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by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 Theme of Absurdity

Catch-22 might give Lewis Carroll a run for his money—there are several points at which this story gets even more absurd than Alice's trip down the rabbit hole. In this book, it all circles back to the illogical logic of the "Catch-22," which leads Yossarian and the other soldiers to doing things that someone in his or her right mind probably wouldn't even imagine. Heller drives his point home by extending this metaphor throughout the story's pages, exaggerating certain traits or situations to the point of ridicule. Hey, they don't call it satire for nothing. Ultimately, the twisted logic in Catch-22 reveals the absurd and often incoherent nature of modern warfare, for better or for worse (though probably for the worse).

Questions About Absurdity

  1. What are some techniques Heller uses to express the absurdity of the Catch-22 world? On the plot level? On the structural level?
  2. How do absurdity and surrealism contribute to the overall tone of mockery and cynicism?
  3. How does absurdity alienate the men from one another and make them feel utterly alone?
  4. Digressions are one form of absurdity, showing a discontinuity between two thoughts. How does Heller use digressions to play with the chronology of events and make his narrative seem disjointed?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Catch-22, Heller exaggerates and juxtaposes character traits and situations for a purely comic effect.

In Catch-22, Heller uses themes of absurdity and surrealism to accentuate the men's isolation and frequent misunderstandings.

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