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Catch-22

Joseph Heller

Chapters 22–26

Chapters 17–21

Chapters 27–31

Summary — Chapter 22: Milo the Mayor

The enigmatic references to Snowden’s death are finally cleared up; Snowden’s death is the moment at which Yossarian loses his nerve. Flying a mission after Colonel Korn’s extravagant briefing, Snowden is killed when Dobbs goes crazy and seizes the plane’s controls from Huple. As he dies, Snowden pleads for Yossarian’s help, saying he is cold. Dobbs is a terrible pilot and a wreck of a man; he later tells Yossarian that he plans to kill Colonel Cathcart before he raises the required number of missions again. Dobbs sees this action as the only way to respond to Cathcart’s foolhardiness. When he asks for Yossarian’s approval, Yossarian is unable to give it, and Dobbs abandons his plan.

The narrator then describes an episode in which Orr, Yossarian, and Milo take a trip to stock up on supplies. As they travel, Orr and Yossarian gradually realize the extent of Milo’s control over the black market and his vast international influence: he is the mayor of Palermo, the assistant governor-general of Malta, the vice-shah of Oran, the caliph of Baghdad, the imam of Damascus, the sheik of Araby, and is worshipped as a god in parts of Africa. Every region has embraced him because he has revitalized their economies with his syndicate, in which everybody has a share. Nevertheless, throughout their trip, Orr and Yossarian are forced to sleep in the plane while Milo enjoys lavish palaces, and they are finally awakened in the middle of the night so that Milo can rush his shipment of red bananas to their next stop.

Summary — Chapter 23: Nately’s Old Man

One evening, Nately finds his whore in Rome again after a long search. He tries to convince Yossarian and Aarfy to take two of her friends for thirty dollars each. Aarfy objects, stating that he has never had to pay for sex. Nately’s whore is sick of Nately and begins to swear at him. Hungry Joe arrives, and the group abandons Aarfy and goes to the apartment building where the girls live. Here the men find a seemingly endless flow of naked young women, and Hungry Joe is torn between taking in the scene and rushing back for his camera. Nately argues about nationalism and moral duty with an old man who lives in the building: the old man claims Italy is doing better than America in the war because, as Italy has already been occupied, Italians are no longer being killed. He then points out that even America probably won’t last as long as frogs, which have been around for five hundred million years. The patriotic, idealistic Nately argues somewhat haltingly for America’s international supremacy and the values it represents. But he is troubled by the fact that the old man reminds him of his father. Nately’s whore tortures Nately with her indifference, eventually abandoning him and going to bed while he argues with the old man. When Nately finally does get to sleep with his whore the next morning, her little sister almost immediately interrupts them.

Summary — Chapter 24: Milo

By April, Milo’s influence is massive: He controls the international black market, plays a major role in the world economy, and uses air force planes from countries all over the world to carry his supply shipments. The planes are repainted with an “M & M Enterprises” logo, but Milo continues to insist that everybody has a share in his syndicate. Milo contracts with the Americans to bomb the Germans and with the Germans to shoot down American planes. German antiaircraft guns contracted by Milo even shot down Mudd, the dead man in Yossarian’s tent, for which Yossarian holds a grudge against Milo. Milo wants Yossarian’s help to concoct a solution for unloading his massive holdings of Egyptian cotton, which he cannot sell and which threaten to ruin his entire operation. One evening after dinner, Milo’s planes begin to bomb Milo’s own camp: he has landed another contract with the Germans, and dozens of men are wounded and killed during the attack. Almost everyone wants to end M & M Enterprises right then, but Milo shows them how much money they have all made, and almost all of the survivors forgive him. While Yossarian sits naked in a tree watching Snowden’s funeral, Milo seeks him out to talk to him about the cotton. He gives Yossarian some chocolate-covered cotton and tries to convince him it is really candy. Yossarian tells Milo to ask the government to buy his cotton, and Milo is struck by the intelligence of the idea.

Summary — Chapter 25: The Chaplain

The chaplain is troubled that no one seems to treat him as a regular human being and everyone is uncomfortable in his presence. Furthermore, he is intimidated by the soldiers and generally ineffectual as a religious leader. He grows increasingly miserable and is sustained solely by the religious visions he has seen since his arrival, including the vision of the naked man in the tree at Snowden’s funeral. (The naked man was, of course, Yossarian.) He dreams of his wife and children dying horribly in his absence. He tries to see Major Major about the number of missions the men are asked to fly but, like everyone else, finds that Major Major will not allow him into his office except when he is out. On the way to see Major Major a second time, the chaplain encounters Flume, Chief White Halfoat’s old roommate, who is so afraid of having his throat slit while he sleeps that he has begun living in the forest. The chaplain then learns that Colonel Cathcart has promoted Corporal Whitcomb to sergeant for an idea that the colonel believes will land him in the Saturday Evening Post. The chaplain tries to mingle with the men at the officers’ club, but Colonel Cathcart periodically throws him out. The chaplain begins doubting everything, even God.

Summary — Chapter 26: Aarfy

The night Nately falls in love with his whore, she sits naked from the waist down in a room full of enlisted men playing blackjack. None of the enlisted men is interested except Nately, but she eventually gets sick of him and refuses to accept the money he offers her to stay. Aarfy calls her a slut, and Nately is deeply offended. Aarfy is the navigator of the flight on which Yossarian is finally hit by flak; Yossarian is wounded in the leg and taken to the hospital, where he and Dunbar change identities by ordering lower-ranking men to trade beds with them. Dunbar pretends to be A. Fortiori. Finally, they are caught by Nurse Cramer and Nurse Duckett, who takes Yossarian by the ear and puts him back to bed.

Analysis — Chapters 22–26

The bombing run during which Snowden dies has been alluded to for several chapters, but the details have never been fully explained. The beginning of Chapter 22 provides a few of those details and underlines the narrative importance of the event. The novel’s incessant references to the incident have two narrative purposes. First, they emphasize the narrative’s circular chronological organization. The event that has so traumatized Yossarian does not recede into the past as Yossarian moves through time; rather, he continually returns to it, unable to escape. Second, the constant references to Snowden’s death build up suspense, making the Avignon mission one of the novel’s climaxes. Even though this mission occurs chronologically before many other events in the novel, we have to wait until almost the end of the novel to find out exactly what happened on the mission. By telling his story out of chronological order, Heller can place whatever climactic events he wants at the end of the novel, since he is not bound by temporal restraints.

The bombing of Avignon is just one of the many ways in which this section continues to show Yossarian’s attempt to hold onto his life and his humanity in the face of the war. The chaplain struggles similarly in this section to remain sane despite his nightmarish life. The chaplain is treated as an outsider by everyone, doubts the moral standards that have governed his life, and endures horrible fantasies of his wife and children dying violent deaths. Just as the idea of the hospital as a place for respectfully coming to terms with death is undermined in the previous section, the idea of the chaplain as a source of spiritual stability and reason in the face of a disorienting and upsetting war is undermined in this section.

Milo Minderbinder is one of the most complex figures in the novel, and the syndicate that he heads is one of its most elusive symbols. On the one hand, the syndicate gives Heller an opportunity to parody the economic activity of large-market capitalism. The extraordinary rationalization by which Milo is able to buy eggs for seven cents apiece and sell them for five cents apiece while still turning a profit is one of the most tortuously sublime moments in the novel, even if it makes only shaky economic sense. Milo claims that at every stage he actually buys and sells the eggs to his own syndicate, thereby somehow retaining the money that he spends to buy the eggs. But, if he buys the eggs with the same resources that he bolsters by selling the eggs, all he is doing is moving money from one place to another. We can easily reduce the bizarre logic that governs Milo’s syndicate to nonsense, because we understand the impossibility of Milo’s money-making scheme. Yet, though it is completely illogical and unjustifiable, like many concepts in the novel, Milo’s syndicate does make money. Whether or not the logic makes sense is irrelevant; the end result defies those who try to explain the process.

The syndicate also represents an almost socialist collectivity—in this enterprise governed by amoral expediency, “everybody has a share.” In this light, the syndicate becomes almost a parody of communism as well as capitalism: it is nominally a collective governed by all but is actually run by a single despot. The economic rationalization of the syndicate resembles the moral rationalization of a dehumanized collective, which might agree that it is in everybody’s best interest for Milo to bomb his own squadron and kill, wound, and maim a number of his fellow soldiers.

Heller creates a tension between Yossarian’s feelings about Milo and our feelings about Milo. Yossarian is undeniably the moral compass of the novel, and he seems to like Milo, which suggests that we too should sympathize with him. But Milo is continually presented as a threatening figure. While Yossarian sits naked in the tree at Snowden’s funeral in a highly biblical scene, Milo almost seems like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, there to tempt the innocent with chocolate-covered cotton and the promise of a fast buck.

The absurd proportions of Milo’s empire clue us in to an aspect of Catch-22 that, until this section, has been rather subtle: the novel’s element of hyperbole. Despite their ridiculous names, all the men in Yossarian’s squadron might possibly have lived during WWII. Milo, however, is a completely impossible figure. All along, Heller has created minor absurdities, such as the way the soldier in white has the fluids from his groin directed right back into his IV drip. In this section, he creates a major absurdity in the vastness of Milo’s domain, which allows us to know with absolute certainty that Catch-22 is intended more as an allegory than as a realistic portrait of army life.

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