“Catch-22” is a satirical novel written by Joseph Heller, published in 1961. Set during World War II, it follows the experiences of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier stationed on the Mediterranean island of Pianosa.
The novel takes its title from a fictional military regulation, Catch-22, which embodies a paradoxical situation. According to the catch, if a soldier declares himself insane to avoid dangerous missions, he demonstrates rationality, as an insane person would willingly go on those missions. This means that no soldier can ever be considered insane and relieved from duty. The catch symbolizes the absurdity, bureaucracy, and illogical nature of war and institutions.
Yossarian’s primary objective is to survive the war, but he finds himself trapped by the catch and the irrationality of military bureaucracy. Throughout the novel, he navigates a series of absurd and often dangerous situations, interacting with a diverse cast of eccentric characters, including his comrades, superiors, and medical personnel.
The narrative of “Catch-22” is non-linear, employing flashbacks and multiple perspectives, which adds to the chaotic and disjointed portrayal of war. Heller’s writing style is characterized by dark humor, irony, and wordplay, highlighting the absurdity and futility of war and the dehumanizing effects it has on individuals.
The novel explores themes such as the loss of identity, the power of institutions, the corruption of language, and the morality of war. It critiques the military establishment and the blind obedience to authority while questioning the concept of heroism in the face of senseless violence.
“Catch-22” is regarded as a classic of American literature and a significant contribution to the genre of dark comedy and anti-war literature. It has had a lasting impact and remains widely read and studied for its literary merit and its commentary on the human condition, bureaucracy, and the absurdity of war.