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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 18 : The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice | Summary



In a flashback to Yossarian's cadet days, the reader learns how he manages to be hospitalized whenever he wants. Soldiers with abdominal pain must be kept under observation for five days, and none of the doctors can prove that his fake liver complaint isn't real. Yossarian enjoys a blissful 10 days in the hospital before doctors announce that he has recovered. To buy more time in the hospital, Yossarian pretends he's seeing double. When he repeats the ploy, his roommate copies him—and then dies.

A doctor makes a deal with Yossarian. If Yossarian will pretend to be the dying son of a U.S. family that has come to bid him goodbye, the doctor won't tell anyone that Yossarian's been faking it (the real son inconveniently died just before his relatives arrived). The grieving family arrives and bids a tearful goodbye to their "son." Seeing their sorrow, Yossarian begins to sob himself.


Yossarian doesn't want to dress up as a dying soldier, and the doctor requesting the favor doesn't understand why. When Yossarian protests that he's not dying, the doctor reminds him that everyone is dying. When Yossarian points out that the family hasn't come all this way to see him, the doctor says that one dying boy is as good as another.

It's a chilling statement, but it makes an appalling kind of sense. If the grieving family doesn't know the bandaged figure is Yossarian, what difference does it make? To the doctor, it's a pointless distinction. Detaching himself from all the suffering he sees is the only way he can do his job. Whether he should talk about it so heartlessly is another matter. To Yossarian, it feels wrong—but why?

"We're all in this business of illusion together," says the doctor. But for Yossarian, the illusion vanishes when the family begins to cry. It suddenly occurs to him that these are real people with real feelings. The point isn't to trick them but to grieve with them. Being who he is, there's probably some self-pity mixed in with Yossarian's remorse.

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