Study Guide

Colonel Cathcart in Catch-22

By Joseph Heller

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Colonel Cathcart

Colonel Cathcart's greatest flaw is his indecisiveness. He has a serious lack of sound judgment and is never confident about anything. His decisions are either irrational or made by someone else (i.e., Colonel Korn). However, Colonel Cathcart is not stupid; in fact, he tends to overanalyze things. Every decision he makes is fraught with worry about whether it will be seen as a cap in his feather or a black eye. He sees events from both angles and would have made a great judge had he been born with a healthy dose of confidence and reason.

Cathcart's ambition to become a general often interferes with his judgment. The most obvious manifestation of this is his obsession with raising the number of required missions. This is his standard reaction to almost any perceived setback. He doesn't care that it endangers his men or breaks the implicit trust between officer and enlisted man. His every action is designed to impress the higher powers or make him look good in the public eye.

As a member of the administration, Colonel Cathcart embodies everything wrong with American bureaucracy. His qualities of indecisiveness, incompetence, laziness, dishonesty, and overpowering ambition jive with Heller's vision of American bureaucracy. As one of the most corrupt figures in the novel, Cathcart represents an administration that fails to see its men as human beings and views them instead as dispensable fighting machines. Aside from the inhumanity of treating people as objects, the further problem with such corrupt leadership is that it's not even effective. The result is waste, inefficiency, ill reasoning, and an absence of logic.

Colonel Cathcart in Catch-22 Study Group

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