Monday, June 21, 2010


A classic you may have missed: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - I re-read for book group this month. 436 pages

"The only freedom we really have is the freedom to say no."—Joseph Heller
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, first published in 1961
I've never read it. What am I missing?
The novel is one of the great literary works of the 20th century. The main character, Yossarian, is a counter-culture Everyman for the late 20th century. And by that, I mean he is totally hilarious, supposedly insane, and probably the only intelligent, moral, rational person in the entire novel and possibly the entire war.
For me, the most amusing and realistic scenes are the ones showing the hopelessly convoluted bureaucracy within the military. Individuals are marginalized and absurdity is rampant (yet fully justified and explained, by invoking Catch-22 of course.) Fair warning: Don't read this book when you are looking for inspiration or a morale boost—I have been feeling a bit subversive and paranoid since I've been reading Catch-22!
What does the title Catch-22 mean?
"1: a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule" from
"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to." from Chapter 5, Catch-22
Is this a historical war novel? Or a black comedy?
The novel is set in World War II, but written after Korea, and published during Vietnam. Heller doesn't just parody the military—he also skewers business, medicine, religion, government, and politics with his ironic humor. You don't have to know anything about war or military settings to fidn something to laugh about in this book. Critic Philip Toynbee said the humor in the novel resembles a Marx brothers film as Kafka might have conceived it.
This is a classic anti-war novel. Did Joseph Heller have any war experience?
Yes, although he was not a career military man, since after the war he went to university to be a writer, taught at the college level and worked in magazine advertising as well as writing short stories and novels. "In 1942 Heller joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and from May 1944 to mid 1945 was stationed on Corsica with the 488th squadron of the 340th Bombardment Group. He flew about sixty combat missions as a bombardier, earning the Air Medal and rising to the rank of lieutenant." -from Literature Resource Center
Can't I just watch the movie version instead?
Check out Catch-22 (1970 film) from the library! Bringing an anti-war satire to the big screen was a daunting task. While the movie was a commercial failure, the sarcastic humor of the book is brought to life by notable actors including cast included Alan Arkin, Art Garfunkel, Charles Grodin, Bob Newhart, Anthony Perkins, Martin Sheen, Jon Voight and Orson Welles. Many characters and story arcs from the book are changed, and the film is told mainly in flashbacks and dream sequences


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home