Catch-22

By December 21, 2003 books

Do you ever go back and read those books – the ones that were required in high school that you never wanted to read because someone TOLD you to read them?  The Bell Jar, The Great Gatsby, Catch-22, etc.?

I have been terribly amused by Joseph Heller’s eccentric character, Yossarian, in Catch-22.  I think he ranks right up there with Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole).

Here is one of my favorite passages:

     There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
     “That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.
     “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed
.

It only gets better from there… 

     “That’s much better, Mr. Clevinger, even though it is a barefaced lie. Last night in the latrine. Didn’t you whisper that we couldn’t punish you to that other dirty son of a bitch we don’t like? What’s his name?”
     “Yossarian, sir,” Lieutenant Scheisskopf said.
     “Yes, Yossarian. That’s right. Yossarian. Yossarian? Is that his name? Yossarian? What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian?”
     Lieutenant Scheisskopf had the facts at his fingertips. “It’s Yossarian’s name, sir,” he replied.
     “Yes, I suppose it is. Didn’t you whisper to Yossarian that we coudn’t punish you?”
     “Oh, no, sir. I whispered to him that you couldn’t find me guilty-“
     “I may be stupid,” interrupted the colonel, “but the distinction escapes me. I guess I am pretty stupid, because the distinction excapes me.”
     “W-“
     “You’re a windy son of a bitch, aren’t you? Nobody asked you for clarification and you’re giving me clarification. I was making a statement, not asking for clarification. You are a windy son of a bitch, aren’t you?”
     “No, sir.”
     “No, sir? Are you calling me a goddam liar?”
     “Oh, no, sir.”
     “Then you’re a windy son of a bitch, aren’t you?”
     “No, sir.”
     “Are you trying to pick a fight with me?”
     “No, sir.”
     “Are you a windy son of a bitch?”
     “No, sir.”
     “Goddammit, you ARE trying to pick a fight with me. For two stinking cents I’d jump over this big fat table and rip your stinking, cowardly body apart from limb to limb.”

I could keep going – there’s the part where ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen calls Colonel Cargill, says “T.S. Eliot,” and hangs up the phone, leaving a group of colonels and generals confused for days about what it meant.  There’s the part where Major Major darts out the window every time one of his soldiers comes to the door.  And someone keeps signing Irving Washington’s name to official documents. =)

Leave a Reply