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Catch-22

Joseph Heller

Chapters 27–31

Chapters 22–26

Chapters 32–37

Summary — Chapter 27: Nurse Duckett

The next morning, while Nurse Duckett is smoothing the sheets at the foot of his bed, Yossarian thrusts his hand up her skirt. She shrieks and rushes away, and Dunbar grabs her bosom from behind. When a furious doctor finally rescues her, Yossarian tries to plead insanity—he says that he has a recurring dream about a fish. He is assigned an appointment with Major Sanderson, the hospital psychiatrist. Sanderson, however, is more interested in discussing his own problems than Yossarian’s. Yossarian’s friends visit him in the hospital, Dobbs again offers to kill Colonel Cathcart, and, finally, after Yossarian admits that he thinks that people are trying to kill him and that he has not adjusted to the war, Major Sanderson decides that Yossarian really is crazy and should be sent home. But, because of the identity mix-up perpetrated by Yossarian and Dunbar earlier in their hospital stay, there is a mistake, and A. Fortiori is sent home instead. Furious, Yossarian goes to see Doc Daneeka, but Doc Daneeka will not ground Yossarian for his insanity, rhetorically asking who would fight if all the crazy men got sent home.

Summary – Chapter 28: Dobbs

Yossarian goes to see Dobbs and tells him to go ahead and kill Colonel Cathcart. But Dobbs has finished his sixty missions and is waiting to be sent home; he no longer has a reason to kill Colonel Cathcart. When Yossarian says that Colonel Cathcart will simply raise the number of missions again, Dobbs says that he will wait and see but that perhaps Orr would help Yossarian kill the colonel. Orr crashed his plane again while Yossarian was in the hospital and was fished out of the ocean—none of the life jackets in his plane worked because Milo took out the carbon dioxide tanks to use for making ice cream sodas. Now, Orr is tinkering with the stove that he is trying to build in his and Yossarian’s tent, and he suggests that Yossarian try flying a mission with him for practice in case he ever has to make a crash landing. Yossarian broods about the rumored second mission to Bologna. Orr is making noise and irritating him, and Yossarian imagines killing him, which Yossarian finds a relaxing thought. They talk about women—Orr says they do not like Yossarian, and Yossarian replies that they are crazy. Orr tells Yossarian that he knows Yossarian has asked not to fly with him, and he offers to tell Yossarian why a naked girl was hitting him with her shoe outside Nately’s whore’s little sister’s room in Rome. Yossarian laughingly declines. The next time Orr flies a mission, he again crashes his plane into the ocean. This time, his survival raft drifts away from the others and he disappears.

Summary — Chapter 29: Peckem

The men are dismayed when they learn that General Peckem has transferred Scheisskopf, now a colonel, to his staff. Peckem is pleased because he thinks the move will increase his strength compared to that of his rival, General Dreedle. Colonel Scheisskopf is dismayed by the news that he cannot bring his wife along and that he will no longer be able to conduct parades every afternoon. Scheisskopf immediately irritates his colleagues in Group Headquarters, and Peckem takes him along for an inspection of Colonel Cathcart’s squadron briefing. At the preliminary briefing, the men are displeased to learn that they will be bombing an undefended village into rubble; they don’t know that the only purpose of the missions is to impress General Peckem with the clean aerial photography enabled by their bomb patterns. When Peckem and Scheisskopf arrive, Cathcart becomes angry that another colonel has appeared to rival him. He gives the briefing himself, and, though he feels shaky and lacks confidence, he makes it through and congratulates himself on a job well done under pressure.

Summary — Chapter 30: Dunbar

On the bombing run, Yossarian has a flashback to the mission during which Snowden died, and he panics. When McWatt starts pulling daredevil stunts, he threatens to kill McWatt if he does not follow orders. He is worried that McWatt will hold a grudge, but, after the mission, McWatt seems concerned only about Yossarian’s health. Yossarian has begun seeing Nurse Duckett, and he enjoys making love to her on the beach. Sometimes, while they sit looking at the ocean, Yossarian thinks about all the people who have died underwater, including Orr and Clevinger. One day, McWatt is buzzing the beach in his plane as a joke, when he accidentally flies too low and the propeller slices Kid Sampson in half. Kid Sampson’s body splatters all over the beach. Back at the base, everyone is occupied with the disaster; McWatt, meanwhile, does not land his plane but keeps flying higher and higher. Yossarian runs down the runway yelling at McWatt to come down, but he knows what McWatt is going to do. McWatt crashes his plane into the side of a mountain, killing himself. Colonel Cathcart is so upset that he raises the number of missions to sixty-five.

Summary — Chapter 31: Mrs. Daneeka

When Colonel Cathcart learns that Doc Daneeka was also killed in the crash, he raises the number of missions to seventy. Actually, Doc Daneeka was not killed in the crash, but the records—which Doc Daneeka, hating to fly, bribed Yossarian to alter—maintain that the doctor was in the plane with McWatt, collecting some flight time. Doc Daneeka is surprised to hear that he is dead, and his wife in America, who receives a letter to that effect from the military, is shattered. Heroically, she is cheered to learn that she will be receiving a number of monthly payments from various military departments for the rest of her life, as well as sizable life insurance payments from her husband’s insurance company. Husbands of her friends begin to flirt with her, and she dyes her hair.

In Pianosa, Doc Daneeka is ostracized by the men, who blame him for the increased number of missions they are required to fly. He is no longer allowed to practice medicine and realizes that, in one sense, he really is dead. He sends a passionate letter to his wife, begging her to alert the authorities that he is still alive. She considers the possibility, but after receiving a form letter from Colonel Cathcart expressing regret over her husband’s death, she moves her children to Lansing, Michigan, and leaves no forwarding address.

Analysis — Chapters 27–31

This section works through an increasingly macabre surrealism that climaxes with the manslaughter of Kid Sampson and suicide of McWatt. The strange psychological examinations and identity games in the hospital provide Heller with the opportunity to parody modern psychotherapy, which he does with scathing cleverness—Major Sanderson’s insistence on discussing his own late puberty is one of the funniest characterizations in the novel. It also lends some weight to the idea of insanity that circulates throughout the novel; the men are always accusing each other of being crazy, and Yossarian even finds insanity a desirable trait, because it will get him out of the war—or would, if not for Catch-22.

Although the novel does not seem to follow a chronological pattern—being composed primarily of episodes that are memories, flashbacks, or character descriptions and having very little grasp on what exactly the current moment is—the climax of these three chapters demonstrates that the novel as a whole still has a somewhat conventional narrative shape. That is, the memories and flashbacks that make up the first two-thirds of the novel lead up to the fatigue and frustration with war that form the background for the events in these chapters. The war transitions from a surreal series of events whose absurdity can be lightly parodied to a reality that is a serious and heavy weight on Yossarian and his squadron. Furthermore, the events in these chapters—particularly the two deaths—shift the narrative from the brilliant parody of the preceding sections into an extremely dark humor that borders on seriousness. The increasing strain the war is placing on Yossarian’s psyche is evident in the scene in which he contemplates murdering Orr and finds the idea a relaxing one; it is this thought alone that allows him to tolerate his roommate’s prattling.

Orr’s disappearance and presumed death come as something of a shock. In fact, one of the most remarkable aspects of Catch-22 is the way that Heller manages to catch us off guard each time one of Yossarian’s friends dies. In part, this aspect is a virtue of the novel’s chronology—with so much jumping forward and backward in time, it becomes easy to think of the lives of the characters as existing in a sort of vacuum, without beginning or end. Of course, such is not the case, and the men’s deaths are sharp reminders that even in the novel time moves forward and people are fragile. Yossarian is not in need of such a reminder: he is haunted by the death of Snowden and reaches a moment of murderous rage toward McWatt shortly after flashing back to Snowden’s death. Yossarian’s fierce desire to live makes him seem heroic even in his moments of cowardice. As he strangles McWatt and yells at him to pull up, it seems only just for McWatt to obey.

The absurd chapter on the death of Doc Daneeka represents perhaps the most extreme moment of bureaucratic confusion in the entire novel. Paperwork has the power to make a living man officially dead, and the bureaucracy would rather lose the man than try to confront the forms. Painfully, Mrs. Daneeka becomes complicit in her husband’s red-tape murder when she decides to take the insurance payments as a higher authority than his own letter protesting that he is really alive. Doc Daneeka thus realizes that he is essentially dead and that death is a matter of paperwork rather than biology. The soldiers’ powerlessness over their own lives extends even to their own deaths, which can be forced upon them not only by the shooting of a gun but also by the fall of a stamp.

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