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Catch-22

Joseph Heller

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full title  ·  Catch-22

author  · Joseph Heller

type of work  · Novel

genre  · War novel; satire

language  · English

time and place written  · 1955–1961, New York

date of first publication  · 1961

publisher  · Simon & Schuster, Inc.

narrator  · The anonymous narrator is omniscient, seeing and knowing all things. The narrator presents characters and events in a humorous, satirical light but seems to have real sympathy for some of them as well.

point of view  · The narrator speaks in the third person, focusing mostly on what Yossarian does and what Yossarian thinks and feels. Occasionally, the narrator also shows us how other characters, such as the chaplain or Hungry Joe, experience the world around them.

tone  · The narrator presents ridiculous behavior and illogical arguments in a flatly satirical tone, never stating outright that matters are funny, but always making the reader aware of how outrageously bizarre the characters and situations are.

tense  · The story is written in the past tense. Although the book settles into a more chronological order as it approaches its end, most of Catch-22 is told out of sequence, with events from the past mixed in with events from the present.

setting (time)  · Near the end of World War II

setting (place)  · Pianosa, a small island off the coast of Italy. Although Pianosa is a real place, Heller has taken some creative liberties with it, enlarging it to hold all the action of the novel.

protagonist  · John Yossarian, an Air Force captain and bombardier stationed in Pianosa

major conflict  · Yossarian struggles to stay alive, despite the many parties who seem to want him dead.

rising action  · The rising action in the novel’s present time is Yossarian’s growing certainty that he will never be allowed to go home. Alongside Yossarian’s certainty is a second subplot that takes place in the past: the bombing run on which Snowden was killed. As the novel moves along, we are allowed to see more and more of this pivotal scene.

climax  · The two climaxes of Catch-22 happen simultaneously. The first climax occurs when Yossarian is offered a choice: he can either face a court-martial or be sent home if he agrees to support Cathcart and Korn. The second climax, which occurs as Yossarian makes his decision, is the final flashback to Snowden’s death, in which all the details of this critical event are at last revealed.

falling action  · Remembering the lesson of Snowden’s death, Yossarian decides that he cannot betray the other men in his squadron by forcing them to fly his missions for him. Instead, he decides to desert the army and flee the camp.

themes  · The absolute power of bureaucracy; loss of religious faith; the impotence of language; the inevitability of death

motifs  · Catch-22; number of missions; Washington Irving

symbols  · Chocolate-covered cotton; the soldier in white; aerial photographs

foreshadowing  · Snowden’s death is heavily foreshadowed, but in the unusual vehicle of Yossarian’s memories. Yossarian recalls the death very briefly several times near the beginning of Catch-22. It is not until the second-to-last chapter that the death is finally described in full.

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