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by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 Philosophical Viewpoints: Cynicism and Chance Quotes

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

Quote #1

[…] a stove exploded in the mess hall and set fire to one side of the kitchen…In about fifteen minutes the crash trucks from the airfield arrived to fight the fire. For a frantic half-hour it was touch and go. Then the firemen began to get the upper hand. Suddenly there was the monotonous old drone of bombers returning from a mission, and the firemen had to roll up their hoses and speed back to the field in case one of the planes crashed and caught fire. The planes landed safely. As soon as the last one was down, the firemen wheeled their trucks around and raced back up the hill to resume their fight with the fire at the hospital. When they got there, the blaze was out. It had died of its own accord, expired completely without even an ember to be watered down, and there was nothing for the disappointed firemen to do but drink tepid coffee and hang around trying to screw the nurses. (1.37)

The firemen's efforts to put out the stove fire prove futile. They were attending to a secondary concern, and then the fire died out on its own. This episode throws the effectiveness of the firemen into doubt.

Quote #2

"It takes brains not to make money," Colonel Cargill wrote in one of the homiletic memoranda he regularly prepared for circulation over General Peckem's signature. "Any fool can make money these days and most of them do. But what about people with talent and brains? Name, for example, one poet who makes money."

"T.S. Eliot," ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen said in his mail-sorting cubicle at Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters, and slammed down the telephone without identifying himself.

Colonel Cargill, in Rome, was perplexed.

"Who was it?" asked General Peckem.

"I don't know," Colonel Cargill replied.

"What did he want?"

"I don't know."

"Well, what did he say?"

"'T.S. Eliot,'" Colonel Cargill informed him.

"What's that?"

"'T.S. Eliot'" Colonel Cargill repeated…

"I wonder what it means," General Peckem reflected…

General Peckem roused himself after a moment with an unctuous and benignant smile. His expression was shrewd and sophisticated. His eyes gleamed maliciously. "Have someone get me General Dreedle," he requested Colonel Cargill. "Don't let him know who's calling."

Colonel Cargill handed him the phone.

"T.S. Eliot," General Peckem said, and hung up. (4.39-58)

In this passage, an answer to a question is not recognized as such. In fact, because it is given anonymously and without context, the answer is interpreted as a puzzle. And later it is used to confuse. Words lose their purpose and becomes lost in the confusion.

Quote #3

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. (5.64)

Catch-22 does not allow anyone to get out of combat duty. This puts men in the worst position possible because they are soldiers and must follow these regulations.

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