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by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 Mortality Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

Behind him, men were dying. Strung out for miles in a stricken, torturous, squirming line, the other flights of planes were making the same hazardous journey over the target, threading their swift way through the swollen masses of new and old bursts of flak like rats racing in a pack through their own droppings. One was on fire, and flapped lamely off by itself, billowing gigantically like a monstrous blood-red star. As Yossarian watched, the burning plane floated out on its side and began spiraling down slowly in wide, tremulous, narrowing circles, its huge flaming burden blazing orange and flaring up in back like a long, swirling cape of fire and smoke. There were parachutes, one, two, three…four, and then the plane gyrated into a spin and fell the rest of the way to the ground, fluttering insensibly inside its vivid pyre like a shred of colored tissue paper. One whole flight of planes from another squadron had been blasted apart. (13.42)

Death is characterized as a dehumanizing experience. Those who are dying are often denied human characteristics. The falling planes are described as "rats" or a "star" or "tissue paper." Also, the scale of death is frightening.

Quote #2

Along the ground suddenly […] he saw dozens of new mushrooms the rain had spawned poking their nodular fingers up through the clammy earth like lifeless stalks of flesh, sprouting in such necrotic profusion everywhere he looked that they seemed to be proliferating right before his eyes. There were thousands of them swarming as far into the underbrush as he could see, and they appeared to swell in size and multiply in number as he spied them. He hurried away from them with a shiver of eerie alarm and did not slacken his pace until the soil crumbled to dry sand beneath his feet and they had been left behind. He glanced back apprehensively, half expecting to find the limp white things crawling after him in sightless pursuit or snaking up through the treetops in a writhing and ungovernable mutative mass. (14.31)

Yossarian sees death everywhere, even in the peaceful woods. He sees mushrooms as dismembered fingers crawling towards him in masses like hands ready to drag him back to Bologna, the location of the mission he just deserted.

Quote #3

People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital and made a much neater, more orderly job of it. They couldn't dominate Death inside the hospital, but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn't keep Death out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with delicacy and taste inside the hospital. (17.4)

The hospital keeps a much tamer version of Death within its walls – one that allows people to die with dignity – unlike the uglier version out on the battlefield. However, death is still as inevitable within the hospital as it is outside.

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