Catch-22

Catch-22

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Catch-22 Symbol Analysis

Catch-22 Symbol Icon
A Catch-22 is a particular kind of paradox first described to Yossarian by Doc Daneeka. This catch is described as follows: any soldier sane enough to hate warfare is sane enough to have to participate in the war, whereas any soldier crazy enough to like war is too crazy to fight it. Yossarian recognizes this catch as a particularly inescapable case of logical paradox. The Catch-22 recurs throughout the book, both in comic and in tragic form. Many of Yossarian’s interactions with military higher-ups, and with his tent-mate Orr and the officers Aarfy and Milo, are dictated by exactly this kind of impossibility. Catch-22s can lead to instances of humor, as in chains of miscommunication among military bureaucrats. But Cathcart’s desire to increase the number of required missions, a part of Catch-22, also results in the death of nearly all of Yossarian’s closest comrades.

Catch-22 Quotes in Catch-22

The Catch-22 quotes below all refer to the symbol of Catch-22. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Catch-22 published in 1996.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Insanity is contagious. This is the only sane ward in the whole hospital. Everybody is crazy but us. This is probably the only sane ward in the whole world, for that matter.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker)
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

From the beginning, the novel introduces a state of "in-betweenness" from which Yossarian will try, throughout, to escape. Yossarian's temperature and ailments are not severe enough for him to be treated seriously, but he is not well enough to be sent back into service; he is not "crazy" by any doctor's metric, but he seems also to view the war from a slant, according to rules only he perceives. In this, Yossarian is caught, and the only way for him to be "uncaught" is for him to decide, as it were, whether he is crazy or not, whether he is healthy or not - and of course these are exactly the things one is not capable of deciding for oneself.

Thus this passage introduces the paradoxes of the novel, which unfold from here. Heller is concerned in particular with spaces like the hospital or sick ward, in which people are on the limits both of the battlefield and of life itself - it is these "in-between" places that the novel takes up, again and again, in its illustration of the impossibilities of war. 

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Chapter 2 Quotes

As far back as Yossarian could recall, he explained to Clevinger with a patient smile, somebody was always hatching a plot to kill him.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Clevinger
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Yossarian's argument here is both simple and mind-bending. Because he is in war, he states, there are people on the other side of the battle who want to kill him. He does not want to be around those people - he wants, instead, to survive. So he does everything he can to avoid battle, knowing that, outside, there are people trying to kill him. 

When fellow soldiers say that Yossarian is behaving irrationally, he argues that they, the other soldiers, are the ones refusing to acknowledge the truth - that enemy soldiers would kill them, too, if they had the chance, and anyone willfully going into battle to be killed is someone not of sound mind. Yossarian seems further to argue that because he is able to do this kind of reasoning he is sane, even though those who cannot, who insist he must fight despite the possibility of his dying, continue to argue that he is insane. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

Sure there’s a catch . . . Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.

Related Characters: Doc Daneeka (speaker)
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

This is perhaps the most famous, and deadly earnest, joke in the novel. Doc Daneeka tells Yossarian that he, Doc, can only keep Yossarian from flying if Yossarian is proved to be insane. But asking not to fly is proof of sanity, because anyone would have to be crazy to volunteer to fly missions over Italy - since the chance of dying is so high. Thus, in trying to escape war, Yossarian behaves rationally and is forced to continue fighting in the war. If Yossarian were to volunteer, then his behavior would be irrational, and would qualify him, in Doc's eyes, for removal from duty - since no sane man would want to fly under these conditions.

Yossarian here hits upon one of the foundational truths of the novel - that war is sustained by a paradox, that people must hurl themselves in the way of danger, irrationally, in order to show how rational and courageous they are - and that war itself continues despite the best efforts of the people fighting the war to stop it. It is as if war takes on a will of its own, and continues without any interference. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

But Yossarian still didn’t understand how Milo could buy eggs in Malta for seven cents apiece and sell them at a profit in Pianosa for five cents.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian, Milo Minderbinder
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is another instance of absurd and paradoxical behavior. Yossarian likes Milo, and he and McWatt believe that Milo must know something they do not, in order to be able to buy eggs for lots of money, sell them for less money, and still, somehow, make money. Of course this isn't possible without some form of criminality or trickery, but McWatt and Yossarian are willing to believe Milo, in part because the conditions of war seem to make anything paradoxical, or seemingly contradictory, possible. The very nature of war itself, as sketched in the idea of the "Catch-22," is an impossible one - since no sane man would fight in a war, and no insane man can prove himself as such. 

Milo, like many characters in the novel, is not so much insane or sane as he is impossible to describe - someone who is doing his best, in the uncertainty and confusion of battle, to continue to live and make a living. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

Even among men lacking all distinction he [Major Major] 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.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Major Major
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Another of the paradoxical characters in the novel, Major Major has, in the words of the narrator, never done much of anything in life - he has always been "a mediocrity." Yet he keeps getting promoted, perhaps in part because his name is Major - but perhaps, too, because he is simply in the right place at the right time. He succeeds in his career precisely because he is not opposed to anyone, because he never takes a stance on anything.

Heller is a critic of what he perceives to be the static, lead-footed quality of military bureaucracy. Yossarian himself notes that the military seems to reward those who do nothing to ruffle anyone's feathers - the military is, really, a machine that runs on its own ability to keep running, and soldiers who aid in this "forward motion" without opposing their superiors tend to be rewarded. In this regard, Major Major really is the best at what he does - he is the "most mediocre" and "unimpressive" of all. 

Chapter 10 Quotes

Ex-PFC Wintergreen accepted the role of digging and filling up holes with all the uncomplaining dedication of a true patriot.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Wintergreen
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Wintergreen is a private, and continues to be a private, because he shirks his duty and, more often than not, deserts. When he does this, he is forced to dig holes - he is given a new duty. And this duty, of shirking his duty and being punished for it, he considers to be his real duty. Thus, in doing his duty Wintergreen is not doing his duty, and in not doing his duty, he would, of course, be doing it - by being a solider on the front lines. Wintergreen notes that this is a Catch-22, and Yossarian, too, perceives that it is.

Wintergreen, then, is a foil to Yossarian. While the latter tries to be labeled "insane" to escape active duty, Wintergreen simply does not go, and his punishment allows him to say he is doing something for the American war cause in Italy. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

“What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?”
“You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you? And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.”
“You aren’t letting him sign any.”
“Of course not . . . that would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade.”

Related Characters: Doc Daneeka (speaker), Captain Black (speaker), Major Major
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

Captain Black does what he can to get Major Major in trouble, in part because he resents Major's swift (and to his mind, undeserved) rise through the ranks. The loyalty oath is a fine example of this, and an instance not just of the Catch-22 but of the "logic" of the witch hunt, something that would come to dominate post-war American political life. In a witch hunt, any protestation of innocence on the part of an accused party is viewed as a signal of guilt. At the same time an acceptance of guilt would, of course, be understood on its face, as a real acceptance of guilt. Thus, merely to be accused in this setup is to be found guilty - there is nothing any party can do under the circumstances. Black appears to know this, and so when he accused Major of being a Communist - Major, who seems to have no politics at all - he is attempting to seal Major's professional fate with the merest hint of impropriety. 

Chapter 16 Quotes

You will . . . you’ll tear it up into little pieces the minute I’m gone and go waling away like a big shot . . . because . . .Luciana let you sleep with her and did not ask you for money.

Related Characters: Luciana (speaker), John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an extension of the concept of the "Catch-22" to romantic love. Initially, Yossarian believes he is only looking for a woman to spend one night with - and when he meets Luciana, he expects just that. He buys her dinner and they do not have sex - but they do the next day, and Yossarian finds he has feelings for her. But Luciana will not admit that she has feelings for Yossarian, because, as she puts it, "only a crazy man" would desire a woman who is not a virgin, and she cannot marry a crazy man. Yossarian behaves crazily, she reasons, exactly when he tells her that he loves her truly.

Yossarian then rips up the paper containing Luciana's address, and he never finds her again - he mourns what he believes to have been his chance at true love. But all his heartache derives, in this instance, from the fundamental idea that it is as crazy to fall in love during wartime as it is crazy to avoid falling in love in wartime - that both positions are "irrational" ones. 

Chapter 20 Quotes

What displeased Corporal Whitcomb most about the chaplain, apart from the fact that the chaplain believed in God, was his lack of initiative and aggressiveness.

Related Characters: Chaplain Tappman, Clevinger, Corporal Whitcomb
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

Whitcomb does not believe in God and finds the chaplain to be a "weak" man, unsuited to a position of command. Others in the unit make fun of the chaplain for being a man of God, or for being "only" Anabaptist and not a Catholic priest - as though there were a hierarchy of religious denominations like ranks in the Army. The chaplain, for his part, wants to continue mildly on his way, and though he is frustrated by his maltreatment, he feels there is very little he can do about it.

Whitcomb's attitude - that he might "take over" the chaplaincy and expand the power of the position, despite his utter atheism - is another example of the absurdity of Army bureaucracy. Only in the Army, Heller seems to insist, would this kind of maneuver be possible - a man with no faith believing that the path to power involved the position of group pastor. Yet Whitcomb sees no paradox in his position - he simply wants to move up the ranks. 

Chapter 23 Quotes

The Germans are being driven out [of Italy], and we are still here. In a few years you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is a very poor and weak country, and that’s what makes us so strong.

Related Symbols: Catch-22, Rome
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

The old man Nately discovers in Rome argues that it is Italy's very weakness that is the source of its strength. Nately believes this is a horrible, unpatriotic thing for the old man to argue for - yet the old man insists that weakness, for Italy, makes the country strong. Nately wonders how this can be.

The old man counters that Italy, though not principled, is adaptable, in ways that Germany and the United States could never be. Germany's principles have led it into the current conflict, in which it will be destroyed. And America's principles force Americans to defend freedoms around the world, often at great cost. But Italy's principle is simply survival, at least according to the old man. This means that when occupying powers are gone, Italy can go right back to being Italy, without concern for foreign involvement. This principle of self-preservation over all else keeps Italy alive, the old man insists. 

Chapter 24 Quotes

But the Germans are also members in good standing of the syndicate, and it’s my job to protect their rights as shareholders. . . . Don’t you understand that I have to respect the sanctity of my contract with Germany?

Related Characters: Milo Minderbinder (speaker)
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 265
Explanation and Analysis:

Milo here argues for yet another kind of paradox. Because he has an import-export business, he feels it is his contractual obligation to protect his merchandise at all costs. Sometimes this means doing business with the Germans, which Yossarian finds, at best, to be politically suspect. Sometimes this means actively siding with the Germans, to make sure that Americans do not blockade the delivery of his goods. 

When Yossarian argues that the latter activity is most definitely an act of treason, Milo counters that it is simply a defense of his contract. And contracts, Milo insists, are an American tradition, unbreakable in their power. To violate a contract would be, in Milo's mind, to consort with the enemy. But making a profit through whatever means are necessary and available - that is, for Milo, a patriotic thing, the highest ideal to which an American man can ascribe. Although Yossarian finds this utterly absurd reasoning, he nevertheless is impressed by the convolutions of Milo's argument in favor of self-preservation. 

Chapter 27 Quotes

“You have a morbid aversion to dying. You probably resent the fact that you’re at war and might get your head blown off any second.”
“I more than resent it, sir. I’m absolutely incensed.”

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Major Sanderson (speaker)
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 313
Explanation and Analysis:

Sanderson believes that Yossarian is insane, and indeed, he wants Yossarian to be insane, as it makes his job as therapist more interesting. Sanderson complains that in his position he is often lonely, that no one in the group cares for him, and that the only excitement he has comes in the form of second-hand sex dreams, told to him by his patients.

Yossarian insists that, yes, he does have a fear of death, and that he doesn't want to put himself in a position where he might die or be injured. Sanderson considers this to be a signal indicator of insanity, because, after all, Yossarian's anxiety about death is overpowering - it keeps him from doing his job as it is intended to be done. Yet Sanderson does not believe he has the power to keep Yossarian out of active duty - Yossarian's insanity would have to be even more pronounced to keep him on the ground and out of harm's way. 

Chapter 31 Quotes

The War Department replied touchingly that there had been no error and that she [Mrs. Daneeka] was undoubtedly the victim of some sadistic and psychotic forger in her husband’s squadron. The letter to husband was returned unopened, stamped KILLED IN ACTION.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Mrs. Daneeka
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 353
Explanation and Analysis:

Because Daneeka is afraid of flying, he asks to be placed on the flight logs of various planes, so he can "serve" his necessary hours in the air. McWatt agreed, on the day of the tragic accident, to "have" Daneeka on the logs. The rest of the airmen jumped out, but of course Daneeka did not, because he was not on the plane to begin with. But because Daneeka was not found with the other crewmen in the water, the War Department falsely believed that he died in the crash along with McWatt.

Mrs. Daneeka and the other soldiers then have an immensely difficult time convincing the War Department that Daneeka is, in fact, still alive. Because he has "died" bureaucratically, on the records sheet of the unit he is officially dead, and the bureaucracy is so slow-moving and dim-witted that it can do nothing to change this error once it has been written down. 

Chapter 34 Quotes

“They’re going to disappear him.”
“They’re what? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. I heard them talking behind a door.”
. . .
“It doesn’t make sense. it isn’t even good grammar. What the hell does it mean when they disappear someone?”

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Nurses Duckett and Cramer (speaker), Dunbar
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 378
Explanation and Analysis:

Dunbar, in the eyes of the unit's officers, has been breaking far too many rules - far more than his fellow soldiers, who, the narrative has thus far demonstrated, have no trouble breaking lots of rules. When Nurses Duckett and Cramer state that Dunbar will be "disappeared," however, Yossarian's first response is a grammatical one - he doesn't consider "disappear" to be a transitive verb, something that can be done to someone. He is confused by their logic.

But just as the Army can argue that living people are "officially" dead, or that "sane" soldiers must continue to fly insanely dangerous missions, it can also simply make a soldier "disappear" once it is tired of that soldier. Dunbar's actions have made him like an enemy, but worse - for the enemy, of course, exists enough to torment the members of the unit. When Dunbar is disappeared, he no longer exists, but nor does he not exist - he simply is no longer a person in any sense: he has vanished entirely. 

Chapter 39 Quotes

Catch-22 . . . . Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.

Related Symbols: Catch-22, Rome
Page Number: 417
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the more chilling passages in the novel. Yossarian has gone AWOL, absent without leave, and he lands in Rome to discover that the city is mostly destroyed (even though Rome was an "open city" during the war, and was largely protected from Allied bombardment). The old woman Yossarian meets claims that the destruction of Rome, and indeed the effort of the entire war, is a Catch-22 - but Yossarian does not understand how she could have known this term, which is particular to his unit. She says she learned it from American GIs who were in the apartment in her neighborhood with prostitutes. Yossarian believes these might be men of his unit, but he is not aware of which of the many contradictions and irrationalities of war these men could have been referring to. Indeed, Yossarian seems to think that, at this point, all of war, and all of Rome, is a Catch-22, a large impossibility, a thing too difficult to be worked out or understood. 

Chapter 42 Quotes

Goodbye, Yossarian . . . and good luck. I’ll stay here and persevere, and we’ll meet again when the fighting stops.

Related Characters: Chaplain Tappman (speaker), John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian
Related Symbols: Catch-22
Page Number: 463
Explanation and Analysis:

Yossarian has throughout the novel been hemmed in by a series of Catch-22s, by the contradictions that keep him trapped in the Army and forced to fly missions until, he believes, he will be killed - at which point, perhaps, the Army might find it is time to discharge him, only to realize that he is already gone. Yossarian vows not to let that happen. He notes that he does have an option other than trying to become, or pretend to be, insane - he can simply desert. Desertion, for Yossarian, is a way of "dropping out" of the bind of the Catch-22. For if he simply leaves Italy, the Army cannot tell him to do anything.

The chaplain is heartened by this, for the chaplain, too, feels that the Army does not allow him to do his work. The chaplain himself is not allowed to serve as an actual spiritual adviser, because he fears his job will be taken away by people in the Army who think only of advancement, and who do not believe in God. For the chaplain, Yossarian is a beacon of strength and courage - for he has, the chaplain realizes, the bravery simply to walk away, to remove himself from the bind of war altogether. 

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Catch-22 Symbol Timeline in Catch-22

The timeline below shows where the symbol Catch-22 appears in Catch-22. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5: Chief White Halfoat
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
...is not crazy. Daneeka explains that this is a catch in the system—he calls it “Catch-22.” (full context)
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
...behaving rationally, thus he’d be sane and forced to fly more missions. Yossarian remarks that “Catch-22” is a “powerful” catch, and Daneeka agrees. (full context)
Chapter 6: Hungry Joe
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...missions (55, at time point) than the 27th Squadron requires (only 40). Wintergreen answers that Catch-22 is to blame. Yossarian must obey all orders—whatever Cathcart commands—regardless of what Cathcart himself is... (full context)
Chapter 10: Wintergreen
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...duty by breaking the rules and serving his punishment. Wintergreen identifies this situation as a Catch-22. (full context)
Chapter 25: The Chaplain
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
...He is told he may wait for the Major, and does—but then feels that the Catch-22 (the Major will only take guests when he is out) is a practical joke aimed... (full context)
Chapter 39: The Eternal City
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...apartment that used to be inhabited by the prostitutes, and the woman claims that a “catch-22” is to blame. (full context)
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...who busted up the apartment argued that their having to leave the flat was a catch-22, but they did not explain the phrase’s meaning. The woman asks Yossarian who will take... (full context)
Chapter 40: Catch-22
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
But there’s is a catch, of course—a catch-22. Cathcart and Korn tell Yossarian that he will be sent home only if he pretends... (full context)
Chapter 42: Yossarian
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon
War and Bureaucracy Theme Icon
Communication and Miscommunication Theme Icon
Self-interest, Altruism, and Morality Theme Icon
...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... (full context)