Study Guide

Catch-22 Chapter 1

By Joseph Heller

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Chapter 1

  • Enter Yossarian, an American bombardier (that is, a member of a fighter plane crew that is in charge of aiming and releasing bombs) during WWII. He's playing hooky in a hospital ward with a "liver condition" that never quite becomes jaundice (that's when you turn yellow – gross).
  • None of the nurses like Yossarian. Maybe because they can tell he's a great big faker.
  • Yossarian's liver has stopped hurting, but he doesn't tell the doctors so he can stay off duty. Clever man.
  • Yossarian's only duty in the hospital is to censor letters. It's boring. Massively so.
  • So he invents censoring-the-letter games; sometimes he blacks out only adjectives and adverbs, sometimes he blacks out only salutations and signatures, sometimes he signs the letters with the signature of "Washington Irving," and sometimes he makes them sound like love letters. In short, he has fun with them.
  • Dunbar, a fighter-pilot captain, and a Texan are Yossarian's fellow patients.
  • The Texan feels that "people of means" (i.e., white Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans) should be given more votes than people without means (everyone else). This is what we call being a bigot.
  • Dunbar and Yossarian make fun of him.
  • And even though the Texan is a likable fellow, everyone hates him.
  • The only man who can stand the Texan is the soldier in white – an immobile and silent man completely wrapped in gauze and plaster. The only visible body part is his hole of a mouth. That's pretty sad when the only person who can stand you is a vegetable.
  • The nurses take temperatures twice a day. One day, a nurse discovers that the soldier in white is dead.
  • Yossarian and Dunbar blame the Texan, calling him a murderer, which he protests. The two accuse him of killing the soldier in white because he (the man wrapped in gauze) is black. The Texan denies it.
  • One day, the stove explodes in the mess hall and sets the kitchen on fire. Bad cooks.
  • The firemen try to put the fire out but are called back out to the airfield to help incoming planes land. By the time they go back, the fire has died down all by itself.
  • The next day, a chaplain arrives and has a chat with every patient. He seems especially interested in identifying Yossarian and Dunbar.
  • Yossarian likes him, although their conversation basically consists of one repeating what the other says. From their talk, we learn that Yossarian is a captain of the 256th Squadron. And that he thinks their ward is the only sane ward in the hospital.
  • The chaplain is a rather dense man who responds to everything – even Yossarian's admission that he isn't sick – with "that's good."
  • In a private section of the ward, a colonel is housed. He is treated by a team of specialists who cannot figure out what is wrong with him. So they subject him to a lot of tests which mess up his organs. The colonel is visited daily by a nameless, sad young woman.
  • Within ten days of the Texan being admitted to the hospital, everybody clears out. They feign good health to get out of the ward and away from the Texan. This means they're going back to active duty. They would rather partake in warfare than hang out with this guy.

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