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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 23 : Nately's Old Man | Summary



In Rome, Nately finally tracks down the prostitute he's in love with. Nately, Yossarian, and a few of the other men go to the brothel where she works, which is jammed with girls.

"Nately's whore" shows no interest in him, so he strikes up a conversation with the diabolical old man who runs the brothel. To well-born and naive Nately, everything the old man says is blasphemous. The old man is sure Italy will outlast the United States. After all, Italy's been losing wars for generations and is still going strong. For Italians it's just a matter of going along with whoever is in power. Nately tries to argue from a more idealistic position, but he's no competition for the old man's cynicism.

The old man mentions that, when the Americans entered Rome, he threw a rose at an old major and hit him in the eye. Nately is appalled to realize that the major must have been Major ___ de Coverley.


The most noteworthy aspect of this chapter is the contrast between Nately's youthful optimism and the old man's jaded cynicism. Nately speaks for the New World, buoyant and triumphant, while the old man represents the degenerate Old World. Although—as Nately points out—the United States and its allies have actually defeated Italy (and will, of course, go on to win the war), the old man's words are compelling.

Which of them is right? Nately's point of view is obviously naive, but it has powerful appeal. The old man seems to embody the sordid wisdom of the ages, but he couldn't possibly inspire anyone. And neither of them will survive the war.

Something Freudian is going on with Nately's thoughts about the old man. He wishes that the old man would at least clean himself up and put on some new clothes "so that Nately would not have to suffer such confusing shame each time he looked at him and was reminded of his father." Perhaps Nately feels shame because he suspects that the old man knows more about how the world works than his own patrician father.

In a disturbing passage, Aarfy looks back nostalgically on his college days and remembers the time his fraternity gang-raped two girls, foreshadowing something worse to come.

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