The novel opens with Yossarian censoring letters—blocking out important military information—while lying in the hospital. He begins signing his name as Washington Irving or Irving Washington. This introduces a theme of communication, and garbled communication, that runs throughout the text. Appleby, a soldier and superlative Ping-Pong player, is told by Orr that he has flies in his eyes, but hears that he has “sties in his eyes.” Aarfy claims not to be able to hear Yossarian when they’re flying, even though Yossarian makes plain, via body language, what he desires (usually, to get out of the plane’s crawl-space). Orr consistently leads Yossarian in linguistic circles when the two are tent-mates. The chaplain is never able to communicate with his fellow officers, many of whom, like Whitcomb and Cathcart, believe he is strange and militarily unnecessary. Whitcomb desires that form-letters be sent by the chaplain to families of bereaved soldiers, but when these letters are sent, they are so general as to seem mocking and absurd—they indicate no personal knowledge of the soldier at all. And a good deal of the novel takes place during the soldiers’ “rest leave” in Rome, where they must communicate with Italians in a hodge-podge of English and other languages, often with comedic effect.
While funny, the outcomes of these miscommunications are occasionally quite serious. Because Yossarian has signed one of his censored letters with the chaplain’s name, the chaplain is nearly tortured and imprisoned by military police. Yossarian seems never to escape from this web of miscommunication, but his decision to flee to Sweden at the end of the novel indicates a willingness to sever all communicative ties with the Army and with his native country.
Communication and Miscommunication ThemeTracker
Communication and Miscommunication Quotes in Catch-22
Sure there’s a catch . . . Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.
“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.”
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?
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.
“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?”
You’re damned right we’re going to punish you. But we’re certainly not going to let you hang around while we decide how and when to do it. So get going. Hit the road.
Do you know what he wants? He wants us to march. He wants everyone to march!
Catch-22 . . . . Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.