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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Aided by Yossarian, Milo comes up with the idea of selling
chocolate-covered cotton to the government after he discovers that
there is a glut of cotton in the market and that he cannot sell
his own cotton. Milo’s product hides the lack of substance beneath
an enticing exterior, showing the way in which bureaucracy can be
fooled by appearances and is unable to measure actual substance
or real merit.
The soldier in white, a bandage-wrapped, faceless, nameless
body that lies in the hospital in the first chapter of the novel,
represents the way the army treats men as interchangeable objects.
When, months after his death, he is replaced by another, identical
soldier in white, everyone assumes it is the same person.
When the men go on bombing missions, they often later
learn that the real purpose of the mission was either to make an
explosion that would be beautiful when it showed up on aerial photographs
or to clear out foliage so that better aerial photography will be
possible. The photographs themselves, then, stand for the way in
which the dehumanization of war—in this case, the detachment of
the upper levels of military bureaucracy from the tragedy of war—allows
for its horrors to be seen merely for their aesthetic effects.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Catch-22!