Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 1 : The Texan | Summary

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Summary

Yossarian (whose first name is not revealed for some time) is an air force captain in Italy during World War II. When the reader first meets him, he's in a military hospital complaining of mysterious "liver pain." Yossarian is enjoying his stay. The hospital food is decent, and he has no responsibilities apart from a tedious assignment censoring soldiers' mail home. He tries to make the job more interesting by using fake names and blacking out passages at random. This brings him to the attention of the army's Criminal Investigation Division.

"It was a good ward this time"—one of the best Yossarian has stayed in. He pays little attention to most of the other patients, except for a Texan whose constant good cheer and simplistic pronouncements annoy everyone. Although a few of the men on the ward are severely ill or injured, many—Yossarian and Dunbar among them—are malingering.

One day the hospital chaplain pays a visit to the ward and introduces himself to Yossarian, who is charmed by him. The chaplain seems socially inept and reluctant to meet any of the other patients. Soon after the chaplain's visit, the Texan's relentlessly chipper mood drives most of the malingering patients off the ward. One by one, they announce that they've "recovered" and go back to their military jobs.

Analysis

Catch-22 opens without preamble. "It was love at first sight. From the first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him." This may be a surprising way to introduce a war novel, but it does foreshadow the fundamental role of the chaplain in Yossarian's conflict.

The chaplain (Tapmann) drops out of sight immediately; readers will not meet him until much later in the chapter. Clearly, this story will not be told in a conventionally straightforward way. Readers are meant to feel disoriented, and that feeling increases as the chapter continues.

From the beginning it is apparent that Yossarian has cut himself off from other people. He plans to spend the rest of the war in the hospital. He has also told everyone back home that he's leaving on a dangerous mission during which he will be completely out of touch. Yossarian's only responsibility in the hospital is to censor the letters written by enlisted men, a job he finds so boring that he subverts it by inventing his own ridiculous censorship system. Though one might consider soldiers' letters home almost sacred, Yossarian enjoys mangling them. He even signs one with the chaplain's name—the second time this mysterious figure is mentioned.

Yossarian's weary detachment extends to his fellow patients, who are left nameless except for the chaplain and Yossarian's friend Dunbar. When a hideously wounded soldier dies one morning, Yossarian and Dunbar joke about it. The only patient to elicit an emotional reaction from Yossarian is the Texan, whose naive patriotism and upbeat manner disgust him.

But Yossarian is charmed by the hospital chaplain, whom he takes at first to be "either another doctor or another madman." The chaplain doesn't seem too appealing: he's so nervous that at one point he asks whether Yossarian needs any toys. When Yossarian explains that he's never met a chaplain before, we realize that the visitor's appeal is simply his novelty.

What has happened to alienate Yossarian from the world around him? Perhaps it is about to be revealed. If being in the hospital felt like a respite for Yossarian, wherever he's returning must be a place of considerable dread.

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Questions for Chapter 1

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