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Catch-22

Catch-22

by Joseph Heller

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Rebirth

We initially thought that Catch-22 didn't any of the "basic plots" Stephen Booker establishes. It still seems true – it's an episodic, fragmentary, often disordered tale, with chapters on characters who never seem to have an impact on the novel's Classic Plot. Consider poor Major Major Major or Milo Minderbinder. Where do we fit them into our narrative of Yossarian's confrontation with military bureaucracy? However, if you focus on Yossarian's narrative, which structures the novel itself, then Catch-22 can be about "Rebirth."

Falling Stage

"A young hero or heroine falls under the shadow of the dark power."

This is absolutely Yossarian's "Initial Situation": he's a young guy, filled with dedication to his military missions. He's a willing cog in the military machine. He's willing to fly twice over a dangerously armed target so that he can drop his payload of bombs on the targeted bridge and fly back to his base successfully. Of course, it's a little unorthodox that stage one comes in Chapter Thirteen, but that's just how Joseph Heller rolls. At any rate, it's Yossarian's initially successful sign-up for the military that will eventually introduce him so traumatically into the world of Catch-22.

Recession Stage

"For a while, all may seem to go reasonably well."

This is a very short while. Things almost never seem to be going well in this novel. But it is true that Yossarian gets his medal – and then a week later, he flies that pesky mission with a certain Snowden.

Imprisonment Stage

"But eventually it approaches again in full force until the hero or heroine is seen imprisoned in the state of living death."

This is the stage that actually starts the novel, once Yossarian has been traumatized by his confrontation with Snowden's (and his own) mortality. He knows that he's trapped in the military and wants to get out, but he can't – because of Catch-22. Yossarian is unable to commit himself to the military because he's afraid of death, but he also can't leave the military because he's utterly in the power of their bureaucracy. He's stuck flying an endless number of missions, but never doing particularly well in them.

Nightmare Stage

"This continues for a long time. When it seems that the dark power has completely triumphed."

This stage of Yossarian's helpless struggles inside the military machine continues for most of the entire novel. In one sense, it is the entire novel. One major point of Catch-22 is that the military mechanizes its soldiers so they no longer recognize that when they fly out on their missions, they're irrationally risking their own lives. This is what drives McWatt's carelessness and Nately's romantic abandon: neither character really perceives how much the military has damaged their self-interest. Heller acknowledges that there are things worth dying for, but war for war's sake is not one of them. (Check out Chapter Forty-Two for an acknowledgment that Germany in World War II was wrong.)

Of course, Yossarian's helpless struggles against the military culminate in his near capitulation to it, with his agreement to protect Colonel Cathcart in exchange for safe passage home. This is definitely that moment Booker talks about, "when it seems that the dark power has completely triumphed."

Rebirth Stage

"But finally comes the miraculous redemption: either, where the imprisoned figure is a heroine; or, where it is the hero, by a Young Woman or a Child."

Yossarian actually gets three interventions that remind him of what's important, and that ultimately shake him out of his deadlock with the military. He converses with the gentle chaplain and realizes that "of course" he cannot capitulate to Cathcart.

Then, there's his epiphany that apparently nutty Orr was actually pretending to be crazy all of this time; he'd been planning his own escape to Sweden since the beginning.

Finally, Major Danby agrees that there is no dire threat left against the U.S. Continuing on in the military would be an immoral, dangerous mistake. These three key interventions from the chaplain, Orr, and Danby, provide that "miraculous redemption" Booker's talking about. Yossarian, freed from the military's trap, flees to Sweden – as a new, liberated man. He is, in a word, reborn.

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