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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 17 : The Soldier in White | Summary



Yossarian is determined to stay in the military hospital forever rather than fly another mission. In the hospital people die decently, not hideously—the way Kraft and Snowden did. But as the squadron moves closer to the battlefront, wounded soldiers are brought to the hospital in progressively worse condition.

Worst of all is the soldier in white. Except for a hole over his mouth, he's completely encased in plaster and bandages. Two tubes endlessly cycle fluid through him—the same fluid over and over. Only two nurses and the Texan will go near him.

Yossarian believed "there were too many dangers ... to keep track of." He's haunted by the hundreds of ways he might die and once again begs Doc Daneeka to ground him. As always the doctor refuses. But he promises that he might help if Yossarian finishes his missions and arranges it so that Doc Daneeka himself never has to fly.


The most unsettling thing about the soldier in white are the tubes. One comes out of his groin; the other goes into his arm. The tubes are attached to identical jars. "The same clear fluid was dripped back inside him over and over again with no apparent loss." One patient asks why the nurses don't hook the two jars up to each other and "eliminate the middleman." He adds, "What the hell do they need him for?"

The tubes are just a weird catch-22 touch. The soldier in white is frightening enough as it is. His ghastly appearance terrifies the other patients and makes them wonder what he's done to deserve his condition. From that question they go on to consider what they themselves have done to deserve their situation.

It's only human to want to control events that are uncontrollable. None of the men has brought the "punishment" of war on himself; what happened just happened. But for the soldiers, it's better to believe they're guilty of something than to think that the world is full of random events. If the world is random, there's no one to blame.

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