Most of the characters of Catch-22—Yossarian, Nately, Orr, Aarfy, McWatt, Hungry Joe, and Major de Coverley—fly to Rome for rest leave at some point in the novel. Rome represents the kinds of privileges and excitements not possible on Pianosa in wartime. It’s full of women and sex (many of the women whom the soldiers spend time with are prostitutes). The soldiers can go to night-clubs, dance, drink copiously, and, meanwhile, imagine that the war is happening “somewhere else.”
This Roman paradise does not remain stable, however, as the novel progresses. Yossarian finds that, after many of his comrades have died in combat, Rome takes on a sinister air. The streets appear lawless, patrolled by immoral police officers, and many men, women, and children wander about, ill-clothed and ill-fed. Rome seemed like an escape from the war, but it was a false escape, an illusion of escape—the war comes for Rome, in the end. The final disintegration of Rome as a place for “rest” occurs when Yossarian finds out that Aarfy has just raped and murdered a woman, throwing her out the window of the Americans’ shared apartment. Yossarian believes Aarfy will be punished for his crime, but instead it is Yossarian who is arrested by military police and taken back to Pianosa. After these events, Sweden becomes the new paradise—a place that is actually neutral in the war, where Yossarian cannot just frivolously imagine that the war is someplace else, but where he might in fact break off all connection with the military and escape the war completely.
Rome Quotes in Catch-22
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?
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.
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.