Catch-22

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Summary

Chapters 1–5

Summary Chapters 1–5

Yossarian feels sick, but Doc Daneeka refuses to ground him. Doc Daneeka advises Yossarian to emulate Havermeyer, a fearless bombardier, and make the best of his situation. But Yossarian thinks that his fear is healthy. The narrator notes that Havermeyer likes to shoot mice in the middle of the night and that he once woke Hungry Joe with a shot that compelled him to dive into a slit trench. These slit trenches had mysteriously appeared beside every tent the morning following the mess officer Milo Minderbinder’s bombing of the squadron.

Summary — Chapter 4: Doc Daneeka

The narrator explains that Hungry Joe is crazy and thus Yossarian is trying to give him advice. Hungry Joe won’t listen, however, because he thinks Yossarian is crazy. Doc Daneeka, in turn, tells Yossarian that his own problems are worse than Hungry Joe’s because the war has interrupted his lucrative medical practice.

Yossarian remembers trying to disrupt the educational meeting in Captain Black’s intelligence tent by asking unanswerable questions, which caused Group Headquarters to make a rule that the only people who could ask questions were the ones who never did. This rule comes from Colonel Cathcart and Lieutenant Colonel Korn. These two colonels also approved the construction of a skeet-shooting range at which Yossarian never hits anything. Dunbar, though, shoots skeet frequently because he hates it. Dunbar believes that when he engages in activities that are boring or uncomfortable, time passes more slowly and he thereby lengthens his life. He argues with Clevinger about this theory. Meanwhile, ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen has started a panic among the officers in Rome by telephoning them and saying only, “T. S. Eliot.” Although he intends these words as a response to a general memo from a colonel saying that it would be hard to name a poet who makes any money, General Peckem assumes that the words constitute a coded message and suffers great anxiety as a result.

Summary — Chapter 5: Chief White Halfoat

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety . . . was the process of a rational mind.

See Important Quotations Explained

In the tent that Doc Daneeka and an alcoholic Native American named Chief White Halfoat share, Doc Daneeka describes his corrupt Staten Island medical practice to Yossarian. He tells him about some sexually inept newlyweds who once visited his office. Chief White Halfoat enters, telling Yossarian that Doc Daneeka is crazy. Halfoat then relates the story of his own family: because every place that he and his family settled turned out to be on top of a significant oil supply, major oil companies began following them, using them as “human divining rods.” The oil companies then kicked them off the land, forcing the family to live a nomadic life.

Yossarian again pleads with Doc Daneeka to be grounded, asking if he would be grounded if he were crazy. Doc Daneeka replies that he would, and Yossarian argues that he is indeed crazy. Doc Daneeka then describes Catch-22, a regulation holding that, in order to be grounded for insanity, a pilot must ask to be grounded; but any pilot who asks to be grounded must be sane, since sane people would never want to fly bombing missions. Impressed, Yossarian takes Doc Daneeka’s word for it, just as he had taken Orr’s word about the flies in Appleby’s eyes: Orr had insisted that there are flies in Appleby’s eyes, and though Yossarian had no idea what Orr meant, he believed him because Orr had never lied to him before.

Yossarian begins thinking about bombing missions and how much he hates his position in the nose of the plane, where he is separated from the escape hatch by a passage just wide enough to fit through. On these bombing missions, Yossarian is always terrified for his life, and he pleads with the pilot, McWatt, to avoid antiaircraft fire. He remembers one mission when, while the squadron was taking evasive action, Dobbs, the co-pilot, went crazy and started screaming, “Help him.” The plane spun out of control and Yossarian believed he was going to die. Enigmatically, the narrator states that someone named Snowden lay dying in the back of the plane.