Catch-22

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Catch-22 Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Joseph Heller's Catch-22. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Joseph Heller

Born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents, Joseph Heller joined the US Army Air Force, at age 19, in 1942, and ended up flying 60 missions during the Second World War, many of which were not dangerous (and would go on to form the basis for the “milk runs” described in Catch-22). Heller studied at the University of Southern California, NYU, and Columbia, and was a Fulbright scholar at Oxford. He taught English literature, briefly, and worked in magazine publishing. Heller began writing Catch-22 in 1953, eventually completing the novel and seeing it published in 1961. It was not an overnight success, but its paperback release caused it to become a cult favorite, especially among young people. A movie based on the novel was released in 1970, and at this point Heller had achieved a good deal of fame. Heller wrote numerous other novels, some of which were well received, although none achieved the renown of Catch-22. He taught at City College of New York and other universities later in life.
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Historical Context of Catch-22

As apparent above, the novel is inseparable from the backdrop of World War II, in which it is set. During the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, novelists like Vonnegut, Heller, Pynchon, Mailer, and William Gaddis (author of The Recognitions, another dense postmodern American fiction) attempted to make sense of the new state of the world, after the US had won the war against fascism and was trying, with however much difficulty, to “win the peace” against Soviet Russia. America had achieved a position of cultural dominance in the West—Great Britain and France were rebuilding after the war—and these novels tend to reflect an acknowledgment that a new American political power should produce striking fictions of its own.

Other Books Related to Catch-22

Catch-22 represents the confluence of several literary styles most notable during the middle of the twentieth century in the United States. The first, the World War II novel, was initiated with works like The Naked and the Dead, by Normal Mailer—a suspenseful and serious tale of mostly enlisted soldiers fighting in the Pacific theater. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, released after Catch-22 in the 1960s, took up many of the same themes—memory, time, and the omnipresence of death—but did so in a memoiristic vein, blending Vonnegut’s own experiences with those of a fictional character during and after the Allied firebombing of Dresden. Thomas Pynchon’s V. and Gravity’s Rainbow, released in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively, used similar techniques of time dilation and compression, and complex comedic scenes, in order to demonstrate the absurdity of war and violence. Gravity’s Rainbow is set throughout Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
Key Facts about Catch-22
  • Full Title: Catch-22
  • When Written: 1953-1961
  • Where Written: New York City
  • When Published: 1961 (hardback); 1962 (paperback)
  • Literary Period: postmodernism in American fiction
  • Genre: postmodernism; World War II novel; tragicomic novel
  • Setting: Pianosa, off the Italian coast, near the end of World War II
  • Climax: Yossarian finally recalls, in full, the memory of Snowden’s death aboard his aircraft
  • Antagonist: Colonel Cathcart; the military bureaucracy
  • Point of View: third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Catch-22

Last-minute name-change. Catch-22 was originally entitled Catch-18, but the title was altered just before publication; another novel, Mila 18 by Leon Uris, had been recently released, and publisher feared readers would be confused.