Study Guide

Catch-22 Philosophical Viewpoints: Cynicism and Chance

By Joseph Heller

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Philosophical Viewpoints: Cynicism and Chance

The characters in the novel often cannot control what is happening around them and become victims of fate. This isn't all that surprising considering that the story takes place in the middle of a war—chance happenings and coincidences often have serious consequences when you're flying planes and dropping bombs. Unfortunately, most of the characters are pretty unlucky. In one scene in Rome near the end, Yossarian comments on all the pain and suffering in the world and how unfair it all is. All this endless suffering breeds a degree of cynicism in the men. They are hardened to pain, anticipate it, and cope with it by lashing out at others. Sounds like a party. 


Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Cynicism and Chance

  1. Are the characters in Catch-22 responsible for all the tragedies that occur? How much of it is their fault and how much mere bad luck?
  2. Does fate seem to operate in any logical way? Are the good characters rewarded and evil characters punished?
  3. How can cynicism or a negative attitude be seen as a cause or contributor to the events in the book, specifically the deaths?
  4. Which characters have refused to give in to cynicism and thus maintained their optimism? Does fate reward them?

Chew on This

Although the men's actions in Catch-22 often have tragic consequences, the greatest tragedies are a product of chance, and the men can do nothing to help the sad situations.

Although fate and coincidence cause some unhappiness in Catch-22, the men's thoughtless actions cause most of the harm and prove avoidable.

Catch-22 Philosophical Viewpoints: Cynicism and Chance Study Group

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