Catch-22 is a satirical novel set during World War II, it follows the experiences of Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces bombardier who is struggling to maintain his sanity in the face of the absurdity of war.
The novel uses humor to expose the darker aspects of war and bureaucracy. Heller’s writing style is witty with a sharp satirical edge that dismantles the military establishment and its leaders. The title of the novel has become a catchphrase in modern English, referring to a situation where contradictory rules or regulations make it impossible to take any action. In the novel, the phrase “Catch-22” refers to a rule that says if you continue to go on missions, you must be insane, and if you are insane you must tell your doctor, however, if you say you’re insane then you KNOW you’re insane, and therefore you must be sane and must continue to go on missions!
One of the main themes of Catch-22 is the senselessness and brutality of war, as well as the dehumanizing effects of military bureaucracy. Heller depicts the absurdity of war and the inhumanity of the military machine through the experiences of Yossarian and his colleagues, who are constantly subjected to the whims of their superiors.
Another key theme is the idea of individualism versus conformity, as Yossarian struggles to maintain his own sense of morality and sanity in the face of pressure to conform to the military’s demands. This conflict is exemplified by the character of Colonel Cathcart, who is more concerned with advancing his own career than with the welfare of his men.
Although the idea behind the novel is brilliant, the execution was a bit clumsy in my opinion. Heller uses quite a lot of dull repetition throughout the dialogue, which can be very frustrating. Another major issue is, of course (long sigh), the misogyny. I’m aware that the novel is a satirical work, but the way women are represented is awful, and the dismissive and casual way in which rape is depicted makes the “humor” to be perceived in very bad taste. Here we have yet another much-beloved modern classic written by a much-celebrated man, where the portrayal of women is sexist and demeaning, with female characters often reduced to objects of sexual desire (rape!).
All in all, I thought it was a good novel, with many quotable lines, but I (still) find most American novels to be too on-the-nose with an idea (no matter how brilliant that idea is). It’s the constant slapping of the point over and over again until it becomes, well, dull.