Heller’s Catch 22

Heller presents Yossarian as a somewhat peculiar individual whose aim or primary concern is to avoid getting killed. He appears preoccupied with this idea however he is not depicted as a paranoid. Unlike the characters and other stories that deal with war, Yossarian is not disillusioned by war and likely never had illusions about it. He never wrestles with his conscience for his perceived lack of courage. Instead, he’s almost single-minded in his focus on his own survival. Catch-22 is narrated using the third person limited omniscient point of view.

The novel is divided into chapters that focus on different characters. In the beginning of the book, Yossarian seems to be the main character but focus soon shifts. The advantage of this method of narration is that it gives the reader a fragmented view of reality. In other words, the novel presents life in a series of episodes, like a series of short stories. These short stories all come together as one work of fiction but since they are episodic in nature, the work as a whole leaves certain loose ends. This approach lacks a consistent narrative and makes the book difficult to read. However, this fragmented view of reality is also the feature of the novel that makes it so true to life. Everyday life is episodic in nature, rarely following a linear or consistent narrative. As a result, I would argue that Catch-22’s fragmented narration style is almost hyper realistic.

Chaplain Tappman is a very endearing character who is frightened by loud voices and aggressive men. Heller, who does not treat other characters in the book as delicately as him, portrays him without sarcasm or satire. As a result, the chaplain reminds the reader that the novel is not a joke and that behind every aspect of life that the book satirizes and mocks there is true pain. Just like Huckleberry Finn, it’s doubtful that Catch-22’s black humor would work nearly as well without these periods of seriousness. One significant scene happens in chapter 25 where the chaplain has a crisis of conscience about God. He wonders whether there is even a way to be sure about God. He struggles with his inability to know and feels deceitful presiding over funerals. Heller describes his genuine desire to help by saying, “the chaplain was sincerely a very helpful person who was never able to help anyone.” It seems to me that this tends to be true of people who feel things deeply. They are driven to help but then despair at their inability to help completely. What people like this often don’t realize is that their struggle is indicative of the fact that they actually do care and are perhaps the only people who should actually help.

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