Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Chocolate-Covered Cotton

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

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.

Aerial Photographs

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.