The novel opens with Yossarian censoring letters—blocking out important military information—while lying in the hospital. He begins signing his name as Washington Irving or Irving Washington. This introduces a theme of communication, and garbled communication, that runs throughout the text. Appleby, a soldier and superlative Ping-Pong player, is told by Orr that he has flies in his eyes, but hears that he has “sties in his eyes.” Aarfy claims not to be able to hear Yossarian when they’re flying, even though Yossarian makes plain, via body language, what he desires (usually, to get out of the plane’s crawl-space). Orr consistently leads Yossarian in linguistic circles when the two are tent-mates. The chaplain is never able to communicate with his fellow officers, many of whom, like Whitcomb and Cathcart, believe he is strange and militarily unnecessary. Whitcomb desires that form-letters be sent by the chaplain to families of bereaved soldiers, but when these letters are sent, they are so general as to seem mocking and absurd—they indicate no personal knowledge of the soldier at all. And a good deal of the novel takes place during the soldiers’ “rest leave” in Rome, where they must communicate with Italians in a hodge-podge of English and other languages, often with comedic effect.
While funny, the outcomes of these miscommunications are occasionally quite serious. Because Yossarian has signed one of his censored letters with the chaplain’s name, the chaplain is nearly tortured and imprisoned by military police. Yossarian seems never to escape from this web of miscommunication, but his decision to flee to Sweden at the end of the novel indicates a willingness to sever all communicative ties with the Army and with his native country.
Communication and Miscommunication ThemeTracker
Communication and Miscommunication Quotes in Catch-22
As far back as Yossarian could recall, he explained to Clevinger with a patient smile, somebody was always hatching a plot to kill him.
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?
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
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.
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.
“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?”
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.