Much of the humor in Catch-22 is gallows humor (or black humor)—the kind that takes on serious subjects without sacrificing its funiness. Some of the novel’s characters use gallows humor good-naturedly; others, less so. McWatt, for example, is always “buzzing” the camp, flying low over it, but one day he flies too low and accidentally kills Kid Sampson. Captain Black and Corporal Whitcomb make fun of the chaplain constantly, because they find his religious beliefs and non-combat assignment to be inherently funny. This bullying nearly drives the chaplain to abandon his beliefs altogether. Many of the novel’s subordinates make fun of their commanders, including Korn, who spends much of the novel reacting to Catchart’s stupidity and vanity. Major de Coverley’s strange abilities—horseshoe-playing and the renting of apartments in recently-liberated cities—are celebrated among the soldiers. De Coverley finds these apartments for the men despite the many dangers associated with flying to these far-flung locales. The Soldier in White and the Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice, two wounded men who eventually die, supply comic relief for Yossarian and others—until the presence of these injured soldiers make Yossarian and his friends fear that they, too, will succumb to injuries and not survive the war.
Indeed, a turning point occurs when Yossarian encounters Aarfy on their last visit to Rome. Aarfy, who has long joked about his behavior with women during his college fraternity days, tells Yossarian he has just raped and killed a woman. Yossarian is aghast, and is doubly horrified that Aarfy passes this behavior off as a joke. This traumatic event, coupled with the other horrors Yossarian has seen in destroyed and ransacked Rome, and with the death of many of his fellow soldiers, causes Yossarian to rethink his moral obligations, and his willingness to continue to fight in the war.
Gallows Humor ThemeTracker
Gallows Humor Quotes in Catch-22
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.
Sure there’s a catch . . . Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.
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.
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.
And the very next morning they [Yossarian’s four new roommates] got rid of the dead man in his tent! Just like that, they whisked him away! They carried his cot and all his belongings right out into the bushes and simply dumped them there . . . .
“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!