Captain John Yossarian, a lead bombardier in the US Army (of which the Air Force was part, during World War II) is in the hospital in Pianosa, Italy, with liver pain. The pain is serious but not so serious as to be jaundice, and his temperature stays at a moderate 101 degrees. The doctors and nurses are frustrated that his condition neither improves nor worsens.
An introduction of the concept of the “catch-22,” before it is actually described by Doc Daneeka later in the novel. Yossarian’s temperature is too high to send him back into combat, but too low to be a “real” fever. Yossarian’s ailments keep him in a state of suspended animation: too sick to be well, too well to be sick.
Yossarian is assigned to censoring duty while in the hospital. He is supposed to black out military and strategic details from letters written home by American soldiers, but, to pass the time, he ends up creatively blocking out large portions of the letters. He signs one letter “A. T. Tappman, Chaplain,” and signs his own name as “Washington Irving” or “Irving Washington.”
The introduction of the theme of miscommunication. In this case, Yossarian is directly responsible not only for the garbled letters that will be sent to soldiers’ loved ones; he also implicates the chaplain and, in so doing, sets in motion a chain of events that will result in the chaplain’s arrest by military police.
Yossarian is in the hospital with Dunbar, another officer in the Army Air Force, who is attempting to lengthen his life by “cultivating boredom” and thereby make time pass more slowly. A new wounded officer, a happy and personable Texan, is brought in, and no one else in the ward can stand his good cheer.
Dunbar’s assertion is, of course, a logical impossibility. Being bored might make time appear to go more slowly, but time continues on at the same pace regardless of what one is doing. Dunbar’s boredom will not send him back to the US any sooner. The Texan’s good uncomplicated good cheer has no place, in the other men’s minds, in a world where they face death every day.
Another officer, known only as “The Soldier in White,” is in the ward—he is wrapped completely in bandages and has a small hole for his mouth. Fluids drip into and out of him. When it is discovered that the Soldier in White is actually dead, Yossarian jokes that the Texan must have killed him.
An introduction of the novel’s gallows humor. The Soldier in White is obviously suffering—he has been reduced to an object, a gauze shell that may or may not even contain a person. This morbid illness becomes, to Yossarian and Dunbar, an occasion for wisecracking, but in part because he represents what they fear so greatly.
A chaplain (Chaplain Tappman, as it turns out) arrives to speak with Yossarian, and to ask if he can do anything to help him. Yossarian says he doesn’t mind talking to him, although he doesn’t need help at the moment, and he invites the chaplain to return at a later date.
Just after Yossarian has spent some time making jokes about the Soldier in White, the encounter with the chaplain shows his compassion. Yossarian seems to accept the chaplain’s kindness for what it is; he does not order around the chaplain, nor attempt to make fun of him.
An unnamed colonel in Yossarian’s ward has a mystery ailment, the cause of which cannot be determined. A young, attractive Red Cross nurse tends to him as the doctors attempt, desperately, to determine the nature of his disease. No cause is ever found.
This colonel does not return. It is unclear whether Heller abandoned this character by accident, or allowed the colonel to disappear into the shadows of the novel. At the same time, he could be taken to represent war—a mystery ailment plaguing all mankind and which has a cause that can’t be found.
The Texan, who has continued to be kind to everyone, so infuriates Yossarian, Dunbar, and the other patients that they all “magically” become cured (they were not really sick in the first place) and leave the hospital. Meanwhile, a “CID man,” an investigative officer, is in the hospital, trying to determine who has been forging signatures on censored letters.
This cure is simply Yossarian’s and Dunbar’s acknowledgment that they were not really ill in the first place. The CID men investigating the censored letters will return throughout the novel, coming closer and closer to finding their culprit—whom they believe to be the chaplain.