Catch-22 – Joseph Heller


Chosen by Rachel

A satirical war story following Captain John Yossarian and his men, which first coined the phrase Catch-22. Often referred to as one of the greatest literary works of the 20th century.

❖ Set toward the end of World War II in 1944, on an island off the coast of Italy, Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is a satirical antiwar novel. It features extensive use of black humour, a non-linear narrative structure, surrealism and anti-hero protagonist who struggles to deal with the insanity of war and decides that the only sane response to it is not to participate in it.

American army pilot John Yossarian is the antihero, aghast at his commander who keeps raising the number of missions men must complete before being rotated out. He spends most of his time trying to get out of active flight duty by asking to be declared insane. However, the mysterious Catch-22 states that only an insane man would fly this dangerous missions so asking to be grounded proves he is sane. The circular reasoning of this “catch” is the central metaphor for the absurdity of war and the military bureaucracy.

The book and its many characters and plot lines drive home the author’s point that institutions such as the military, big business, government, and religion are corrupt and individuals must find their own responses to this corruption. Heller’s questioning of these respected institutions, and of war in general, reflect the social protests and antiwar movements of the late 1960s.

Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them. With Major Major it had been all three. Even among men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him were always impressed by how unimpressive he was.

“This is one of those hilarious but desperately sad books that makes you laugh but want to cry at the same time. The story is strange and convoluted and it drags you into the chaos, no matter how many times you’ve re-read it. Additionally, there’s a cast of characters who range from anti-heroes, to well-crafted protagonists to cliched war-story clowns, reminding us how real but how ridiculous war is. You cannot help but be moved and entertained with this book. One of my all time favourites.” – Rachel


Published 1961
Simon & Schuster
543 pages

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