Study Guide

Catch-22 Chapter 23

By Joseph Heller

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Chapter 23

  • Nately finds his prostitute again weeks later, along with two other girls. He convinces them to come back to the men's apartment by promising them thirty dollars each.
  • The girls lead them upstairs where all the prostitutes are staying, lounging about completely naked. The men are delighted, especially Hungry Joe.
  • Poor Hungry Joe, absolutely stunned by the sight of so much bare flesh, cannot decide whether to run home and get his camera or stay and get some lovin'.
  • Meanwhile, Nately takes an immediate disliking to a debauched old man who reminds him of his father, even though the two are completely different.
  • Nately immediately gets into an argument with him.
  • They fight over whether or not America will win the war. The old Italian man uses Catch-22 logic to say that America, as strong and rich as it is, will be destroyed – while Italy will survive in its poor, meek way. He compares America to a frog – which brings on Nately's rage.
  • Nately looks to his friends for help but they are distracted by the prostitutes.
  • His own prostitute, whom he loves, is completely uninterested in him, and Nately has nothing better to do than plunge back into debate with the creepy old man. Nately resolves to win the debate against him, show his patriotism, and win the heart of his prostitute. Somehow, in his mind, these are related.
  • During the course of their argument, the old man proudly admits that he is a shameless opportunist, taking the side of whomever is in power at the moment in Italy.
  • We find out he was the man who hit Major -------- de Coverley in the eye with a rose, and he is proud of it. Nately is appalled that anyone would purposefully assault the noble Major.
  • The old man believes that dying for one's country is an absurd notion and puts Nately on the defensive. Nately sticks to his guns. But the old man has the final say – claiming that it is better to survive as slaves than to die as heroes. This sounds eloquent and potentially important.
  • Nately discovers his friends have gone to bed. Everyone else leaves and Nately is left all alone.
  • We learn about Nately's family – a wealthy bunch who take pride in their aristocratic bloodline. Nately's father advised him to join the Air Force because he believed the war would be over soon and Nately, as an officer, would move in the highest diplomatic circles.
  • Instead, Nately is stuck in a brothel in Rome, in love with a prostitute.
  • Eventually, Nately finds his prostitute again. Just as he is about to get some action, he is interrupted by the prostitute's kid sister, who is jealous of her sister. The two sisters have a catfight.
  • Eventually they all go down for breakfast as though everything is okay, which, of course, it isn't.
  • The prostitute ends up abandoning Nately, leaving him with her kid sister. Nately buys the kid an ice cream and returns with her to the apartment, where he finds his friends ready to leave.
  • Nately is upset by the debauched old man's raggedy appearance and wishes he would clean himself up so Nately would not suffer such shame each time he looks at him and remembers his father. Even though Nately's father is an aristocrat.

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