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Catch-22

Joseph Heller

Chapters 32–37

Chapters 27–31

Chapters 38–42

Summary — Chapter 32: Yo-Yo’s Roomies

The cold weather comes, and Kid Sampson’s legs remain on the beach, since no one will retrieve them. The first things Yossarian remembers when he wakes up each morning are Kid Sampson’s legs and Snowden. When Orr never returns, four new roommates, a group of shiny-faced twenty-one-year-olds who have never seen combat, join Yossarian. They clown around, calling him“Yo-Yo,” rousing in him a murderous hatred. Yossarian tries to persuade Chief White Halfoat to move in with them and scare the new officers away, but Halfoat has decided to move into the hospital to die of pneumonia. Yossarian begins to feel more protective toward the men, but they then burn Orr’s birch logs and suddenly move Mudd’s belongings out of the tent—the dead man who has lived there for so long is abruptly gone. Yossarian panics and flees to Rome with Hungry Joe the day before Nately’s whore enjoys a good night’s sleep and wakes the next morning to discover that she is in love.

Summary — Chapter 33: Nately’s Whore

In Rome, Yossarian misses Nurse Duckett and goes searching in vain for Luciana. He accompanies Nately on a mission to rescue his whore from some army officers who will not let her leave their hotel room. After the rescue and a good night’s sleep, Nately’s whore falls deeply in love with Nately, and they languish in bed together until her little sister dives in with them. Nately begins to have wild fantasies of moving his whore and her sister back to America and bringing the sister up like his own child, but when his whore hears that he no longer wants her to go out hustling, she becomes furious and an argument ensues. The other men try to intervene, and Nately tries to convince them that they can all move to the same suburb and work for his father. He tries to forbid his whore from ever speaking again to the old man in the whore’s hotel, and she becomes even angrier. But she still misses Nately when he leaves, and she is furious with Yossarian when he punches Nately in the face and breaks his nose.

Summary — Chapter 34: Thanksgiving

Yossarian breaks Nately’s nose on Thanksgiving after Milo gets all the men drunk on bottles of cheap whiskey. Yossarian goes to bed early but wakes up to the sound of machine-gun fire. At first he is terrified, but he quickly realizes that a group of men are firing machine guns as a prank. Furious, he takes his gun to exact revenge. Nately tries to stop him, and Yossarian breaks his nose. Nately is in the hospital the next morning, and Yossarian feels terribly guilty for having broken his nose. They encounter the chaplain in the hospital. He has lied in order to be admitted, claiming to have a disease called Wisconsin shingles. He can now feel wonderful since he has learned how to rationalize vice into virtue. Suddenly, the soldier in white is wheeled into the room, and Dunbar panics. Dunbar begins screaming, and soon everyone in the ward begins screaming as well. Nurse Duckett warns Yossarian that she overheard some doctors talking about how they planned to “disappear” Dunbar. Yossarian goes to warn his friend but cannot find him.

Summary — Chapter 35: Milo the Militant

When Chief White Halfoat finally dies of pneumonia and Nately finishes his seventy missions, Yossarian begs Nately not to volunteer to fly more than seventy missions. But Nately does not want to be sent home until he can take his whore with him. Yossarian asks for help from Milo, who immediately goes to see Colonel Cathcart about having himself assigned to more combat missions. Milo has finally been exposed as the tyrannical fraud he is. He has no intention of giving anyone a real share of the syndicate, but his power and influence are at their peak and everyone admires him. He pretends to feel guilty for not doing his duty—flying missions—and connivingly asks the deferential Colonel Cathcart to assign him to more dangerous combat duties. Milo tells Colonel Cathcart that someone else will have to run the syndicate, and Colonel Cathcart volunteers himself and Colonel Korn. When Milo explains the complex operations of the business to Cathcart, the colonel, falling into Milo’s logical traps, declares Milo the only man who could possibly run it and forbids Milo from flying another combat mission. He suggests that he might make the other men fly Milo’s missions for him, and if one of those men wins a medal, Milo will get the medal. To make his plan possible, he says, he will ratchet the number of required missions up to eighty. The next morning, the alarm sounds, and the men fly off on a mission that turns out to be particularly deadly. Twelve men are killed, including Dobbs and Nately.

Summary — Chapter 36: The Cellar

The chaplain is devastated by Nately’s death, which he learns about at the airfield where the men are returning from their mission. Suddenly, the chaplain is dragged away by a group of military police who accuse him of an unspecified crime. A colonel accuses the chaplain of forgery and interrogates him. His only evidence is a letter that Yossarian forged in the hospital and signed with the chaplain’s name some time ago. He then accuses the chaplain of stealing the plum tomato from Colonel Cathcart and of being Washington Irving. The men in the room idiotically find him guilty of unspecified crimes they assume he has committed and then order him to go about his business while they think of a way to punish him. The chaplain leaves and furiously goes to confront Colonel Korn about the number of missions the men are required to fly. He tells Colonel Korn that he plans to bring the matter directly to General Dreedle’s attention, but the colonel replies gleefully that General Peckem has replaced General Dreedle as wing commander. He then tells the chaplain that he and Colonel Cathcart can make the men fly as many missions as they want to make them fly—they have even transferred Dr. Stubbs, who had offered to ground any man with more than seventy missions, to the Pacific.

Summary — Chapter 37: General Scheisskopf

General Peckem’s victory sours quickly. On his first day in charge of General Dreedle’s old operation, he learns that Scheisskopf has been promoted to lieutenant general and is now the commanding officer for all combat operations. He is in charge of General Peckem and his entire group, and he intends to make every single man present march in parades.

Analysis — Chapters 32–37

The first part of this section, with Yossarian’s young roommates and the story of Nately’s whore, returns to the high comedy of the earlier parts of the novel, but with the important difference that Yossarian is on the edge of a breakdown and seems to know it. Orr’s disappearance is a very hard blow, and Yossarian is now plagued by thoughts of death and dismemberment. The high comedy comes to an abrupt and unexpected halt with the eerie return of the soldier in white, which is followed immediately by Dunbar’s unexplained disappearance and the deaths of Chief White Halfoat, Nately, and Dobbs. The squadron is beginning to fall apart, and even the military bureaucracy is being turned on its thick head by the sudden ousting of General Dreedle in favor of General Peckem, who immediately learns that General Scheisskopf is now his superior officer. Furthermore, Scheisskopf’s intention for everyone under his command to march in parades is a ludicrous juxtaposition of irrelevant discipline-building exercises with the realities of war.

As Yossarian’s story moves toward its climax, the sense of unknown danger approaching from all sides intensifies markedly, from gunfire in the dark to the disappearance of Dunbar to the chaplain’s sudden, disconcerting interrogation for an unspecified crime. (This scene is reminiscent of the scene in Franz Kafka’s The Trial, in which the novel’s protagonist wakes one morning to find himself accused of a crime whose nature no one will describe to him.) The illogical nature of the chaplain’s interrogation makes it so terrifying. If he were accused of a specific crime, or if his interrogators were willing to listen to a word he said, the chaplain would have at least some power over his situation. As it is, all his attempts to clear his name are met with the same illogical arguments, and he can do absolutely nothing; he realizes that his captors could beat him to death if they wanted to and he couldn’t stop them. The chaplain’s plight is similar to that of all the men in the squadron: their lives are in the hands of others, and their logical desire to go free because they are innocent is meaningless in a world without logic.

Another highly restrictive force surrounding the squadron is the fact that no goal seems to be achievable. As soon as the men complete their missions, the required number is raised; as soon as Orr finishes building his stove, he is shot down and disappears; as soon as Nately’s whore falls in love with him, he is killed in combat. It seems almost miraculous that the men have it in them to try to accomplish anything, let alone the thankless task of bombing enemies they have never seen, when almost any action taken to alter the status quo has very negative consequences. However, Heller always stops just short of criticizing the war itself—it would be difficult to argue that fighting Hitler is wrong. Instead, he criticizes the way in which the war is carried out.

This section is also one of the only long sequences of chapters told in straight linear time—the same timeline, in fact, that leads right to the end of the novel. Heller uses this long chronological sequence to enhance the sense of momentum building toward a climax. The orderly progression of time corresponds to an increasing disorder in Yossarian’s world: the helplessness and lack of control that the men feel spirals to a fever pitch. As things fall apart all around Yossarian, the novel takes on the feel of a moving walkway, leading inexorably toward an unspecified, ominous ending.

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