Study Guide

Catch-22 Power

By Joseph Heller

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Heller goes to great lengths to point out the incompetence, pettiness, and corruption within the bureaucratic ranks of the military in Catch-22. Its officers are often blindly selfish, heartless, indecisive, deeply insecure, and wildly ambitious—kind of like the Plastics in Mean Girls. They have no compassion for human life or any sort of morality. They answer only to those with more money and more power. Accountability is often in question. The bureaucrats have no problem cutting corrupt deals with troublesome individuals to get rid of them, or sometimes just discreetly eliminating them. According to Heller, such a bureaucracy is the product of a modern capitalistic society—one where money talks and power corrupts.

Questions About Power

  1. What does the administration value? How might the administration's actions be considered petty and frivolous?
  2. In what ways does Colonel Cathcart abuse his power?
  3. How does Yossarian make distinct the boundary between the enlisted men and the administration? How are officers rendered the middlemen between the two parties? Do they exhibit the same level of corruption as the bureaucracy?
  4. How could all the corruption of the administration be read as an allegory for the U.S. bureaucracy? What errors might Heller accuse the government of committing?

Chew on This

In Catch-22, the bureaucracy shows more brutality towards its own men than it shows towards the enemy.

Although the bureaucracy is undeniably corrupt, its deplorable actions make sense and might even be condoned under the logic of Catch-22.

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