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Free Study Guide-Catch-22 by Joseph Heller-Free Online Booknotes Summary
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CHAPTER 18: THE SOLDIER WHO SAW EVERYTHING TWICE

Summary

When Yossarian is a private at Lowery Field, he complains of a pain in his right side in order to avoid a calisthenics class. He is placed under observation. An English intern tells Yossarian not to fake appendix pain but to fake liver pain. After ten days, a group of doctors come to Yossarian and tell him to leave because he is in perfect health.

At that moment, another patient in the ward shouts, claiming to see everything twice. Doctors and nurses rush to him. Each specialist wants to claim him as his own patient. But the doctors cannot understand what is wrong with the soldier who sees everything twice. Yossarian spends Thanksgiving inside the hospital. He decides to spend every remaining Thanksgiving in a hospital. The next year he breaks his oath, spending Thanksgiving with Scheisskopf’s wife in a hotel room. Yossarian tells Mrs. Scheisskopf that he has very little to be thankful for, and that God has done a bad job creating the universe. Although Mrs. Scheisskopf claims that she is an atheist she gets upset when Yossarian paints a picture of a "mean and stupid" God. It is the "most illogical Thanksgiving" that Yossarian has ever spent.

The narrative returns to the previous year. Yossarian, who wants to stay in hospital, imitates the soldier who saw everything twice. Yossarian, too, claims that he can see everything twice. The doctors rush toward him and check his eyesight. Each time the doctor holds up his fingers, Yossarian replies that he can see two fingers. This is strange because sometimes the doctor does not hold even one finger up. Yossarian is taken into the room where the soldier who saw everything twice is kept. Yossarian thinks the soldier is bluffing about his illness. Yossarian gets a rude shock when the soldier dies. He then tells the doctors that he sees everything once. Even when the doctor holds up ten fingers, Yossarian says he only sees one.


Another doctor tells Yossarian that the relatives of the soldier who died have come all the way from New York. They do not know that the soldier is already dead, and have come to see him one last time. The doctor tells Yossarian to play the part of the dying soldier, as he does not want to disappoint the dead soldier’s family. Yossarian agrees to play the part.

The family is Italian. The father and mother of the soldier do not recognize that it is not their son. Even when Yossarian tells them his real name, the family continues to mourn as if he is their son. Yossarian is so moved that he begins to cry.

Notes

Again the narrative moves backward through time. Yossarian’s days as a cadet are described. Then, too, he is busy feigning illness to avoid performing his tasks.

In this chapter, we are given some of Yossarian’s views on God. Though Yossarian claims that he is an atheist, he insists on trying to prove that God made a mess by creating a world full of pain and discomfort. He sees God as an evil being who causes injury to human beings. Though Mrs. Scheisskopf argues with him, her defense of God is not convincing. Yossarian’s description of God may well be applied to the squadron commander at Pianosa, Colonel Cathcart, who is unconcerned about the lives of his men.

The rest of the chapter is quite absurd. There is a great amount of black humor. What is tragic is made to appear comic by means of the ludicrous. The death of the soldier and the grief his mourning relatives feel are both tragic, and yet strangely enough, they give rise to comedy. If the soldier’s death is absurd his relative’s behavior is even more absurd. They refuse to accept the reality that it is Yossarian, and not their son, Giusseppe, who is "dying."

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