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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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?
“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.”
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.
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.