Catch-22 starts as a set of paradoxical requirements whereby airmen mentally unfit to fly did not have to do so, but could not actually be excused. By the end of the novel it is invoked as the explanation for many unreasonable restrictions. The phrase “Catch-22” has since entered the English language, referring to a type of unsolvable logic puzzle sometimes called a double bind. According to the novel, people who were crazy were not obliged to fly missions; but anyone who applied to stop flying was showing a rational concern for his safety and had to.
Yossarian, the main character, is a Captain in the American Army deployed in the island of Pianosa, Italy, and throughout the novel his determination to stay alive plays a big part in it. Listen to him talk:
“It was a vile and muddy war, and Yossarian could have lived without it—lived forever, perhaps. Only a fraction of his countrymen would give up their lives to win it, and it was not his ambition to be among them…That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance.”
The novel is consider satirical. I can tell you that it’s such a surreal humor I adore, but that’s not all to it. There’s many raw descriptions of human psychology, digressions and rants about religion, sociology, life, and what not. In the midst of an apparent jigsaw puzzle of characters and events, a story line emerges, and the topics are subservient to the whole of the novel. It may not be everybody’s piece of cake. It’s odd, it has appalling scenes, grotesque if you wish, but I never lost sight of the humanity and even the love that the novel contains, most specially in Yossarian. I will never forget these men, Colonel Korn (which, to me, sounded like kernel corn), Major Major Major Major (that was hilarious, a man named Major Major Major who is a Major) The names, the chat, the explanations, they made me roll with laughter but the book made me also feel sad and desperate and infuriated about the immense pain and suffering that wars bring about.
Fun fact: the island of Malta (where my husband was born), and Spain (where I was born) is mentioned in the book. Also, the Wisconsin Shingles (I thought of my dear friend who lives there).