Major Danby arrives at the hospital and tells Yossarian that the deal with Korn and Cathcart is still on. Yossarian tells Danby he won’t accept it, that he should only be sent home because he has flown the required number of missions, not because he made some deal to save his own skin. He gets Danby to agree that the deal is “odious,” even if it serves Yossarian’s interests, since it is unfair to his fellow soldiers.
Yossarian has had a change of heart. He now sees that he can’t be concerned merely with savings himself from war if the means of doing so saves only him. He sees that he has a duty to the other soldiers who are also being killed by the war, and he implicitly condemns all the selfish actions of those in the war—whether Milo’s profiteering or Cathcart’s careerism.
Danby says that, if Yossarian doesn’t accept, Cathcart and Korn will initiate a court-martial against him for his going AWOL to Rome. Yossarian believes he could fight these charges, since an official report has been drawn up saying he was attacked by a Nazi assassin, and another official report lauds him as a hero over Ferrara, the campaign for which he received a medal.
Yossarian still places stock in the idea of an “official report,” some kind of hard truth that is objective and unshakeable.
Danby replies that these official reports could easily be counteracted by other official reports that lie, and say Yossarian was incompetent, selfish, and lazy, in dereliction of his duty as an officer.
However, truth in the novel tends to be reshaped by those in power—in this case, by Cathcart and Korn, who control Yossarian’s fate.
Yossarian claims he has another option, if he doesn’t accept the deal and refuses to fly more missions—he can run away, deserting. He asks Danby how Danby can work with Cathcart and Korn, since Danby isn’t as cruel or self-interested as them. Danby replies that he’s only working patriotically for the good of his country. Yossarian replies that, at this point in the war, which is very nearly won, Danby is only serving the interests of his superiors, and not his country.
Yossarian makes an important distinction here. He felt, at first, that by serving the Army he was automatically serving his country. But after a whole novel’s worth of selfishness on the part of his commanding officers, he realizes that the interests of the Army are often not the interests of the country that Army is charged with defending.
Yossarian asks Danby what he would do in Yossarian’s place. Danby admits that being sent home by Cathcart and Korn is an attractive option, but it would make him a turncoat to his fellow soldiers, and something of a coward. But flying more missions is out of the question, since it seems that Yossarian has already flown his fair share. Yossarian is closer to settling on running away, which he considers a path out of this last catch-22—whether or not to accept Cathcart’s deal.
Yossarian does believe he has flown his fair share of missions—and, more than that, he believes that Cathcart’s continual raising of the mission totals represents a violation of trust on Cathcart’s part. By never being clear on what the soldiers must do in order to go home, Cathcart manages to keep the soldiers under his thumb—and Yossarian considers this immoral.
Yossarian recalls Orr’s comments before Orr’s last mission, when Orr floated away, alone, on his raft. Before flying, Orr kept mentioning that Yossarian should join him on the flight, and Orr continued referring to his story of the Italian prostitute, who hit him (Orr) on the head with her shoe. The prostitute, Orr finally declared, hit him simply because she wanted to. Yossarian realizes, now, that Orr kept crashing his planes—which is the reason that Yossarian refused to fly with him—because Orr wanted to crash the planes. Orr was practicing crashing his planes, so he could eventually do so in a perfect situation to allow himself to desert. And Orr wanted Yossarian to fly with him so they could both escape Pianosa together. Yossarian becomes convinced that Orr did in fact desert and go to Sweden. This is where Yossarian resolves to go. He orders the chaplain and Danby to get his clothes and ready him for departure.
Yossarian comes to his most important realization in the novel. Orr understood it all the whole time: the only way to escape the catch-22 of the military is to run away to neutral territory, to a place where the military can no longer control one’s decisions—can no longer continue trying to kill him by forcing him to fly missions. Yossarian at first hesitated to run, because he felt it would make him a coward, but now he realizes it would be cowardice simply to accept the new orders he is given by Cathcart and Korn, to fly more missions without objection, or to accept their deal and go home.
The chaplain, who entered the room during Yossarian’s conversation with Black, is greatly excited for Yossarian’s escape. Danby says that running away is a negative, cowardly move, but Yossarian argues it is a way of taking an active step—refusing the catch-22 presented by Korn and Cathcart, breaking the cycle of military control of his life, and striking out, to Sweden, in search of the unknown. Excited by Yossarian’s example, the chaplain vows to fight back against officers that have been tormenting him.
Danby’s claim that running away is cowardice only if you accept that the army is acting, in general, morally. But Yossarian has come to the conclusion that the army is immoral—is run by venal, selfish men and a blind bureaucracy—and so in such a case running away is an act of bravery, a refusal to grant that the army is more important than he is. The chaplain, who has become something of Yossarian’s moral compass, is in this case also inspired by Yossarian, and (since his own life is not threatened by the army) resolves to face the army by remaining and confronting those in power.
Yossarian asks Danby if he’s going to stop him. Danby hesitates for a second, then announces No, he could never stop Yossarian—he believes Yossarian is making a courageous choice, and gives him some money for the journey. The chaplain wishes Yossarian a bon voyage and continues to plan, aloud, how he’ll punch Captain Black, Whitcomb, and others in the face if they dare cross him. The chaplain says he’ll see Yossarian when the fighting stops.
Danby changes his mind and comes to agree with Yossarian’s and the chaplain’s line of reasoning. Danby is, in essence, a good man, who only wants to do right by his country, but who is hamstrung by what he perceives to be a continued obligation to his superior officers, despite their demonstrated lack of concern for their soldiers. The chaplain, meanwhile, has become emboldened (and not so chaplain-like).
Yossarian says his goodbyes and walks outside the hospital. Nately’s prostitute has been lying in wait for him, still trying to kill him, and she swings at him with a knife. But Yossarian dodges the blow and takes off, for Sweden.
Once again, Yossarian barely avoids death—but this time, as he is facing his responsibility rather than selfishly accepting a deal, he dodges the prostitute’s attack. After this last brush with carnage, he is free to make his way to Orr, to Sweden, and to freedom from the military’s control.