Although Hungry Joe has already flown his fifty missions, the orders to send him home never come, and he continues to scream at night. Doc Daneeka ignores Hungry Joe’s problems and instead complains about having been forced to leave his clinic. Hungry Joe is mad with lust; his desperate attempts to take pictures of naked women always end in failure, as the pictures do not come out. In order to get women to pose for him, Hungry Joe pretends to be an important Life magazine photographer—ironically, he really was a photographer for Life before the war. Hungry Joe has flown six tours of duty, but every time he finishes one, Colonel Cathcart raises the number of missions required before Hungry Joe can be sent home. With each increase in the minimum number of missions, Hungry Joe’s nightmares stop until he finishes another tour. The narrator tells us that Colonel Cathcart is very brave about volunteering his men for the most dangerous missions.
Appleby, another member of the squadron, is equally brave in his Ping-Pong games. One night, Orr, Yossarian’s roommate, attacks Appleby in the middle of a game. A fight breaks out, and Chief White Halfoat breaks the nose of Colonel Moodus, General Dreedle’s son-in-law. General Dreedle so enjoys witnessing this abuse of his son-in-law that he keeps calling Chief White Halfoat in to repeat the performance and moves him into Doc Daneeka’s tent to make sure that Halfoat remains in top physical condition.
Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen gives Yossarian another definition of Catch-22, one that requires him to fly the extra missions that Colonel Cathcart orders, even though Twenty-seventh Air Force regulations demand only forty missions. The reasoning is that the regulations state also that Yossarian must obey all of Cathcart’s orders, and Cathcart has raised the number of missions again, this time to fifty-five.
McWatt, Yossarian’s pilot, manages to display a cheeriness in the face of war, even though he is perfectly sane. This contradiction leads Yossarian to believe that McWatt, who is smiling and polite and who loves to whistle show tunes, is the “craziest combat man” in the unit.
Yossarian gets a letter from Doc Daneeka about his liver that orders the mess hall to give Yossarian all the fresh fruit he wants. Nervous that his liver will improve—which would mean having to leave the hospital—Yossarian refuses to eat the fruit. Milo, however, tries to persuade Yossarian to sell the fruit on the black market, but Yossarian refuses. Milo explains to Yossarian his desire to serve the best meals in the entire world in his mess hall and his nervousness about his chef, Corporal Snark, who poisoned his entire previous squadron by putting GI soap in the sweet potatoes.
Milo becomes indignant when he learns that a C.I.D. (Criminal Investigation Division) man is searching for a criminal who has been forging Washington Irving’s name in censored letters. He thinks the investigation is a ploy to expose him for selling items on the black market. Milo wants to organize the men into a syndicate, a concept that he tries to explain to Yossarian by stealing McWatt’s bedsheet, ripping it into pieces, and redistributing it. Yossarian does not understand Milo’s version of economics, which largely involves cheating whomever he is trading with and then claiming moral superiority.
[N]owhere in the world, not in all the fascist tanks or planes or submarines . . . were there men who hated him more.
Clevinger does not understand Milo’s plan either, even though he usually understands everything about the war except for the arbitrary way in which things happen. Yossarian remembers training in America with Clevinger under Lieutenant Scheisskopf, who had been obsessed with parades, and whose wife, along with her friend Dori Duz, had slept with all the men under her husband’s command. Lieutenant Scheisskopf hates Clevinger and finally gets him sent to trial under a belligerent colonel. At the trial, Clevinger is unable to communicate his innocence because he is harangued about using improper modes of address. Clevinger is extremely confused by his superiors’ hatred of him; he realizes that Lieutenant Scheisskopf and the colonel harbor an animosity toward him that no enemy soldier ever could.
The narrator explains the details of Major Major Major’s troubled childhood. His unfortunate name is a result of his father’s twisted sense of humor and causes Major much distress throughout his youth. Major also bears a strong resemblance to Henry Fonda, upon which people constantly comment, and he does so well in school as a child that the FBI monitors him on suspicion that he is a communist. His troubles continue when an IBM computer error makes him a major the day he joins the army, resulting in his new name, Major Major Major Major. His sudden promotion stuns his drill sergeant, who then has to train a man who is suddenly his superior officer. Luckily, Major Major applies for aviation cadet training and is sent away to Lieutenant Scheisskopf, who is himself confused about how to interact with an officer who outranks him but to whom he is a commanding officer. Scheisskopf trains Major quickly in order to get rid of him, and sends him to Pianosa, where Yossarian’s squadron is stationed. Not long after arriving in Pianosa, where Major is happy for the first time in his life, he is made squadron commander by a vengeful Colonel Cathcart. As a result, Major loses all his friends, who become servile in his presence.
Major Major has always been a drab, mediocre sort of person and has never had friends before; he lapses into an awkward depression and refuses to be seen in his office. To make himself feel better, Major Major forges Washington Irving’s name on official documents. He is confused about everything, including his official relationship to Major —— de Coverley, his executive officer: he does not know whether he is Major —— de Coverley’s subordinate or vice versa. A C.I.D. man comes to investigate the Washington Irving scandal, but Major Major denies knowledge of it. The incompetent C.I.D. man believes him—as does another C.I.D. man who arrives shortly thereafter, then leaves to investigate the first C.I.D. man. Major Major starts wearing dark glasses and a false mustache when forging Washington Irving’s name; he even forges a few “John Milton” signatures, just for variety. One day, Yossarian tackles Major Major and demands to be grounded. Major Major sadly tells Yossarian that there is nothing he can do.
Clevinger’s plane disappears in a cloud off the coast of Elba, and he is presumed dead. Yossarian, however, is unable to conceive of Clevinger’s death, and instead assumes that he is simply, and inexplicably, missing. The narrator then describes ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen’s past: back in the U.S., ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen continually goes AWOL. He is required to dig holes and fill them up again as punishment—work he approaches as a duty to his country. One day, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen nicks a water pipe, and water sprays everywhere. Since Chief White Halfoat is with Wintergreen, everyone assumes that it is oil, and Halfoat and Wintergreen are both sent away to Pianosa.
Yossarian recalls Mudd, a soldier who had arrived at the camp and died in combat before even reporting for duty. Nobody can actually remember Mudd, but his belongings remain in Yossarian’s tent and seem to be “contaminated with death.” This reminder of death causes Yossarian to think about the deadly mission of the Great Big Siege of Bologna, for which Colonel Cathcart had bravely volunteered his men. At the time, not even sick men could be grounded by doctors. One of the doctors, Dr. Stubbs, asked cynically what point there was to saving lives when everyone was going to die anyway. Dunbar replied that the point was to live as long as possible and forget about the fact that death was inevitable.
In these chapters, many of the novel’s characters begin to accept the futility and illogic of the actions that the army and higher levels of bureaucracy demand of those involved in the war effort. First among those who resign themselves to the absurdity is Major Major Major Major, one of the most comical and improbable characters in the novel: all his life, Major Major has been the victim of bureaucratic forces beyond his control—his birth certificate, the IBM machine—and he eventually turns on these forces by forging false names on official documents. The way in which he rebels against the system reflects both his own dissatisfaction with his ludicrous name, which bureaucracy has generated, and the reliance upon names, cataloging, and indexing perpetuated by the bureaucracy. Major —— de Coverley is another ridiculous and paradoxical figure, a revered old man with no important duties who plays horseshoes all day and is utterly irrelevant to the war. Actions, too, can be irrelevant and nonsensical: ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen’s punishment for going AWOL is to dig holes and then fill them back up again. Wintergreen says that he doesn’t mind doing it, so long as it is “part of the war effort.” Obviously, his task is not helping the Allies win the war; its uselessness suggests that so many other actions that the army seems to believe are necessary are actually a waste of time. A similar sense of futility occurs with Major Major’s realization that the documents he signs keep coming back to him for more signatures. His life is consumed with paperwork that repeats itself in an endless cycle in which nothing gets accomplished.
Catch-22’s mosaic of anecdotes, whose chronological placement remains largely beyond the reader’s grasp, undermines the conventional model of various events building tension toward a climax. It also conveys the impression that, just as Yossarian is afraid to confront a life that ends in death, the novel itself is nervous about the passing of time, which leads inevitably toward death. Breaking up the flow of time is, in a sense, a narrative attempt to defy mortality. In these early chapters, Dunbar presents an important alternative to this approach: he knows he is trapped in linear time, but he hopes to live in it as long as possible by making time move more slowly in his perception. He thus seeks boredom and discomfort because time seems to pass more slowly when he is bored or uncomfortable. This separation of the actual passage of time from the experience of time is an attempt to regain control of a life constantly threatened by the violence of war.
The novel’s exploration of this quirky passing of time demonstrates how the novel’s satirical and serious tones complement each other. Dunbar’s argument about doing unpleasant things because they make time pass more slowly, a statement that seems entirely illogical and even comical the first time we read it, begins to make sense as the novel progresses. The only way in which these soldiers are able to approach the ludicrous situation in which they have been placed is to indulge their own ludicrous logic. Dr. Stubbs’s frustrated reflection in Chapter 10 that the arbitrary nature of death makes it absurd to try to live makes Dunbar’s ideas about making time last longer seem somewhat logical: a response to the possibility of imminent death that espouses self-preservation is no longer comical but rather completely rational.
Part of the reason for Yossarian’s terror of death is that he has no control over his own fate. Again and again, the impersonal machine that seems to be running the war in Catch-22 denies characters the ability to shape their own destinies. The law of Catch-22 seems to be the embodiment of this trap: even when soldiers can think of rational reasons to go home from the war, Catch-22 always stops them. A large part of the powerlessness the men feel comes from the bureaucratic regulations that prevent rational action; the men’s actions are guided by rules that have little to do with reality. The hilarious conversations that result from attempting to stick to the rules are often pitiful because they highlight how inhuman the bureaucracy is. In Chapter 8, for example, Scheisskopf’s haranguing of Clevinger about the mode of his address when Clevinger attempts to communicate his innocence demonstrates how Scheisskopf focuses only on superficial things, such as matters of propriety, and completely ignores substantial things, such as his men’s individual needs and feelings.