Tuesday, April 3, 2012


Catch-22 has a rich supply of characters and they are impossible to detail in a short blog post.  The main character, Captain John Yossarian, is a bombardier who desperately tries to avoid flying missions by feigning illnesses.  He is haunted throughout the novel by the death of his squadron gunner, Snowden, who is fatally wounded on a mission. Yossarian tries to save him but patches the wrong wound. Later, throughout the book, Yossarian seems far more concerned with self-preservation and satisfying immediate needs. In some ways Yossarian reminds me of Meursault from Camus's book The Stranger, since they both live in the moment. Of course in war it is difficult to plan for the future and the moment may be all you may have. 

The other characters deal with the war in their own unique way.  There are warmongers like Colonel Cathgart who keeps raising the number of missions men must fly before they are done.  Likewise General Peckem is more concerned about outshining and defeating his fellow General Dreedle (who he calls the real enemy).  Opportunists also flourish, like Milo Minderbinder who starts up a syndicate distributing goods throughout Europe and the Mediterranean (essentially war profiteering).  There are also idealists like Lieutenant Nately who believes the war is just and that his prostitute girlfriend is a modern Dulcinea (ala Don Quixote).  There is a building tension with the escalating mission numbers called for my Colonel Cathgart, the increase in erratic and desperate behavior in the airmen and the continuing deaths which highlight every one's mortality as they climb back into the plane for one more mission.

One of my favorite moments in the books is when Yossarian is asked by a doctor to pretend he is a dying soldier for a family that has come to visit their son, Giuseppe. The son has already died, but the doctor does not want to disappoint them. He therefore tells Yossarian to fill in. Yossarian insists on being called by his name and not Giuseppe. Despite this, the family treats him like their son and brother.  The critical question is: does it really matter who they see?  After all, "he's dying" just like everyone else.  Their son is already dead - would they rather see his remains? Giuseppe's mother eventually says "What difference does it make?"

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