First edition cover
|Cover artist||Paul Bacon|
|Genre||Black humor, absurdist fiction,satire, war fiction, historical fiction|
|Publisher||Simon & Schuster|
|Publication date||11 November 1961|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
|Pages||453 pp (1st edition hardback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 22|
|LC Classification||PS3558.E476 C3 2004|
|Followed by||Closing Time (1994)|
Catch-22 is a satirical novel by the American author Joseph Heller. He began writing it in 1953, and the novel was first published in 1961. It is set during World War II in 1943 and is frequently cited as one of the great literary works of the twentieth century. It uses a distinctive non-chronological third-person omniscient narration, describing events from different characters' points of view and out of sequence so that the time line develops along with the plot.
The novel follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier. Most of the events in the book occur while the fictional 256th squadron is based on the island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy. The novel looks into the experiences of Yossarian and the other airmen in the camp, and their attempts to keep their sanity in order to fulfill their service requirements, so that they can return home. The phrase "Catch-22", "a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule," has entered the English language.
- 1 Concept
- 2 Synopsis
- 3 Style
- 4 Characters
- 5 Influences
- 6 Literary allusions
- 7 Historical context
- 8 Explanation of the novel's title
- 9 Publication & Movie Rights
- 10 Reception
- 11 Rankings
- 12 Adaptations
- 13 Release details
- 14 See also
- 15 Notes and references
- 16 External links
Among other things, Catch-22 is a general critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning. Resulting from its specific use in the book, the phrase "Catch-22" is common idiomatic usage meaning "a no-win situation" or "adouble bind" of any type. Within the book, "Catch-22" is a military rule, the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents anyone from avoiding combat missions. The narrator explains:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's 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 were 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. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 56, ch. 5)
Other forms of Catch-22 are invoked throughout the novel to justify various bureaucratic actions. At one point, victims of harassment by military police quote the MPs' explanation of one of Catch-22's provisions: "Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating." Another character explains: "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing."
Yossarian comes to realize that Catch-22 does not actually exist, but because the powers that be claim it does, and the world believes it does, it nevertheless has potent effects. Indeed, because it does not exist, there is no way it can be repealed, undone, overthrown, or denounced. The combination of force with specious and spurious legalistic justification is one of the book's primary motifs.
The motif of bureaucratic absurdity is further explored in 1994's Closing Time, Heller's sequel to Catch-22. This darker, slower-paced, apocalyptic novel explores the pre- and post-war lives of some of the major characters in Catch-22, with particular emphasis on the relationship between Yossarian and tailgunner Sammy Singer.