Catch-22

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Catch-22 Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As he leaves Cathcart, the chaplain is upset that he didn’t make a stronger case on Yossarian’s behalf. He runs into Korn, who always makes fun of the chaplain for “only” being an Anabaptist. He calls the chaplain Father, even though this title applies only to Catholic priests.
Although the term “father” is intended as an honorific for men of the cloth, here it does not apply, since Anabaptists consider themselves pastors, not priests. Korn knows this, and uses “father” to make fun of the chaplain.
Themes
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
Korn asks where the chaplain got his plum tomato and seems not to believe it came from Cathcart. He implies that the chaplain is only welcome to eat with the officers on occasion, then leaves. The chaplain returns to his tent and to his assistant, Corporal Whitcomb, an atheist who is also bent on thwarting and tormenting the chaplain.
This plum tomato will come back to haunt the chaplain, as he will not be able to convince the investigating authorities that Cathcart actually gave it to him—and Cathcart seems to have no memory of this gift, which he himself offered to the chaplain.
Themes
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
Whitcomb feels that the chaplain lacks aggressiveness and “initiative.” Although Whitcomb is an atheist, he wants to expand the power of the chaplaincy, and hopes to take over once the chaplain is forced out of the position.
It is often claimed, by Whitcomb, that the chaplain does not do enough to “advance” the chaplaincy—although it is not clear what this would mean, other than being more receptive to the soldiers’ religious needs. Whitcomb, unlike the chaplain, sees the chaplaincy as a route to power, which further parodies the idea that any of the officers should view their roles as paths to power rather than responsibilities for the men beneath them.
Themes
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
Whitcomb asks about the chaplain’s meeting with Cathcart, and becomes offended that the chaplain won’t give him many details, and that he appears to take Yossarian’s side against the Colonel. Whitcomb says this is indicative of the chaplain’s unwillingness to delegate authority to others (namely him). The chaplain feels he is always offending the corporal, and he doesn’t understand why.
Whitcomb feels slighted by the chaplain—he believes he is better suited to a leadership position, even though he is an atheist and sees no reason for chaplains to exist in the Army. But Whitcomb, like Cathcart and Korn, is concerned only with his own advancement.
Themes
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
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The chaplain tends to experience the world in three ways. First, he has feelings of déjà vu: the idea that he is doing something he has done, in the same way, before. Second, he experiences jamais vu, or the sense that someone he knows he knows is actually unfamiliar to him. Third, there is presque vu, a “flash of absolute clarity that almost comes to him.”
These “three modes” of seeing this world will become important later. Of the three, presque vu seems the most mysterious—it is as though the chaplain almost has a grasp of many of the events around him, but he is powerless to push back against his commanding officers’ orders.
Themes
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
The chaplain wonders which of these three ways of seeing applies to the vision he had, a while ago, of a naked man in a tree during the funeral service for Snowden. The chaplain resolves to ask Yossarian about this vision. While the chaplain has been musing, Whitcomb has been out conferring with another soldier; he returns to say he knows the chaplain has been forging letters as “Washington Irving.”
Yossarian is often responsible for the chaos that erupts around the camp in Pianosa—he is, of course, the naked man in the tree. But the chaplain, like Cathcart, has trouble linking many of Yossarian’s hijinks to Yossarian himself.
Themes
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Whitcomb tells the chaplain that he has been forging and censoring letters in the chaplain’s name, to “help” him (but really to get him in deeper trouble with the CID men investigating the chaplain). Whitcomb also believes that the chaplain stole the plum tomato from Cathcart, which the chaplain is still holding. The chapter ends with the chaplain confused, and upset by all the suffering in the world, “including his own.”
When Whitcomb tries to thwart the chaplain, he succeeds, and when Whitcomb tries to “help” the chaplain, he only thwarts him more. The chaplain is too kind and peaceful a man to reprimand Whitcomb, even though it appears it is within the chaplain’s power to do so. The chaplain is one of the few characters to care about others in the novel, but at this point he has neither the courage nor understanding of what to do about it.
Themes
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Gallows Humor Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon