Catch-22 is founded upon a specific “catch,” or logical paradox, introduced in a conversation between Doc Daneeka and Yossarian. This formulation is the novel’s most memorable: because war is dangerous, it is sane behavior to avoid war. So if Yossarian wants to stop flying missions, he is sane and fit to fly, and must therefore fly more missions. Only if Yossarian did want to fly these dangerous missions would he be insane, and subsequently disqualified from flying.
Yossarian is frustrated by Catch-22s, which occur in different forms throughout the novel. Whenever Yossarian has flown sufficient missions, Cathcart raises the required mission total, meaning Yossarian never can fulfill his duty, even when he is fulfilling it. Doc Daneeka lies and places his name on McWatt’s flight roll while avoiding flying—but when McWatt dies in a plane crash, the military refuses to recognize that Daneeka wasn’t actually killed, even though Daneeka is standing right there on the ground. Orr’s logical paradoxes infuriate Yossarian, but Yossarian does not recognize how much he values Orr until Orr disappears. Major Major so fears his subordinates that he will allow them into his office to meet with him only when he is away. And Yossarian only realizes how much he loved Luciana, his primary love interest, after he rips up her address, making it impossible to find her.
Heller employs paradox and impossibility for two reasons. First, much of the humor in the book derives from these contortions of logic. It often appears that only Yossarian has a rational view of the events going on around him, and the gap between his view and others’ irrationality generates humor and surprise. Second, the book investigates these paradoxes on a serious, philosophical level. Many characters wonder whether war and killing, love and loyalty, are really as straightforward as they seem. The novel maintains a balance between these serious considerations and numerous funny stories and set-pieces.
Paradox and Impossibility ThemeTracker
Paradox and Impossibility 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.
“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.”
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?
Even people who were not there remembered vividly exactly what happened next. There was the briefest, softest tsst! filtering audibly through the shattering, overwhelming howl of the planes engines, and then there were just Kid Sampson’s two pale, skinny legs, still joined by strings somehow at the bloody truncated hips, standing stock-still on the raft . . . .
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!
Catch-22 . . . . Catch-22. Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.