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CHAPTER 17: THE SOLDIER IN WHITE
Yossarian is in the hospital. He is determined to remain there forever and not fly any more. For him, being in the hospital is a better prospect than being outside and watching others being killed. In the hospital people die too, but they die neater and more orderly.
Yossarian prefers the hospital, even though the management is "meddlesome" and the rules are restrictive. Yossarian is joined in the ward by the Texan, Dunbar, and the soldier in white. The soldier in white frightens the other patients by his ghostly appearance. His fellow patients are afraid that he will begin moaning through the night. The Texan, however, is quite fond of the soldier in white and wants the entire ward to get acquainted with him.
Nurse Cramer and Nurse Duckett look after the soldier in white. They brush his bandages and scrub his plaster casts. Yossarian thinks about all the dangers to his life. He is afraid that he might get some strange disease. Each day he faces is a mission against mortality. He is twenty-eight years old.
Yossarian leaves the hospital because he does not like the Texan, but he is back in ten days when Cathcart raises the required number of missions.
This chapter takes us back to chapter one, but it is also a logical follow-up to chapter sixteen. Heller has been taking the reader backward in time. Without actually knowing it, the reader has been whirled into Yossarian’s past, and now has come back to the present, which is also the beginning of the novel. It is as if Heller has been constantly winding, unwinding, and then winding again, the complex web of his narrative.
Once again, we have the characters who appear in chapter one: the Texan, Dunbar, and the soldier in white; but additionally there are Nurse Duckett and Nurse Cramer. Yossarian has become something of a hypochondriac. The depressing presence of the soldier in white does not help Yossarian. The Texan proves to be a real "nice" guy as he tries to make friends with the soldier in white.
Heller gives us an entire litany of the number of ways in which soldiers can die or the ways in which ordinary people die outside the world of the hospital. There is black humor and biting satire in this passage. The hospital is only a temporary escape from the maddening world outside.