Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 11 : Captain Black | Summary

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Summary

Captain Black is delighted that Yossarian's squadron is being sent to Bologna. They're really in for it now! Still bitter over not having been promoted to squadron commander, Black announces that Major Major, who was promoted over him, must be a communist. He vows to make everyone who visits his intelligence tent sign a loyalty oath. He tells the combat men that, if they're truly loyal, they'll want to sign as many loyalty oaths as possible. Soon men are "tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and singing."

But Major ___ de Coverley is furious when he's asked to sign a loyalty oath in the mess hall before he can eat. Milo, under Captain Black's orders not to feed anyone who hasn't signed the oath, gives in and allows the major to be served. Major ___ de Coverley then orders that everyone be allowed to eat, and just like that, the loyalty crusade disappears.

Captain Black pretends not to care, reminding himself that the men are about to be killed in Bologna anyway.

Analysis

Considering that much of Catch-22 was written in the 1950s, it seems courageous of Heller to have included this chapter in the book. In the United States, the 1950s was a time when the public's fears about communism were so intense that he could have gotten into serious trouble for making fun of loyalty.

Captain Black is a stand-in for the equally odious Joseph McCarthy, a senator from Wisconsin. In 1950 McCarthy announced he was in possession of a list of 205 names of government officials who were secretly "card-carrying" communists. For the next five years, McCarthy made it his mission to sniff out and expose communists in government and the arts—even when they weren't there.

According to McCarthy in his speech on communism in February 1950, the Communist menace would end "when the whole sorry mess of twisted, warped thinkers are swept from the national scene so that we may have a new birth of national honesty and decency in government." Even Captain Black's rhetoric can't rise that high.

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