsica, General Peckem established in Rome, ex- P.F.C. Wintergreen's mail room in the city of Florence, and the rest of the major characters stationed at an airfield on the island of Pianosa. The United States Air Force did not become a separate military branch until after World War II, so the characters belong to what was called the Army Air Forces. Their mission is to bomb Italian cities under German control. Some countries remained neutral throughout World War II- two that are important in Catch-22, as places where a man could wait out the war, are Sweden and Switzerland.

Pianosa is a real island eight miles southwest of Elba, between Corsica and Italy, but it's too small for all that occurs there in Catch-22. You are seeing a fictionalized Pianosa. Flashbacks also take you to training bases in Colorado and California, and to a mission over Avignon in southern France. Several other scenes occur on Corsica and in Florence or Rome. Flights cover the Mediterranean and Near East. Always, however, the action returns to Pianosa.

As the novel progresses, another very significant "setting" emerges- a mental landscape or state of mind created by military attitudes and priorities. Two generals battle each other, instead of the Germans, for wing command. The lives of enlisted men and officers are endangered by an ambitious colonel who wants them to fly more missions than any other squadron in order to make him look good. Supplies disappear, siphoned off into a black-market syndicate created by a mess officer. Contradictory regulations known as Catch-22 frustrate the men at every turn, and paperwork becomes more real than bodies- the records make one dead man alive, and one living man dead. This mental landscape- defined by Catch-22- becomes so important a part of the setting that the themes of the novel have more to do with the insanity of any bureaucracy than with war itself.


The following are themes of Catch-22.

    Like many other novels set during a war, Catch-22 shows how the individual soldier loses his uniqueness. But in this novel the loss of individuality derives not so much from the battlefield, as in the famous World War I novel All Quiet on the Western Front, as from the bureaucratic mentality. A prime example is the way Lt. Scheisskopf becomes so obsessed with parades that he sees the men more as puppets than as human beings. He even wants to wire them together so their movements will be perfectly precise. This theme also appears when Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of missions his squadron must fly. He does so not out of military necessity but solely to enhance his own prestige.

    The soldier in white provides a somewhat different example of the loss of individuality, an example that at first seems more directly related to the battlefield. Such a soldier appears twice, and all Yossarian and his friends really see are plaster and bandage casings that may- or may not- contain a man. But the obvious absurdity of the same fluid being continually recycled through the man suggests that he is not even a real man. In the case of the soldier who saw everything twice, direct substitution occurs. The man's relatives have come to see him, and Yossarian's superiors are embarrassed that the man is already dead. So they have the relatives talk to Yossarian- one dying man is as good as another. Later, when Yossarian is wounded, he is told to take better care of his leg because it is government property. Soldiers, therefore, are not even people, but simply property that can be listed on an inventory. In a bureaucracy, individuality does not matter.

    Whenever the men think they have found the perfect solution to a problem, an illogical predicament- a catch- defeats them. The men can be grounded if they are insane, but if they recognize the insanity of their missions, they are sane- and must fly more missions. When Yossarian and his friends begin asking clever questions to disrupt boring educational sessions, Colonel Korn decides that only those who never ask questions may ask questions. When they want to discuss a problem with Major Major, they are allowed into his office only when he is out. Even when Yossarian is offered an apparently harmless deal that would allow him to go home as a hero, there is a catch. He must betray his friends by praising the officers who caused many of them to die. Life is reduced to one frustrating paradox after another.

    As a rule, war novels show that such things as lying, killing, adultery, and stealing are permissible if the ultimate goal is just. See, for example, Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, or Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Catch-22 is like other novels in this respect. The men frolic with prostitutes in an apartment provided by the army. Milo Minderbinder steals life-raft supplies to use them in trade. Despite the suppression of many important values, however, honor and patriotism are still prized in most war novels. In Catch-22 even these values disappear. The men fight for "what they had been told" was their country, but it's really to make their commanding officers look good. Colonels Cathcart and Korn tell Yossarian that they are his "country." Milo Minderbinder makes deals with the Germans, bombs his own base, and even convinces his superior officers that it was in everyone's best interest for him to do so. In a modern military bureaucracy, no values remain.

    The men find themselves trapped in a crazy world, and each man seeks his own solution. Yossarian wants Hungry Joe to see the doctor, but Hungry Joe asks why he shouldn't have nightmares every night. Captain Flume deteriorates emotionally because Chief White Halfoat asks why he shouldn't keep threatening to slit Flume's throat. Havermeyer shoots mice to pieces; McWatt buzzes tents dangerously; Yossarian censors letters till no sense remains; Major Major signs documents "Washington Irving" or "John Milton"; Orr apparently seeks to be shot down. Each bit of personal insanity- especially Orr's, in the end- allows a man some control over a crazy war that can kill him at any time.

    All the paperwork, supposedly designed to ensure accurate communication, actually has a negative effect. Doc Daneeka pines away while his wife rakes in money because paperwork says Doc is officially dead. Mudd's things remain in Yossarian's tent because paperwork keeps him officially alive. Accusation means guilt when Clevinger appears before the Action Board and the chaplain meets the government intelligence men. Fortiori is sent home because Sanderson confuses his papers with Yossarian's. The generals believe they are in charge, but a mail clerk and a mess officer manipulate everyone. No wonder Yossarian doesn't assume there are no flies in Appleby's eyes just because neither he nor Appleby can see any.

    Joseph Heller views the years following World War II not as the "Nifty Fifties" dear to nostalgia fans, but as a time of stress, tension, and rivalries that created in America a moral waste land. He conveys these views through the themes already listed; through allusions to The Waste Land, a poem by T.S. Eliot; and through inserting anachronisms- elements appropriate to the 1950s rather than the mid-1940s. Chief White Halfoat's "red" Indian joke alludes to the fear of Communism and an aggressive Soviet Union that grew after World War II. Clevinger and the chaplain endure mock trials similar to those endured by people accused of being Communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy, and the chaplain is accused of hiding papers in a plum tomato- a parallel of the "pumpkin papers" case against Alger Hiss (see the discussion in this guide of Chapters Eight and Twenty). The influence of mail clerk Wintergreen, the computer foul-up that promotes Major Major, and the petty rivalries among officers satirize the communication failures and the cut-throat competition Heller saw within both civilian and military bureaucracies of the 1950s. Even the civil rights movement, not yet widespread in the 1950s, is satirized in Colonel Cathcart's attitudes toward enlisted men (Chapter Nineteen). You may want to consult histories of the 1950s in order to decide whether or not Heller's satire of the decade is justified.


Novels are written in first- or third-person point of view. In first-person point of view, someone in the story narrates it. In third-person point of view, an unnamed viewer outside the story narrates it. This viewer may focus mainly on one character, or may know everything about everybody. Each type of narration has advantages and disadvantages. First-person narration makes you feel as if you are right there in the story, but you are also limited to what one character thinks, sees, or hears. Third-person narration that is focused on one character has the same advantage and disadvantage. Third-person omniscient narration- the type in which the viewer knows everything- makes it possible for you to get a broad picture, but you may feel less involved in the story.

Even though an individual soldier can't see the whole picture, first-person narration can still be effective in a war novel. Erich Maria Remarque used it in All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) to show how World War I ruined life for a specific young man and his friends. Perhaps because his themes are broader, Joseph Heller chose third-person narration for Catch-22. In the opening chapters he uses third-person limited narration, focusing on events through the eyes and mind of a specific character- Yossarian. By Chapter Nine you notice a switch to third-person omniscient narration- the story-telling viewer knows everything about Major Major's entire life. For the rest of the novel, third-person limited and omniscient narration alternate. When third-person limited is used, it is often channeled through Yossarian, but equally often through another character, such as the chaplain or Colonel Cathcart. This type of narration helps you focus on individuals. When omniscient narration occurs, you can see the broader picture, and grasp more clearly how utterly unimportant the needs of any individual become in a world like that of Catch-22.


In form, Catch-22 is social satire. It's not a flag-waving war adventure, but a novel using humor to discredit or ridicule aspects of our society. The target in Catch-22 is not just the self-serving attitudes of some military officers, but also the Air Force itself as a mad military bureaucracy. Consider also Joseph Heller's assertion in interviews that he was inspired to write Catch-22 as much by the Cold War following World War II as by the war itself. His target includes, but is larger than, the Army Air Force of World War II. It extends to industry and politics as well. As you read Catch-22, watch for evidence that Heller is satirizing civilian institutions as well as military ones. Ask yourself, too, whether you agree with Heller's views on military and civilian bureaucracies. As a literary form, satire deliberately carries situations to extremes, but is Heller basically accurate? Or do your information and experience contradict his conclusions?

In structure, most novels use a straight-line approach-the plot unfolds from beginning to end. Even stories that start in the middle often return to a point in the past, and then tell events from that time up to the present. Catch-22 differs- it does not use time order.

Catch-22 does have a plot: The bombardier Yossarian conflicts repeatedly with his superior officers over the dangerous number of missions to be flown, until he decides he can take responsibility for his own life only by deserting. Catch-22 also has subplots- the conflict between Dreedle and Peckem over wing command; Nately's pursuit of his whore and Yossarian's attempt to rescue her kid sister; and the stages of growth in Milo Minderbinder's syndicate. The structure of these plots, however, resembles a spiral rather than a straight line.

The spiral is a psychological one based on the principle of deja vu- the feeling that you've experienced something before. This kind of structure makes it hard to tell when "now" is in Catch-22. Partial flashbacks offer tantalizing hints of events, and other echoes add details, until finally the picture becomes clear. The pieces are organized into a psychological progression from the humorous to the grim. An example of this pattern is the sequence of recollections Yossarian has about Snowden's death. The first memory is an almost comic play on words- "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?" But as the novel progresses, you learn more and more details until the comic elements have faded entirely, and you know exactly how horribly Snowden died.

You will see a similar spiral from the comic to the tragic in any other set of references you follow. For example, Yossarian's hospitalizations are not simply circular, each exactly repeating the previous time. Instead they become increasingly serious, until the final times involve life-threatening wounds. The illustration shows two other sets of spiraling references- growth of M & M Enterprises and the increase of personal danger to Yossarian in missions flown. Incidents in the two sets overlap, as they will in other sets of references you follow. The madcap hilarity of the first few chapters disappears, and you, like McWatt, begin to understand how serious Yossarian's situation is.

If you have difficulty with this kind of organization, you may want to put the events into chronological order. Clues include the number of required missions, Yossarian's trips to the hospital, the Avignon mission, and stages in Milo Minderbinder's business. You can place an event as having occurred before or after the missions reached a certain number, before or after Avignon, and so on. The chronology that follows is based on these clues, although you may not agree with the placement of every event. As other readers have noticed, the precise time of some parts of Milo's story is difficult to establish. Using this Catch-22 Chronology Chart or creating your own will add to your appreciation of the unfolding story.


Catch-22 is famous for its wildly comic style. In keeping with the meaning of the title, the style itself involves twists, turns, reversals, and surprises. It borrows from the theater of the absurd and a style called black humor. It is both realistic and surrealistic, comic and tragic. Each of these elements is discussed in turn in this section.

The surprises and variations begin at the most basic level of style- the sentence. Some of Heller's sentences are surprising in the picture they convey through descriptions appealing to the senses or through use of the figure of speech called a simile (a comparison often using like or as). An example of Heller's appeal to the senses is, "On the other side of the sea, a bumpy sliver of dark land lay wrapped in mist, almost invisible." An example of a simile is "...he saw dozens of new mushrooms... poking their nodular fingers up through the clammy earth like lifeless stalks of flesh...." Other sentences present a surprising contradiction. For example, "He... opened his eyes upon a world boiling in chaos in which everything was in proper order.

Surprises and variations continue at the paragraph and page level. In the first paragraph of Chapter Eight, repetition of "Clevinger knew everything," with a major exception the second time, links the first two sentences. In the third sentence, the first adjective describing war is serious in tone (war is "vile"), but the second makes war petty- it's "muddy." Heller next takes a cliche ("could have lived without it") and twists it- "lived forever, perhaps." He alludes to a literary classic (Shakespeare's Hamlet) at two levels, first quoting from Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech, and then having Clevinger grow "limp trying to answer it" like the indecisive man, Hamlet. "History did not demand" begins a masterfully executed balanced sentence- a series of identically constructed clauses that drives home Yossarian's opinion. It is followed by a long, complex sentence, and then by a simple four-word sentence that reduces all the previous intricacy to a cliche "But that was war." The paragraph ends with a sentence that plays on the word "liberated" as applied to war, and unexpectedly describes parents' influence on their children as "pernicious."

You could continue indefinitely, finding more examples of these techniques, plus puns ("Duz" used like "does"), evocative figures of speech ("famish-eyed brain"), and startling transitions- "Darling, we're going to have a baby" followed by "I haven't the time." But unexpected mixtures of technique occur at larger levels, as well. Later in Chapter Eight, for example, prose gives way to the play-like dialogue of Clevinger's trial before the Action Board. As you progress through the novel, you will also notice that many passages are literal or realistic. The final account of Snowden's death (Chapter Forty-one) is one of the most graphic. Others are surrealistic in tone that is, they are constructed by means of nonchronological free association, are dreamlike and nightmarish, or involve bizarre scenes and images. Examples of nonchronological free association occur as early as the second chapter- "On the other side of Havermeyer stood the tent that McWatt no longer shared with Clevinger...." One of the nightmarish scenes is Yossarian's walk through Rome (Chapter Thirty-nine). A scene with bizarre images is the beach scene where mushrooms look like "lifeless stalks of flesh" (Chapter Fourteen).

Some passages sound like the mixture of fantasy and reality used in an absurdist play to drive home the satire- for example, the way Scheisskopf's desire to mechanically connect the cadets demonstrates his obsession with parades. Still other scenes borrow the basic techniques of black humor- a kind of comedy that is black in the sense of chaotic or insane. Black humor moves away from realism toward the fabulous and the extraordinary. It is not necessarily funny, but finds humor in such serious subjects as death, the disintegration of social institutions, suffering, and disease. It often features an antihero who has a compulsion to play the clown, and it conveys a sense of helplessness in the face of irrational forces. One example is Yossarian's attempt to understand Doc Daneeka's explanation of Catch-22 in Chapter Four. Another is the practical joke that kills Kid Sampson in Chapter Thirty.

Since Heller uses so many different techniques, it is sometimes difficult to know whether to take a reference literally or not. For instance, what is that clear fluid that keeps circulating through the soldier in white- a real fluid or a surreal symbol for the circular logic that pervades Catch-22? That one is left for you to decide. Sometimes, however, Heller clarifies a reference you may have at first taken as surreal. For instance, the idea that an officer would bomb his own squadron sounds surreal. But it later turns out to be an actual event- part of a business deal that Milo Minderbinder makes with the Germans.

Like some of the readers of Catch-22 in 1961, you may at first find Heller's style dizzying. But if you pause now and then to analyze what he is doing with language, you are likely to conclude with critic Melvin Seiden that his style is "fantastically inventive"- a delight to explore.



ECC [Catch-22 Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
Further distribution without the written consent of, Inc. is prohibited.

  Web Search Our Message Boards   

All Contents Copyright © 1997-2004
All rights reserved. Further Distribution Is Strictly Prohibited.

About Us
 | Advertising | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Home Page
This page was last updated: 10/18/2019 3:20:11 PM