Catch-22

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Paradox and Impossibility Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Catch-22, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Paradox and Impossibility Theme Icon

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.

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Paradox and Impossibility Quotes in Catch-22

Below you will find the important quotes in Catch-22 related to the theme of Paradox and Impossibility.
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)
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
Chapter 3 Quotes

Do you remember . . . that time in Rome when that girl who can’t stand you kept hitting me over the head with the heel of her shoe? Do you want to know why she was hitting me?

Related Characters: Orr (speaker), John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian
Chapter 4 Quotes

You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age?

Related Characters: Dunbar (speaker), Clevinger
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)
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.

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
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
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
Chapter 12 Quotes

Despite the multiple perils to which Major _____ de Coverley exposed himself each time he rented apartments, his only injury had occurred, ironically enough, while he was leading the triumphal procession into the open city of Rome . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Major ______ de Coverley
Chapter 14 Quotes

He [Yossarian] was wrong. There had been no clouds. Bologna had been bombed. Bologna was a milk run. There had been no flak there at all.

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian, Clevinger
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
Chapter 19 Quotes

Colonel Cathcart was a slick, successful, slipshod, unhappy man of thirty-six who lumbered when he walked and wanted to be a general. He was dashing and dejected, poised and chagrined.

Related Characters: Clevinger, Colonel Cathcart
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.

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.

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)
Chapter 26 Quotes

Can’t you see me . . I’m wounded! Help me, for God’s sake! Aarfy, help me!

I still can’t hear you . . . .

Related Characters: John “Yo-Yo” Yossarian (speaker), Aarfy (speaker)
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)
Chapter 30 Quotes

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 . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Kid Sampson
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
Chapter 32 Quotes

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 . . . .

Related Characters: Clevinger, Yossarian’s new roommates
Chapter 33 Quotes

It just isn’t right for a nice girl like you to go looking for other men to sleep with. I’ll give you all the money you need, so you won’t have to do it any more.

Related Characters: Nately (speaker), Nately’s Whore and her kid sister
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
Chapter 35 Quotes

No, sir . . . it’s generally known that you’ve flown only two missions. And that one of those occurred when Aarfy accidentally flew you over enemy territory while navigating you to Naples for a black-market water cooler.

Related Characters: Milo Minderbinder (speaker), Aarfy, Colonel Cathcart
Chapter 36 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Chaplain Tappman
Chapter 37 Quotes

Do you know what he wants? He wants us to march. He wants everyone to march!

Related Characters: Scheisskopf
Chapter 39 Quotes

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