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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is set against the background of World War II. The American forces came to the aid of the Allies--England, France, and Russia--after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941. Ranged against them were the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The time period of the novel is roughly 1942-45.
The geographical locale of Catch-22 is the island of Pianosa which lies eight miles south of Elba, off the Italian coast. But as Heller notes in the preface, the setting is fictitious. There was no real American base on Pianosa during the war, the island being too small. The fictitious air force base at Pianosa is a microcosm of the world at large. Between bombing missions, the airmen make frequent trips to enjoy the pleasures of Rome.
There are brief references also to Yossarian’s training at the American armed forces base in Santa Ana, California. Several key episodes are set in the army hospital at Pianosa. This hospital set-up is associated positively with escape from the bombing missions, and negatively with various types of illness and insanity. At another, somewhat less-obvious level, the action of the novel unfolds largely in the mind of its central character, Yossarian. Like Orr before him, Yossarian aims to escape to Sweden, a haven of peace, freedom, and neutrality during the nightmarish years of World War II.
Some of the action takes place in Yossarian’s airplane during missions over Italy. Milo Minderbinder’s business deals take him to the Middle East, North Africa (especially Egypt), and some cities in Mediterranean Europe.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
The successor to Major Duluth as the Squadron commander. He constantly increases the number of missions that his men must fly.
The chief medical officer at the Pianosa air base. He is mortally afraid of flying. He is taken for dead, although he is actually alive, because the records show that he was in McWatt's plane when it crashed.
Earns his nickname due to his voracious appetite for both food and sex. He suffers from nerve-wracking nightmares that not only disturb his own peace of mind but also that of his colleagues at the air base.
A dare-devil pilot who loves to show off his acrobatic skills as an airman. He accidentally kills Kid Sampson and then commits suicide by crashing his plane into a mountain.
Rises to the position of a Major chiefly due to an error committed by an IBM computer. He reads his name as his rank. He becomes squadron commander and jumps out of his office window to avoid meeting the men who come to see him.
An ace profiteer from the war, although only a Mess Sergeant. He signs a contract with the Germans to bomb his own American Squadron, and runs a mind-boggling maze of black-market operations that spans five continents.
A young airman and Yossarian’s friend who was born in a very rich family. He has a flagrant affair with a prostitute in Rome and dies during the mission to La Spezia.
The kind and compassionate clergyman who is Yossarian’s friend . He helps Yossarian prepare for his escape to Sweden.
Captain John Yossarian
A bombardier with the 256th Squadron stationed in Pianosa and is the central figure of Catch-22. He feigns illness and insanity to avoid flying more missions, before openly protesting against the authorities. He finally attempts to escape to Sweden.
The chief navigator on Yossarian’s plane. He is a rather ruthless person, as he kills Michaela, the maid, while on a pleasure-trip to Rome.
Plays a good game of Ping-Pong which arouses Orr’s jealousy. The men refer to Apple by as having flies in his eyes.
Intelligence officer of the 256th squadron. He begins the Loyalty Oath Crusade.
The one who conducts the educational sessions. He dies on the mission to Parma.
Major de Coverley
A man of Jehovian demeanor who puts an end to Captain Black’s Loyalty Oath Crusade. After each Allied victory, he rushes to the captured city and rents apartments for the American Officers.
The operations officer for the squadron. He almost gets himself shot when he moans during a briefing session.
The co-pilot of Yossarian’s plane. He plans to assassinate Colonel Cathcart.
Wing Commander of the 256th squadron.
A nurse at the hospital in Pianosa who has an affair with Yossarian.
Yossarian’s companion in the hospital ward who "disappears" in Chapter 34.
A promiscuous woman who has affairs with Scheisskopf and Yossarian.
The Public Relations Officer of the 256th squadron. He is afraid that Chief White Halfoat will slit his throat, so he hides in the woods.
Gus and Wes
The two medical assistants of Doctor Daneeka who paint patients’ gums and toes purple.
Chief White Halfoat
An American-Indian. He punches Colonel Moodus in the nose and threatens to kill Captain Flume. He dies of pneumonia.
The lead bombardier who never takes evasive action and never misses a target. He shoots field mice at night.
The youngest pilot at the base. His cat was discovered on the face of Hungry Joe, at the time of Hungry Joe’s death.
The assistant to Colonel Cathcart. He tries to make an "odious deal" with Yossarian.
The pilot who is killed on the second run during the mission to Ferrara.
The Italian girl whom Yossarian meets at the officer’s Club in Rome and to whom Yossarian proposes marriage.
General’s Dreedle’s son-in-law who yearns for the General’s nurse. General Dreedle treats him with little respect.
A pilot who dies when on his first mission. His personal effects are left in Yossarian’s tent. He is "the dead man" in Yossarian’s tent.
A pilot who often ditches his plane at sea and is rescued. He finally escapes to Sweden.
In charge of the Squadron’s special operations. He dreams of taking over command of the squadron from General Dreedle.
One of the pilots with whom Yossarian flies. He is killed in an accident when he is cut into two by a propeller on McWatt's low- flying plane.
The psychiatrist at the hospital who certifies that Yossarian is insane. He suffers from feelings of inadequacy.
Yossarian’s commanding officer in California. He is excessively fond of parades. He is made lieutenant general after he is sent to the front.
Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife. She sleeps with all the men in her husband’s squadron, including Yossarian.
The Soldier in White
A strange sight at the hospital as he is completely swathed in bandages. He turns out to be Lieutenant Schmulker who has suffered serious burns.
The gunner on Yossarian’s plane. His grotesque death during the mission to Avignon shocks Yossarian and haunts him throughout the novel.
Works as an assistant to the chaplain. He is responsible for preparing the format of the condolence letters and even helps the C.I.D men investigate the chaplain.
Responsible for sorting mail at 27th Air Force Headquarters. He is later demoted for virtually running the air base by sending self-prepared memoranda and intercepting important messages.
The two C.I.D (Criminal Investigation Department) men
Sent to Pianosa to find out who has been tampering with the personal letters of the soldiers and official documents.