Study Guide

Catch-22 Lies and Deceit

By Joseph Heller

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Lies and Deceit

Actually, the pain in his liver had gone away, but Yossarian didn't say anything and the doctors never suspected. (1.8)

Yossarian fools the doctors into thinking he has a liver condition when he doesn't so he can stay in the hospital away from combat duty.

It was a harsh and stunning realization that was forced upon him at so tender an age, the realization that he was not, as he had always been led to believe, Caleb Major, but instead was some total stranger named Major Major Major about whom he knew absolutely nothing and about whom nobody else had ever heard before. What playmates he had withdrew from him and never returned, disposed, as they were, to distrust all strangers, especially one who had already deceived them by pretending to be someone they had known for years. (9.13)

Major Major's friends, who up to this point have always thought of him as Caleb Major, now feel betrayed by his deception (unwilling as it was). The ironic thing is that Major Major feels as betrayed and deceived as anybody, but he has to live with the stigma of the name – and all the loneliness it brings upon him.

[…] people who did lie were, on the whole, more resourceful and ambitious and successful than people who did not lie. (9.116)

Milo discovers that deception has its rewards.

What could you do? Major Major asked himself again. What could you do with a man who looked you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die than be killed in combat, a man who was at least as mature and intelligent as you were and who you had to pretend was not? What could you say to him? (9.205)

Major Major is keenly frustrated by the inescapable cycle of Catch-22. When confronted by a man who tells him honestly that he doesn't want to be killed, a man who isn't ashamed to show his fear, Major Major realizes that Catch-22 does not allow him to respond in a manner worthy of the man. There is no way he can keep his personal integrity by granting Yossarian's request and still abide by the rules. Major Major compromises his integrity by telling Yossarian there is nothing he can do for him.

Yossarian […] continued searching intently, cold with a compassionate kind of fear now for the little bouncy and bizarre buck-toothed tentmate who had smashed Appleby's forehead open with a Ping-Pong racket and who was scaring the daylights out of Yossarian once again. (15.47)

Fearing for the life of his friend is one way that Yossarian reveals that his personal integrity is still intact. Despite all the rough talk between the men and the wartime dangers to which they have become hardened, Yossarian still has a compassionate core. He separates himself from the callous administration that does not care about its men's lives.

[…] but even that idyll had ended on a tragic note: he was still in good health when the quarantine period was over, and they told him again that he had to get out and go to war. Yossarian sat up in bed when he heard the bad news and shouted,

"I see everything twice." (18.51-52)

Yossarian lies to get what he wants. This lie may compromise his integrity, but from another viewpoint, it keeps him from being killed on the battlefield – an understandable desire.

All Colonel Cathcart knew about his house in the hills was that he had such a house and hated it. He was never so bored as when spending there the two or three days every other week necessary to sustain the illusion that his damp and drafty stone farmhouse in the hills was a golden palace of carnal delights. Officers' clubs everywhere pulsated with blurred but knowing accounts of lavish, hushed-up drinking and sex orgies there and of secret, intimate nights of ecstasy with the most beautiful, the most tantalizing, the most readily aroused and most easily satisfied Italian courtesans, film actresses, models and countesses. No such private nights of ecstasy or hushed-up drinking and sex orgies ever occurred. (21.8)

Colonel Cathcart is willing to deceive his men into thinking he receives pleasure when he doesn't to keep up an appearance of superior authority and power over the enlisted men. It is ironic that Colonel Cathcart does not hold such parties as described, especially when he has the perfect venue for it.

"Why isn't he wearing clothes?" General Dreedle demanded…

"Why isn't he wearing clothes?" Colonel Korn demanded of Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren.

"A man was killed in his plane over Avignon last week and bled all over him," Captain Wren replied. "He swears he's never going to wear a uniform again."

"A man was killed in his plane over Avignon last week and bled all over him," Captain Korn (sic) reported directly to General Dreedle. "His uniform hasn't come back from the laundry yet." (21.47-52)

Colonel Korn lies to General Dreedle about the reason Yossarian isn't wearing clothes so that he can save face in front of him. Korn hopes to win Dreedle's favor so he can be promoted. Thus he changes what he believes is a silly reason for being naked (being traumatized by your friend's death) into what he deems a reasonable explanation (that all Yossarian's clothes are at the laundry).

[Yossarian:] "Nothing would please me more than to have the son a b**** [Cathcart] break his neck or get killed in a crash or to find out that someone else had shot him to death. But I don't think I could kill him."

"He'd do it to you," Dobbs argued. "In fact, you're the one who told me he is doing it to us by keeping us in combat so long."

"But I don't think I could do it to him. He's got a right to live, too, I guess." (22.19-21)

Yossarian demonstrates his personal integrity by adhering to his belief that killing is wrong. In spite of all the wrongs done to him by Colonel Cathcart, he refuses to kill him.

Milo turned to him [Yossarian] with a faint glimmer of mischief. "I have a sure-fire plan of cheating the federal government out of six thousand dollars. We can make three thousand dollars apiece without any risk to either of us. Are you interested?"


Milo looked at Yossarian with profound emotion. "That's what I like about you," he exclaimed. "You're honest! You're the only one I know that I can really trust." (22.73-75)

Even Milo sees Yossarian's honesty and personal integrity. Yossarian's blunt refusal to profit by swindling almost moves Milo. Almost. However, he tries to twist Yossarian's goodness by convincing him into participating in the swindling schemes.

"You see? Imagine a man his age risking what little life he has left for something so absurd as a country!" he declared.

Nately was instantly up in arms again. "There is nothing so absurd about risking your life for your country!" he declared.

"Isn't there?" asked the old man. "What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can't all be worth dying for."

"Anything worth living for," said Nately, "is worth dying for." (23.54-57)

Nately demonstrates his personal integrity by standing up for his beliefs, and defending them even in the face of the old man. He believes that dying for one's country is a proper and noble expression of one's patriotism.

[Milo:] "Look, I didn't start this war, Yossarian […] I'm just trying to put it on a businesslike basis. Is anything wrong with that? You know, a thousand dollars ain't such a bad price for a medium bomber and a crew. If I can persuade the Germans to pay me a thousand dollars for every plane they shoot down, why shouldn't I take it?

"Because you're dealing with the enemy, that's why. Can't you understand that we're fighting a war? People are dying. Look around you, for Christ's sake!"

Milo shook his head with weary forbearance. "And the Germans are not our enemies," he declared. "Oh, I know what you're going to say. Sure we're at war with them. But the Germans are also members in good standing of the syndicate, and it's my job to protect their rights as shareholders […]. Don't you understand that I have to respect the sanctity of my contract with Germany?"

"No," Yossarian rebuffed him harshly. (24.52-55)

Milo is sincere in his righteousness. He honestly thinks he has done nothing wrong, even though Mudd died, and he (Milo) holds contracts with America's enemy, Germany. In his own flawed way, Milo – in earning as much money as possible for his syndicate – is adhering to his own personal integrity. He would think it a sin not to make a big a profit. According to Milo, everything that benefits the syndicate benefits America.

Milo's eyes were liquid with integrity, and his artless and uncorrupted face was lustrous with a shining mixture of sweat and insect repellent.

"Look at them," he explained in a voice choked with emotion. "They're my friends, my countrymen, my comrades in arms. A fellow never had a better bunch of buddies. Do you think I'd do a single thing to harm them if I didn't have to?" (24.56-57)

Milo's has an obvious love for his fellow countrymen. He honestly believes that he would do them no harm, but overlooks the fact that the actions of the syndicate can harm his men.

Doc Daneeka lost his head during Milo's bombardment; instead of running for cover, he had remained out in the open and performing his duty, slithering along the ground through shrapnel, strafing and incendiary bombs like a furtive, wily lizard from casualty to casualty, administering tourniquets, morphine, splints and sulfanilamide with a dark and doleful visage, never saying one word more than he had to and reading in each man's bluing wound a dreadful portent of his own decay. He worked himself relentlessly into exhaustion before the long night was over […] (24.70)

Doc Daneeka surprisingly shows a loyalty to his trade during a horrifying raid. Instead of running, he stays and performs his duty despite the danger. We don't know what, if anything brings about this sudden integrity to his job.

[…] the vision of the naked man in the tree […]. Was is a ghost, then? The dead man's soul? An angel from heaven or a minion from hell? Or was the whole fantastic episode merely the figment of a diseased imagination, his own, of a deteriorating mind, a rotting brain? The possibility that there really had been a naked man in the tree […] never crossed the chaplain's mind. (25.12)

The chaplain deludes himself, exaggerating the significance of the naked man in the tree, by relegating it to only two possibilities: a divine sign or a sign of madness. Both possibilities are unlikely, and yet still easier to believe than reality.

[Aarfy:] "I can just imagine what your father and mother would say if they knew you were running around with filthy trollops like that one. Your father is a very distinguished man, you know."

"I'm not going to tell him," Nately declared with determination. "I'm not going to say a word about her to him or Mother until after we're married." (26.20-21)

Nately is so in love with his prostitute that he is willing to keep his rich, influential parents from knowing about his dishonorable affair with a disreputable woman.

Yossarian felt sorry for Orr. Orr was so small and ugly. Who would protect him if he lived? Who would protect a warmhearted, simple-minded gnome like Orr from rowdies and cliques and from expert athletes like Appleby who had flies in their eyes and would walk right over him with swaggering conceit and self-assurance every chance they got? (28.60)

Yossarian maintains his integrity by continuing to be compassionate towards Orr. Despite their fights in the tent, when it comes to the question of death, Yossarian is willing to help others.

"They [the villagers] won't even take shelter," Dunbar argued bitterly. "They'll pour out into the streets to wave when they see our planes coming, all the children and dogs and old people. Jesus Christ! Why can't we just leave them alone?"

"What can't we create the roadblock somewhere else?" asked McWatt. "Why must it be there?"


[Colonel Korn:] "Why don't you want to bomb the village?"

"It's cruel, that's why." (29.67-76)

The men demonstrate their sense of righteousness and integrity by refusing to bomb innocent people. It is one of the few times when the soldiers are actually concerned about lives other than their own.

[Sergeant Knight:] "Doc Daneeka's up there, too."

"I'm right here," contended Doc Daneeka, in a strange and troubled voice, darting an anxious look at Sergeant Knight. (30.38-39)

It is implied that Yossarian is a secret cause of the confusion regarding Doc Daneeka's "death," because Yossarian was the one who falsely logged Doc Daneeka's flight hours. This act of deception has serious repercussions for Doc Daneeka.

But to abandon Orr's tent would be to abandon Orr, who would have been spurned and humiliated clannishly by these four simple-minded officers waiting to move in. (32.10)

Yossarian is faithful to Orr's memory and still thinks of him as a living being. Yossarian imagines how Orr would have suffered had he been alive to see these boisterous young soldiers. In this way, Yossarian demonstrates continued loyalty to Orr.

He [Nately] kept blushing giddily in shy embarrassment and saying he was sorry when Yossarian came over to apologize for hitting him. Yossarian felt terrible; he could hardly bear to look at Nately's battered countenance […]. (34.13)

Yossarian's true affection for and friendship with Nately makes him embarrassed that he did such a horrible thing to his friend. Yossarian shows his integrity by apologizing to Nately and trying to keep their friendship alive.

All at once he realized – though the writhing turbulence beneath him had not diminished one whit – that she was no longer grappling with him, recognized with a quiver that she was not fighting him but heaving her pelvis up against him remorselessly in the primal, powerful rhapsodic instinctual rhythm of erotic ardor and abandonment. He gasped in delighted surprise. Her face – as beautiful as a blooming flower to him now – was distorted with a new kind of torture, the tissues serenely swollen, her half-closed eyes misty and unseeing with the stultifying languor of desire.


He stroked her hair. She drove her mouth against his face with savage passion. He licked her neck. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged. He felt himself falling, falling ecstatically in love with her as she kissed him again and again with lips that were steaming and wet and soft and hard, mumbling deep sounds to him adoringly in an incoherent oblivion of rapture, one caressing hand on his back slipping deftly down inside his trouser belt while the other groped secretly and treacherously about on the floor for the bread knife and found it. He saved himself just in time. She still wanted to kill him! He was shocked and astounded by her depraved subterfuge as he tore the knife from her grasp and hurled it away. (38.17-19)

Sex is used as a deception, a decoy during which Nately's prostitute can find the knife to kill Yossarian.

"Milo, I'm talking about a little girl!" Yossarian interrupted him with desperate impatience. "Don't you understand? I don't want to sleep with her. I want to help her […]. She's just a little kid, and she's all alone in this city with no one to take care of her. I want to protect her from harm. Don't you know what I'm talking about?" (39.53)

Yossarian shows his moral grounding and integrity by selflessly wanting to help this child. He could gain pleasure from her by sleeping with her, but his ethics will not allow him to do such a thing. He has nothing but an altruistic desire to protect her.

Yossarian knew he could help the troubled old woman if she would only cry out, knew he could spring forward and capture the sturdy first woman and hold her for the mob of policemen nearby if the second woman would only give him license with a shriek of distress. But the old woman passed by without even seeing him, mumbling in terrible, tragic vexation, and soon the first woman had vanished into the deepening layers of darkness and the old woman was left standing helplessly in the center of the thoroughfare, dazed, uncertain which way to proceed, alone. Yossarian tore his eyes from her and hurried away in shame because he had done nothing to assist her. (39.81)

Yossarian betrays his own morality and sense of righteousness when he refuses to help the troubled old woman. This leaves him feeling guilty and ashamed.

[Major Danby:] "But why did you make such a deal if you didn't like it?"

"I did it in a moment of weakness," Yossarian wisecracked with glum irony. (42.13-14)

Yossarian admits that agreeing to the immoral deal from Colonel Cathcart and Korn represented a moment of moral weakness. He restores his integrity by breaking the deal.

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