Study Guide

Catch-22 Hypocrisy

By Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 required that each censored letter bear the censoring officer's name. (1.12)

Catch-22 itself is mad because it defeats its own purpose. Here, the government wants to censor – or cut any questionable content out of – letters. By signing his name, an officer allows the censorship to be traced back to him, and ultimately for the censored content to be revealed.

The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous, and likable. In three days no one could stand him. (1.17)

"Good-natured, generous, and likable" means that people like you. This quote reveals the irrationality of the men; they don't like the Texan, despite his likeable qualities.

[…] there were many officers' clubs that Yossarian had not helped build, but he was proudest of the one on Pianosa. It was a sturdy and complex monument to his powers of determination. Yossarian never went there to help until it was finished; then he went there often, so pleased was he with the large, fine, rambling shingled building. It was a truly splendid structure, and Yossarian throbbed with a mighty sense of accomplishment each time he gazed at it and reflected that none of the work that had gone into it was his. (2.23)

This is absurd simply because one should not be proud of something one didn't do in the first place. But this logic does make sense in one light: Yossarian is proud precisely because he did not build the club, proud of his own ability to avoid work. Yossarian's cleverness and aptitude for such deception is later admired by Milo.

Doc Daneeka was Yossarian's friend and would do just about nothing in his power to help him. (3.52)

This contradicts the very meaning of friendship and throws into question the nature of Yossarian and Doc Daneeka's relationship.

Under Colonel Korn's rule, the only people permitted to ask questions were those who never did. (4.36)

The rule is self-defeating. Nobody can ask questions, and this satisfies Group Headquarters, which doesn't want any questioning of their establishment going on anyway.

[Chief White Halfoat:] "Racial prejudice is a terrible thing, Yossarian. It really is. It's a terrible thing to treat a decent, loyal Indian like a n*****, kike, wop, or spic." (5.37)

Chief White Halfoat contradicts himself, saying he is against racism, but immediately using derogatory and racist slurs to define people.

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)

It is futile to try to get out of combat duty. Catch-22 defeats that purpose by giving a circular definition of what craziness is. It makes it impossible to be crazy and get out of combat duty simultaneously. As soon as you attest to being crazy, you are deemed rational.

"Catch-22?" Yossarian was stunned. "What the hell has Catch-22 got to do with it?"

"Catch-22," Doc Daneeka answered patiently, when Hungry Joe had flown Yossarian back to Pianosa, "says you've always got to do what our commanding officer tells you to."

"But Twenty-seventh Air Force says I can go home with forty missions."

"But they don't say you have to go home. And regulations do say you have to obey every order. That's the catch. Even if the colonel were disobeying a Twenty-seventh Air Force order by making you fly more missions, you'd still have to fly them, or you'd be guilty of disobeying an order of his. And then Twenty-seventh Air Force Headquarters would really jump on you." (6.48-51)

Catch-22 overrides the authority of the Air Force Headquarters by stating that men must obey what their commanding officer says. This means that if Colonel Cathcart requires fifty missions to be discharged, his men must fly them even though the Air Force requires only forty. Catch-22 makes it impossible for men to avoid flying all the required missions.

McWatt was the craziest combat man of them all probably, because he was perfectly sane and still did not mind the war. (7.1)

This follows Yossarian's belief that it takes some sanity to have a healthy fear of war. According to him, it is insane to have no fear of losing one's life.

The best squadron in each wing won a yellow pennant on a pole that was utterly worthless. The best squadron on the base won a red pennant on a longer pole that was worth even less, since the pole was heavier and was that much more of a nuisance to lug around all week until some other squadron won it the following Sunday. To Yossarian, the idea of pennants as prizes was absurd. No money went with them, no class privileges. Like Olympic medals and tennis trophies, all they signified was that the owner had done something of no benefit to anyone more capably than everyone else. (8.32)

The idea of desiring a prize that is worthless is inherently absurd. Dragging a bunch of one's men into winning this useless prize, especially when they don't care for it, makes the situation that much more ridiculous.

"I really can't believe it," Clevinger exclaimed to Yossarian in a voice rising and falling in protest and wonder. "It's a complete reversion to primitive superstition. They're confusing cause and effect. It makes as much sense as knocking on wood or crossing your fingers. They really believe that we wouldn't have to fly that mission tomorrow if someone would only tiptoe up to the map in the middle of the night and move the bomb line over Bologna. Can you imagine? You and I must be the only rational ones left."

In the middle of the night Yossarian knocked on wood, crossed his fingers, and tiptoed out of his tent to move the bomb line up over Bologna. (12.7-8)

As Clevinger points out, the men confuse cause and effect, believing that the effect (the bomb line moving over Bologna) would initiate the cause (the Allies actually capturing Bologna). Also, this quote shows that logic is relative. Because the men believe that the mission will be cancelled if the line is moved over Bologna, moving it over the line makes it true. Beliefs are not universal or absolute, but rather relative to the thoughts of those who believe them.

"Tu sei pazzo," she (Luciana) told him with a pleasant laugh.

"Why am I crazy?" he asked.

"Perchè non posso sposare."

"Why can't you get married?"

"Because I am not a virgin," she answered.

"What has that got to do with it?

"Who will marry me? No one wants a girl who is not a virgin."

"I will, I will marry you."

"Ma non posso sposarti."

"Why can't you marry me?"

"Perchè tu sei pazzo."

"Why am I crazy?"

"Perchè vuoi sposarmi."

Yossarian wrinkled his forehead with quizzical amusement. "You won't marry me because I'm crazy, and you say I'm crazy because I want to marry you? Is that right?"

"." (16.61-75)

Apparently, Catch-22 is an international credo. It makes it impossible for Yossarian to marry Luciana and be considered sane at the same time.

[Colonel Cathcart:] "Haven't you got anything humorous that stays away from waters and valleys and God? I'd like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can."

The chaplain was apologetic. "I'm sorry, sir, but just about all the prayers I know are rather somber in tone and make at least some passing reference to God." (19.50-51)

It is a contradiction to ask for a prayer that does not mention religion or God. Colonel Cathcart shows his stupidity by asking for one.

What displeased Corporal Whitcomb most about the chaplain, apart from the fact that the chaplain believed in God, was his lack of initiative and aggressiveness. Corporal Whitcomb regarded the low attendance at religious services as a sad reflection of his own status. His mind germinated feverishly with challenging new ideas for sparking the great spiritual revival of which he dreamed himself the architect […] It was people like the chaplain, he concluded, who were responsible for giving religion such a bad name and making pariahs out of them both. (20.30)

Corporal Whitcomb is a contradictory character because he is atheist, yet he dreams of sparking a "great spiritual revival."

Yossarian's mission on the trip was to distract Orr from observing where Milo bought his eggs, even though Orr was a member of Milo's syndicate and, like every other member of Milo's syndicate, owned a share. (22.56)

This idea is nonsensical; Orr would not try to sabotage the syndicate by revealing the whereabouts of Milo's egg market because he is a member of the syndicate and benefits from Milo's profits.

"America is the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth," Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. "And the American fighting man is second to none."

"Exactly," agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. "Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least prosperous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that's exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly. (23.14-15)

This logic seems contradictory because it implies that the strongest and richest nation, America, is losing the war while the poorest and weakest nation, Italy, is surviving just fine. However, the old man goes on to explain why this is so and his explanation makes a strange sort of sense.

"[…] it's better to die on one's feet than live on one's knee," Nately retorted with triumphant and lofty conviction. "I guess you've heard that saying before."

"Yes, I certainly have," mused the treacherous old man, smiling again. "But I'm afraid you have it backward. It is better to live on one's feet than die on one's knees. That is the way the saying goes." (23.61-62)

The old man, by inverting Nately's phrase, switches the meaning around. Whereas Nately espouses courage and freedom, the old man values survival at any cost.

[Milo:] "You'll be paying the money to yourself when you buy from the syndicate, since you'll own a share, so you'll really be getting everything you buy for nothing. Doesn't that make sense?" (24.34)

It is contradictory to say that you'll pay a syndicate to buy something, but that you get that something for nothing. However, once again, Milo's reasoning makes a strange degree of sense.

"You're dead, sir," one of his two enlisted men explained.

Doc Daneeka jerked his head up quickly with resentful distrust. "What's that?"

"You're dead, sir," repeated the other. That's probably the reason you always feel so cold."

"That's right, sir. You've probably been dead all this time and we just didn't detect it." (31.5-8)

It is nonsensical to say someone is dead when he is standing and speaking. Yet as we find out later, Doc Daneeka is effectively dead here.

Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon or burn up. (39.49)

It is nonsensical to say something does not exist but then does. However, Yossarian has a point here. Only to the extent that people believe in the twisted logic of Catch-22 does it actually exist and manifest its strange consequences on everyone. The tragic truth is that if the collective did not believe in Catch-22, it would not exist.

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