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Catch-22

Joseph Heller

Chapters 17–21

Chapters 11–16

Chapters 17–21, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary — Chapter 17: The Soldier in White

He wondered often how he would ever recognize . . . the vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end.

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Yossarian has returned to the hospital, where he finds life (and death) more palatable than in his recurring memories of being on a bomb run with Snowden dying in the back, whispering, “I’m cold.” At the hospital, death is orderly and polite, and there is no inexplicable violence. Dunbar is in the hospital with Yossarian, and they are both perplexed by the soldier in white, a man completely covered in plaster bandages. The men in the hospital discuss the injustice of mortality—some men are killed and some are not, and some men get sick and some do not, without any pattern or logic. Some time earlier, Clevinger had tried to explain why there might be some justice in such illogical deaths, but Yossarian was too busy keeping track of all the forces trying to kill him to listen. Later, Yossarian and Hungry Joe collect lists of fatal diseases that they can claim to have. Doc Daneeka, however, frequently refuses to ground them even when they claim to have these diseases. The doctor tells Yossarian that after Yossarian flies his fifty-five missions he will think about helping Yossarian.

Summary — Chapter 18: The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice

The first time Yossarian ever goes to the hospital, he is still a private. He feigns an abdominal pain, but when the doctors decide he has been cured, he pretends to have the mysterious ailment of another soldier in the ward who says he “sees everything twice.” He spends Thanksgiving in the hospital and vows to spend all future Thanksgivings there, but he breaks that oath when he spends the next Thanksgiving in bed with Lieutenant Scheisskopf’s wife, arguing about God. After Yossarian claims he is cured of seeing everything twice, he is asked to pretend to be a dying soldier whose mother, father, and brother have come to visit him. The family, which has traveled to visit their family member, does not know that he died that morning. The doctors bandage Yossarian, who pretends to be the dying soldier. The soldier’s father asks Yossarian to tell God that it is not right for men to die so young.

Summary — Chapter 19: Colonel Cathcart

Haven’t you got anything humorous that stays away from . . . God? I’d like to keep away from the subject of religion altogether if we can.

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The ambitious Colonel Cathcart browbeats the chaplain, demanding a prayer before each bombing run, an idea he takes from the -Saturday Evening Post. He then abandons the idea after the chaplain suggests that God might punish them for not including the enlisted men. The chaplain timidly mentions that some of the men have complained about Colonel Cathcart’s habit of raising the number of missions required every few weeks, but Colonel Cathcart ignores him.

Summary — Chapter 20: Corporal Whitcomb

On his way home, the chaplain meets Colonel Korn, Colonel Cathcart’s wily, cynical sidekick. Colonel Korn mocks Colonel Cathcart in front of the chaplain and is highly suspicious of a plum tomato that Colonel Cathcart offered the chaplain. At his tent in the woods, the chaplain encounters the hostile Corporal Whitcomb, his atheistic assistant, who resents him deeply for holding back his career. Corporal Whitcomb tells the chaplain that a C.I.D. man suspects the chaplain of signing Washington Irving’s name to official papers and of stealing plum tomatoes. The poor chaplain is very unhappy, because he feels helpless to improve anyone’s life.

Summary — Chapter 21: General Dreedle

Colonel Cathcart has become preoccupied with Yossarian’s behavior—particularly his complaints about the number of required missions and the fact that he appeared naked at his medal ceremony shortly after Snowden’s death. Yossarian had refused to wear clothes to the ceremony because Snowden, dying in the back of the plane, had bled all over him, and Yossarian never wanted to wear a uniform again. Yossarian is also responsible for a moaning epidemic at the briefing before the Avignon mission during which Snowden was killed; he started moaning because the mission’s dangers meant that he might never again sleep with a beautiful woman.

Colonel Cathcart wishes he knew how to solve the problem posed by Yossarian’s mischief, for this would impress General Dreedle, Cathcart’s commanding officer. General Dreedle, however, does not care what his men do, as long as they remain alive in reliable military quantities. He travels everywhere with a buxom nurse and worries mostly about Colonel Moodus, his son-in-law, whom he despises and thus occasionally asks Chief White Halfoat to punch in the nose. The narrator relates that Colonel Korn once tried to undercut Colonel Cathcart by giving a flamboyant briefing to impress General Dreedle; General Dreedle, unimpressed, told Colonel Cathcart that Colonel Korn made him sick.

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