Catch 22: Essay Q&A
1. How are women treated in Catch-22?
The maid in the lime-green panties in Rome sleeps with whichever men want to have intercourse. "Her allure stemmed from her accessibility; like Mt. Everest, she was there, and the men climbed on top of her each time they felt the urge" (143). This description is not very flattering to the men who treat her not even as a sex object but as a thing to be had. Throughout Catch-22, women are treated as sexual toys for the men. While most of the interaction with women in this book is negative, it often reflects more negatively on the men than on the women.
Yossarian treats Luciana with little dignity, yet the incident reveals his own foolishness. At first, Luciana seems obnoxious. Without Yossarian asking, she announces "I will let you buy me dinner. But I won't let you sleep with me" (161) and similar statements. She bullies him into taking her out to dinner and then seems to desert him. Yossarian does not try to force himself on her; he always waits for a woman to give permission. Yet, he wants to hurry away from this date to find a woman he does have a chance of sleeping with. Ultimately, Luciana proves quite delightful, and they do sleep together. Yossarian then tears up her name and address as soon as she leaves, even though he has just declared he will not do so. Shortly thereafter, he realizes what a fool he was, but it is too late. Even though Luciana was pushy at first and Yossarian's treatment of her is degrading, she is the one to walk away with "dignity and grace" (173) while he is the one searching the gutter for the pieces of her address.
Because the men can only see Nately's girlfriend as a prostitute, it is clear they have limited insight. The men refer to Nately's girlfriend as "Nately's whore" and we never learn her name. Nately's passion for her seems silly, because she is just a prostitute, and the text's treatment of her is dehumanizing. She has little value except the sex she can sell and no identity beyond her prostitution. Yet, the ardor with which she eventually returns his affection shows her to be a passionate person with real human traits. The men, however, are shown to be quite limited because they only see her as a prostitute. Moreover, they are reduced to sexual beings when they visit prostitutes or have one-night stands. Aarfy takes pride in never having paid for sex, but whether the men pay or not, they often only see women as sexual objects. This is a sign of limitations in their own humanity, but not in the women.
Aarfy may not pay for sex, but his interaction with a woman is ultimately the most degrading of all the relationships. He throws a maid out the window after raping her, and is confused when Yossarian says he will be arrested. "Oh, no," he says, "Not me. They aren't going to put good old Aarfy in jail. Not for killing her" (428). He devalues the maid as a human being, saying "She was only a servant girl" (428). His coldness does not portray women as meaningless, but rather demonstrates that men who see women as disposable are inhuman. Heller uses Aarfy's degradation of the maid to degrade men who treat women as refuse. When the Military Police do not arrest Aarfy, they are simply classified as similar brutes.
Catch-22 has many statements that degrade women, but these serve to underscore the limited humanity in the men who make the statements. When Yossarian shows concern for the kid sister or for the murdered maid, he demonstrates more humanity than the other men in the text.
2. What is significant about the passage in which Milo attacks his own base?
Milo begins as a man committed to serving good food. As his power and money grow, he becomes increasingly concerned with the growth of his syndicate. Eventually, he loses all interest in other people and can think only about profit. Milo's attack on Pianosa demonstrates the ruthlessness of capitalism by exaggerating its effect on people.
In his pure desire for profit, Milo disregards the non-economic costs, such as loss of life. When he contracts with the Americans to bomb a bridge and the Germans to defend it, he feels this is a just arrangement that is "fair to both sides." "It was an ideal arrangement for everyone but the dead man in Yossarian's tent, who was killed over the target the day he arrived" (265). In the world of business, it does not matter that he is double dealing or that people die. Moreover, he is unconcerned with which side he is fighting for. When Yossarian accuses him of dealing with the enemy, Milo defends the Germans as not enemies because "they pay their bills a lot more promptly than some allies of ours I could name" (266). This portrayal of capitalism is of course an exaggeration, as few people would so blatantly say that they deal with enemy combatants and take lives just for a profit, but it demonstrates that capitalism has little room for morality. After this conversation, Milo's agreement to bomb his own base is not much more of a step towards doing whatever he has to do to make money.
The public's response to Milo's attack on Pianosa is also an exaggeration of people's readiness to justify any action in the name of profit. At first, everyone denounces him. "Decent people everywhere were affronted, and Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made" (269). Then, people are much more understanding. He even goes so far as to defend his actions as being in defense of democracy, because it is a private industry taking over war. Heller is not trying to state that people would accept a man bombing his own base; he is using this exaggeration to show how absurd the profit argument could be if it were taken to an extreme.
Of course, arguing that private industry should run everything and nothing should be run by the government is an attribute of capitalism, not democracy, but during the Cold War people equated communism (government involvement) with authoritarian rule. Milo confuses democracy and capitalism when he defends himself, thus demonstrating that people will corrupt any ideal in the name of profit.
3. How are the Italians in Catch-22 treated?
The Germans in Catch-22 are the enemy to everyone except Milo. The Americans are all working to defeat them. The American relationship with the Italians is more complex. They are fighting against the Italian army, yet in cities they have conquered, Americans work with and socialize with Italians. Despite this social relationship, throughout the text, Italians are treated as though they are less valuable than Americans.
The American soldiers treat the Italian women as objects. Yossarian has only casual sexual relationships with Italian women; Luciana gives him her address, and he discards it. He visits prostitutes and sleeps with the maids. Yet, he has an ongoing relationship with Nurse Duckett. He even sleeps with an Italian prostitute to substitute for Nurse Duckett (363). His behavior indicates that he thinks Italian women like Luciana are only good for sex, but that an American woman is worth having a relationship with. The other men treat Italian women even more casually. They will take whatever they can get from the maids, young women, and prostitutes that they meet. Aarfy is an extreme when he rapes and murders a young Italian maid. Nately is in love with an Italian prostitute, yet, he, too objectifies her. He pays her to spend all of her time with him. Once she does fall in love, he believes he owns her and orders her to wear clothing.
The men, however, show more concern for the Italian people than does the American Air Force. The men are instructed to bomb an Italian village to create a road block for the Germans, even though, as Dunbar points out, it will only be a temporary road block. The men rebel, arguing that it is a senseless killing of innocent people. "They'll pour out into the streets to wave when they see our planes coming, all the children and dogs and old people" (336). The men ask why they cannot bomb a different area. However, the men still hold Italian lives as less valuable than American ones. When Korn points out that either American or Italian blood will need to be spilled, Dunbar continues to argue, pointing out that these are people living in peace. However, when faced with the option of flying a more dangerous mission, he capitulates, as do the other men. Ultimately, they value their own safety more than the village they are about to bomb.
Technically, the Italians are the enemy. Yet, the Americans are closely interconnected with them in Rome and other cities. However, being near Italians does not teach Americans to value them as equals, and throughout Catch-22 they act as though they are superior to the Italians.
4. How does Heller's writing style advance his message?
There are many books about the cruelty of war. All Quiet on the Western Front, for example, illustrates the brutality of World War I with graphic descriptions and deep explorations into the protagonist's thoughts. Catch-22 has a very different approach. Joseph Heller uses a light style to effectively engage the reader in his rather serious points.
Heller's humor is ubiquitous, of course, but he uses humor to explain how foolishly selfish people are, even when they think they are being moral or just. For example, Chief White Halfoat complains about his family's treatment. "Racial prejudice is a terrible thing," he says. "It's a terrible thing to treat a decent, loyal Indian like a nigger, kike, wop or spic" (53). The reader recognizes that Halfoat is himself using racist terms. While his unconscious racism is amusing because he thinks he is fighting for racial justice, Heller also is making a serious point. People are usually convinced that their way of thinking is moral and logical, but outsiders can easily tell that everyone's morality is flawed.
While Heller's humor is every successful, it is not the only stylistic choice that helps to make his writing so effective. Heller's rapid yet smooth transitions allow him to move about in the time of the text, making the exact sequence of events unclear. For example, in Chapter 13, Heller describes how Major ________ de Coverley rents apartments for the men, then explains that Milo is the only man who was brave enough to approach the major when he wanted to start his syndicate. Heller then explains the origins of the syndicate. At that time, Colonel Cathcart wanted to promote Major Major because he was in a good mood after Milo impresses people with his food. However, he was not allowed to, nor was he later allowed to demote him. "Colonel Cathcart felt hemmed in on every side. He had been much more successful in obtaining a medal for Yossarian after the debacle of Ferrara" (146). This is a quick transition back into another past, so subtle that a reader who is not paying attention might not realize that the text has shifted from the beginnings of Milo's syndicate to the death of fliers over Ferrara. Then, the next chapter picks up on the description of Ferrara, starting "By the time of the mission to Bologna, Yossarian was brave enough not to go around over the target even once" (150). It is clear the mission to Bologna comes after the mission to Ferrara, but it is unclear whether the creation of Milo's syndicate came before or after Major __________ de Coverley rented the apartments in Rome or the mission over Ferrara. This unclear timeline creates a disjointed tone, in which war is a jumbled series of unrelated events.
Catch-22 is so powerful because it is not a typical war novel. Heller's humor has a dark and serious point, and his fragmented style is so subtle that the reader does not even realize she is having trouble keeping events in order. With this unusual style, Heller makes war seem all the more ridiculous and illogical.
5. Does Yossarian develop as a character throughout the text?
At the beginning of Catch-22, Yossarian is in the hospital, feigning illness to get out of combat duty. At the end of the book, he is back in the hospital, still wanting to avoid flying. It might seem as though Yossarian has made no progress and has ended up where he began. However, Yossarian has actually learned to take action in the face of his fear, leaving behind the system of rules, rather than trying to beat the system.
Initially, Yossarian enters the hospital to wait out the end of the war, hoping to beat the Air Force by playing the system to his advantage. He has "made up his mind to spend the rest of the war in the hospital" (16). He is forced to censor letters written by the enlisted men, but he does not actually censor them for military content. Instead, he makes a game out of the requirement by crossing out certain parts of speech. This is similar to his attitude when he finally is driven from the hospital. Whenever he gets sent up on a mission, he does not try to hit the targets. Instead, "his only mission each time he went up was to come down alive" (38). Again, he is fulfilling the requirements but taking no actual responsibility for the job. This puts other fliers in danger because they have to go and hit the targets he does not try to hit.
In the middle of Catch-22, Yossarian returns to the hospital, again fleeing from active duty and hoping to hide from the demands of the military. This time, he is there out of a sense of responsibility for the tragedies of the world, which he can do nothing to stop. In a hospital, "They couldn't keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady . . . There were no famines of floods. Children didn't suffocate in cradles or iceboxes or fall under trucks. No one was beaten to death" (176). So, Yossarian comes to the hospital because he cannot make sense of the outside world. Similarly, he moves the bomb line so that the men do not have to bomb Bologna. However, the task remains, and it is impossible to avoid by pretending the battle has been won, just as it is impossible to escape death and tragedy by pretending that it does not exist.
At the end of the book, Yossarian returns to the hospital. Although he is actually there due to an injury and is not trying to escape, just before he is stabbed he has agreed to get sent home and avoid injury by doing something that will put his responsibilities on other men. He has agreed to pretend Colonels Korn and Cathcart are decent men. This will lull other men into accepting the danger these selfish leaders continually put them into. Yossarian knows this is a disgusting choice, but he also know that his other choices are to go to the stockade, to keep flying, or to try to desert. Only when he decides to desert does he truly realize that trying to play the system to his best advantage is simply putting other men at risk. He explains "I'm not running away from my responsibilities. I'm running to them" (461) Yossarian is taking responsibility for saving his own life by turning his back on a corrupt system, rather than playing into the system and putting others at risk.
As Yossarian's three hospital visits indicate, he does develop throughout the text. Some books expect characters to show more courage or strength by the end. In this text, learning to give up on the system is a sign of growth. The system will continue to send young men out to die, but Yossarian will no longer be a part of it.
Catch 22 Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Catch 22
- Chapter 1 - 4
- Chapter 1 - 4
- Chapter 5 -8
- Chapter 9 - 10
- Chapter 11 - 12
- Chapter 13 - 15
- Chapter 16 - 18
- Chapter 19 -21
- Chapter 22 - 24
- Chapter 25 - 27
- Chapter 28 - 30
- Chapter 31 - 34
- Chapter 35 - 38
- Chapter 39 - 40
- Chapter 41 - 42
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Joseph Heller
- Essay Q&A