Catch 22: Novel Summary: Chapter 19 -21

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Chapter 19 -21

Colonel Cathcart is in a difficult position. He very badly wants to impress his superiors, yet he never knows when he has managed to impress someone. In addition, he is not even sure whether he should be trying to impress General Dreedle or General Peckem. His loyal assistant, Colonel Korn, helps him devise strategies to get ahead, but Cathcart finds it "degrading to have to depend so thoroughly on someone who had been educated at a state university" (199). Above all, Colonel Cathcart wants to be a general, if he could just figure out who he has to impress and what he needs to do to impress those people. He assumes everything that happens is either a "black eye" for him or a "feather in his cap," and he often cannot decide if an incident is one or the other.
 
He reads a story in The Saturday Evening Post about a colonel who has his chaplain say prayers with the bombing group before every mission. He thinks that perhaps if he had his chaplain say prayers before each mission, he might get into The Saturday Evening Post. He calls in the chaplain to speak with him. Colonel Cathcart gives up the plan when he realizes that there are no prayers that are snappy and upbeat, not to mention that he will have to allow enlisted men to attend the prayers.
 
The chaplain is a timid man who is forced to live in a clearing in the woods because the men are uncomfortable having a religious figure too close by. He is intimidated by his own assistant, Corporal Whitcomb, who is an atheist and therefore dislikes the chaplain. Whitcomb, in fact, talks behind the chaplain's back with a CID man, who thinks that perhaps the chaplain is the one signing Washington Irving's name to letters. Whitcomb tells the chaplain that he has helped him out. "Every time [the CID man] tried to report you to his superiors," he informs the chaplain, "somebody up at the hospital censors out the details. He's been going batty for weeks trying to turn you in. I just put a censor's okay on his letter. That will. let them know that we're not the least bit afraid of having the whole truth about you come out" (216). Since Whitcomb lacks authority to censor letters, he signed Washington Irving's name. When the chaplain points out that this does not seem to be to his advantage, Whitcomb gets angry. The chaplain accepts this bullying without question.
 
Nonetheless, the chaplain musters up the courage to confront Colonel Cathcart in their meeting. The men are very disheartened to have to fly sixty missions, and he tells Cathcart this. When Cathcart dismisses his concerns, he pushes forward and expresses his specific concern about Yossarian, which the colonel dismisses again.
 
In fact, Yossarian's name fills Cathcart with dread. He has had other issues with a man named Yossarian. There was a man who came forward naked to receive a medal from General Dreedle, which Cathcart is certain was a "black eye" for himself. Yossarian did this because a man had died and bled on his uniform and he refused to wear the uniform again after that. Yossarian is also the man who had gone back over Bologna a second time and had to be awarded a medal to cover up for the fact that this error cost them a plane.
 
It also turns out that Yossarian was behind the moaning that happened when General Dreedle was running the briefing meeting. Of course, Yossarian was moaning out of desire for the general's nurse, but then other men started moaning, as well. Cathcart is sure that this moaning was a "black eye" for him.
 
Analysis
Heller's style is to introduce a character in each chapter, naming the chapter after that character. At first, these chapters seem to be merely character profiles, but as the book progresses, it is clear that Heller is also weaving a plot through his character descriptions. Incidents and plot points arise repeatedly from different characters' points of view. At first, only a little bit is revealed. For example, the exact nature of Milo's "syndicate" is unclear, but it keeps coming up in various chapters from different points of view. This forces the reader to construct the reality, staying actively engaged in fitting the pieces together.
 
When Heller does finally reveal something, the reader has been trying to figure out the truth all along, so she is more invested in the meaning Heller is trying to convey. For example, it seems likely that Yossarian's refusal to wear clothes has something to do with Snowden's death. The reader is still trying to piece the details of that death together, and this one more detail enriches her interest in both Yossarian and what happened to Snowden.
 
Colonel Cathcart is yet one more officer who is so concerned with his own petty needs that he does not even think about the men's welfare. "Colonel Cathcart was indefatigable that way, an industrious, intense, dedicated military tactician who calculated day and night in the service of himself" (198). While this description is humorous, his attempts to advance his career can often be quite serious. He keeps adding more missions to the required total to make himself look better, but his men need to fly those missions. This selfish demand is why Yossarian is going crazy and Hungry Joe cannot sleep at night.

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