Reading a book with a character named Major Major Major (whose rank in the military is, that’s right, a Major) is bound to make a reader realize that a work falls smack-dab into the surreal tragicomic world of absurdity in writing. This is the case with Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22, whose title has entered our language as a reference to any lose-lose situation. What makes Heller’s work such a joy to dust off and read is that it’s zany style and structure allows the reader to find all sorts of humor that take the edge of modern life.
Yet at the same time, Catch-22 reveals much about the absurdity of the human character, especially when people let systems they are a part of overwhelm their identity.
The overall story of Catch-22 is incredibly disjointed. This confused me at first, seeing as how almost all the books I had read before had followed the traditional, strict, linear fashion of storytelling. However, Heller’s jumping around with his narrative allowed me to savor the individual chapters and what happened in them rather than worrying too much about what was going on in the broader scope.
John Yossarian, a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, is the main character of Catch-22–and perhaps its antihero as well–as the story follows (again, in a disorderly way) his wartime experiences in the Mediterranean. Heller, though, doesn’t let the camera focus on Yossarian alone. Heller weaves a fantastic and fascinating tapestry of supporting characters, including the unbelievably named Maj. Major Major Major, the scheming black market smuggler Milo Minderbinder, and the oddly likeable Chaplain Tappman.
These and other characters realize the difficulties of their situation, with one problem–called Catch-22–standing out above all others: that in order to stop flying the dangerous bombing missions, one has to be provably insane, but to ask to be grounded on reasons of insanity would show that one was not, in fact, insane. This struggle exemplifies what Heller’s characters must endure, even if it means they end up having to fly the hair-raising missions and end up perishing. Indeed, so many of these beloved figures meet tragic ends that despair and darkness reign in the novel’s latter pages, only for a surprise ending of relief and hope.
While the lives of most readers today aren’t as frightening as those in Heller’s book, dusting off Catch-22 opens up new insights into viewing the world: that it is definitely a dangerous, dark place, and that those inhabiting it can easily be corrupted, but at the end of the day (or conclusion of the story), humor and hope can always be takeaways.
Read what others have to say about Catch-22 on Goodreads.com: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/168668.Catch_22
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