“Catch-22” (Post 4/4)


[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/4

Post 2/4

Post 3/4

[97] Yossarian’s scenes as bombardier capture an amazing level of panic and stress (see also Post 2, note [56]):

Yossarian was flabbergasted. His leg went abruptly to sleep. McWatt had started to climb and was yelping over the intercom for instructions. Yossarian sprang forward to see where they were and remained in the same place. He was unable to move. Then he realized he was sopping wet. He looked down at his crotch with a sinking sick sensation. A wild crimson blot was crawling upward rapidly along his shirt front like an enormous sea monster rising to devour him. He was hit! Separate trickles of blood spilled to a puddle on the floor through one saturated trouser leg like countless unstoppable swarms of wriggling red worms. His heart stopped. A second jolt struck the plane. Yossarian shuddered with revulsion at the queer sight of his wound and screamed at Aarfy for help.


[98] Translation:

Dunbar was lying in pajamas in the bed across the aisle, maintaining that he was not Dunbar but a fortiori (…) Sure enough, Dunbar was right: he was not Dunbar any more but Second Lieutenant Anthony F. Fortiori.



adverb, adjective – used to express a conclusion for which there is stronger evidence than for a previously accepted one. (From Latin for “from stronger argument.”)

[99] Yossarian shoves his hand up two women’s skirts and we’re supposed to find him a lovable rogue for it. Instead, it’s a disturbing, gross mark against Catch-22.

Yossarian nodded emphatically, laughing, and shot his hand up under her dress. The girl came to life instantly, whipping her bottom around. Blushing with alarm and embarrassment, she pushed her skirt back down with a number of prim, sidelong glances about the restaurant.


And here is some more sexual assault conveyed as humor:

Next morning while she was standing bent over smoothing the sheets at the foot of his bed, he slipped his hand stealthily into the narrow space between her knees and, all at once, brought it up swiftly under her dress as far as it would go. Nurse Duckett shrieked and jumped into the air a mile, but it wasn’t high enough, and she squirmed and vaulted and seesawed back and forth on her divine fulcrum for almost a full fifteen seconds before she wiggled free finally and retreated frantically into the aisle with an ashen, trembling face. She backed away too far, and Dunbar, who had watched from the beginning, sprang forward on his bed without warning and flung both arms around her bosom from behind. Nurse Duckett let out another scream and twisted away, fleeing far enough from Dunbar for Yossarian to lunge forward and grab her by the snatch again.


Both of these women end up sleeping with Yossarian, giving the idea that his assaults were ultimately welcome, condoned or forgiven. No, no, no. No hands under skirts ever without permission. It is not funny or cute. Christ, Heller. I shouldn’t have to tell you that in your grave.

[100] Vocabulary:

He was working sedulously on both knees.




adjective – (of a person or action) showing dedication and diligence.


Every time a car door slammed, he broke into a hopeful smile and turned expectantly toward the entrance, listening for footsteps. He knew that any moment Orr would come walking into the tent with big, glistening, rain-soaked eyes, cheeks and buck teeth, looking ludicrously like a jolly New England oysterman in a yellow oilskin rain hat and slicker numerous sizes too large for him and holding up proudly for Yossarian’s amusement a great dead codfish he had caught. But he didn’t.



“They had no right to lie to me!” Colonel Scheisskopf protested, his eyes wetting with indignation.

“Of course they had a right,” General Peckem snapped with cold and calculated severity, resolving right then and there to test the mettle of his new colonel under fire. “Don’t be such an ass, Scheisskopf. People have a right to do anything that’s not forbidden by law, and there’s no law against lying to you.”


[103] Translate:

Mais c’est la guerre. Try to remember that we didn’t start the war and Italy did.”



French: but this is war

[104] Vocabulary:

He enjoyed Nurse Sue Ann Duckett’s long white legs and supple, callipygous ass.




adjective – having well-shaped buttocks.

[105] These train of thoughts that resolve themselves into specific moments of violence are so well done:

Yossarian had once stood on a jetty at dawn and watched a tufted round log that was drifting toward him on the tide turn unexpectedly into the bloated face of a drowned man; it was the first dead person he had ever seen. He thirsted for life and reached out ravenously to grasp and hold Nurse Duckett’s flesh. He studied every floating object fearfully for some gruesome sign of Clevinger and Orr, prepared for any morbid shock but the shock McWatt gave him one day with the plane that came blasting suddenly into sight out of the distant stillness and hurtled mercilessly along the shore line with a great growling, clattering roar over the bobbing raft on which blond, pale Kid Sampson, his naked sides scrawny even from so far away, leaped clownishly up to touch it at the exact moment some arbitrary gust of wind or minor miscalculation of McWatt’s senses dropped the speeding plane down just low enough for a propeller to slice him half away.

Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the plane’s engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft for what seemed like a full minute or two before they toppled over backward into the water finally with a faint, echoing splash and turned completely upside down so that only the grotesque toes and the plaster-white soles of Kid Sampson’s feet remained in view.



Yossarian understood suddenly why McWatt wouldn’t jump, and went running uncontrollably down the whole length of the squadron after McWatt’s plane, waving his arms and shouting up at him imploringly to come down, McWatt, come down; but no one seemed to hear, certainly not McWatt, and a great choking moan tore from Yossarian’s throat as McWatt turned again, dipped his wings once in salute, decided oh, well, what the hell, and flew into a mountain.

Colonel Cathcart was so upset by the deaths of Kid Sampson and McWatt that he raised the missions to sixty-five.


[106] Reference:

Doc Daneeka emitted a glum, self-pitying sniff and strolled disconsolately across the tent to (…) paint his own throat with Argyrol.



The trade name for an antiseptic consisting of compounded solutions at varying strengths or mild silver protein.


Everyone in the squadron knew that Kid Sampson’s skinny legs had washed up on the wet sand to lie there and rot like a purple twisted wishbone. No one would go to retrieve them, not Gus or Wes or even the men in the mortuary at the hospital; everyone made believe that Kid Sampson’s legs were not there, that they had bobbed away south forever on the tide like all of Clevinger and Orr. Now that bad weather had come, almost no one ever sneaked away alone any more to peek through bushes like a pervert at the moldering stumps.



At night when he was trying to sleep, Yossarian would call the roll of all the men, women and children he had ever known who were now dead.



They were the most depressing group of people Yossarian had ever been with. They were always in high spirits. They laughed at everything. They called him “Yo-Yo.”



It wasn’t their fault that they were courageous, confident and carefree. He would just have to be patient with them until one or two were killed and the rest wounded, and then they would all turn out okay.


[111] Reference:

Holding a pillow in front of him, like a bubble dancer.



The bubble dance is an erotic dance made famous by Sally Rand in the 1930s. The dancer (sometimes naked) dances with a huge bubble placed between her body and the audience.

[112] References:

The little girl would go to college when she was old enough, to Smith or Radcliffe or Bryn Mawr.



Radcliffe College was a women’s liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts which fully integrated with Harvard in 1999.

Bryn Mawr College is a women’s liberal arts college in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, four miles west of Philadelphia. The phrase bryn mawr means “big hill” in Welsh.

[113] Translate:

Che succede?



Va fongul!” his girl replied (…) “Lasciami!



Italian: what happens? / go fuck yourself! / let me!


The chaplain had sinned, and it was good. Common sense told him that telling lies and defecting from duty were sins. On the other hand, everyone knew that sin was evil and that no good could come from evil. But he did feel good; he felt positively marvelous. Consequently, it followed logically that telling lies and defecting from duty could not be sins. The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization.



“Go on, Chaplain, tell him. Are there atheists in foxholes?”

“I don’t know, sir,” the chaplain replied. “I’ve never been in a foxhole.”

The officer in front swung his head around swiftly with a quarrelsome expression. “You’ve never been in heaven, either, have you? But you know there’s a heaven, don’t you?”


[116] Translate:

Caro,” she murmured hoarsely.



Italian: dear


It was odd how many wrongs leaving money seemed to right.


[118] Vocabulary:

“Ah, yes, now I understand,” Luigi said sagaciously.




adjective – having or showing keep mental discernment and good judgment; shrewd.

[119] The Eternal City (Chapter 29) is the strongest of the book. We stay with Yossarian in an unbroken scene as he walks through the streets of Rome, seeing Revelation- and Dostoevsky-esque nightmare vignettes. Any idea of this book being a light-hearted romp should be knocked out of you by this point.

Just a piece of it:

The night was raw. A boy in a thin shirt and thin tattered trousers walked out of the darkness on bare feet. The boy had black hair and needed a haircut and shoes and socks. His sickly face was pale and sad. His feet made grisly, soft, sucking sounds in the rain puddles on the wet pavement as he passed, and Yossarian was moved by such intense pity for his poverty that he wanted to smash his pale, sad, sickly face with his fist and knock him out of existence because he brought to mind all the pale, sad, sickly children in Italy that same night who needed haircuts and needed shoes and socks.


[120] Heller knows how to use a plain, matter-of-fact style to make the horrible and horrific really land:

She was a happy, simple-minded, hard-working girl who could not read and was barely able to write her name. Her straight hair was the color of retting straw. She had sallow skin and myopic eyes, and none of the men had ever slept with her because none of the men had ever wanted to, none but Aarfy, who had raped her once that same evening and had then held her prisoner in a clothes closet for almost two hours with his hand over her mouth until the civilian curfew sirens sounded and it was unlawful for her to be outside.

Then he threw her out the window. Her dead body was still lying on the pavement when Yossarian arrived.


This is a logical conclusion to Aarfy’s character (see Post 3, note [81]).


“I’ll just keep flying missions until the war ends, I guess. Some of us have to survive.”

“But you might get killed.”

“Then I guess I won’t fly any more missions.”


[122] This is a largely a book of nightmares and most stem from the inability to communicate. Everyone can speak but no one listens or understands. This is why we get all of the circular debates (Post 1, note [3]), and Yossarian’s unheard shouts at Aarfy (Post 2, note [56]). Not until the end do we get a full conversation (between Yossarian, McWatt and the chaplain) where questions are thoughtfully answered, even when the best explanation is “I don’t know.”

“Danby, how can you work along with people like Cathcart and Korn? Doesn’t it turn your stomach?”

Major Danby seemed surprised by Yossarian’s question. “I do it to help my country,” he replied, as though the answer should have been obvious. “Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn are my superiors, and obeying their orders is the only contribution I can make to the war effort. I work along with them because it’s my duty. And also,” he added in a much lower voice, dropping his eyes, “because I am not a very aggressive person.”

“Your country doesn’t need your help any more,” Yossarian reasoned without antagonism. “So all you’re doing is helping them.”

“I try not to think of that,” Major Danby admitted frankly. “But I try to concentrate on only the big result and to forget that they are succeeding, too. I try to pretend that they are not significant.”

“That’s my trouble, you know,” Yossarian mused sympathetically, folding his arms. “Between me and every ideal I always find Scheisskopfs, Peckems, Korns and Cathcarts. And that sort of changes the ideal.”

“You must try not to think of them,” Major Danby advised affirmatively. “And you must never let them change your values. Ideals are good, but people are sometimes not so good. You must try to look up at the big picture.”

Yossarian rejected the advice with a skeptical shake of his head. “When I look up, I see people cashing in. I don’t see heaven or saints or angels. I see people cashing in on every decent impulse and every human tragedy.”


Throughout Catch-22, Heller breaks the rule that simple dialogue attributions are best. Just on this page, we have “added,” “reasoned without antagonism,” “admitted frankly,” “mused sympathetically,” “advised affirmatively,” “insisted,” “argued,” and “replied tersely.” Only one “said.”

But because his story exists in a madcap, frantic, heightened reality, these dramatic attributions work. In a weighted, steady piece, they would be distracting and ridiculous. Knowing what kind of world your characters live in is key.

Here’s the thing: you’re already the type of person who reads “classics” or doesn’t. If Catch-22 is on your to-read list, you’re going to give it a try no matter what anyone says. So my recommendation is to stick with it through Chapter 12 (Bologna) before deciding whether to put it down forever or get to the end.

If you’ve already read Catch-22 (and liked it), I’m going to keep pushing Heller’s Something Happened on you. (Also, watch the Mike Nichols film, if only to wonder how the hell only one person died while making it.)

This Friday – for Halloween  – we’ll start looking at Rosemary’s Baby. (You know, He has His Father’s eyes.)


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