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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 30 : Dunbar | Summary



Dunbar doesn't care what kind of pattern his bombs make. He drops them well past the mountain village that was the target. This could earn him a court-martial, but he doesn't care about that either. He's become belligerent and surly, and there are rumors that his superiors plan to "disappear him."

Yossarian is once again lead bombardier, with McWatt for a pilot. McWatt's a good pilot but loves taking risks and buzzing the plane too close to the ground. En route to a practice bomb range, McWatt flies the plane so low that Yossarian threatens to strangle him—and even begins to act on the threat. For the first time, McWatt realizes that Yossarian is truly terrified of flying.

Nurse Duckett and Yossarian start dating. One afternoon, they're on the beach with lots of other people when McWatt jokingly buzzes his plane over them. Kid Sampson playfully leaps up to touch the plane and is chopped in half by the propeller. Realizing what's happened, McWatt orders his two training pilots to bail out and then flies the plane into a mountain.


Kid Sampson's horrifying death overshadows everything else in this chapter. Heller's visual descriptions seem so painfully accurate that once again the reader suspects that he must have witnessed something like this. Though the scene is of course unforgettable, it functions more as a set piece—a self-contained passage added to enhance the drama rather than to advance the plot.

The reaction of the soldiers on the beach is interesting. Though nothing can be done and no one else is in danger, everyone panics. Women weep hysterically; men scream like women. People flee back to the familiar squadron as if something is chasing them. Even back at the squadron, men are screaming.

Why should this be? There's more going on here than just ordinary sorrow. Most of these people have already witnessed terrible, tragic things. But those tragedies could likely be explained as things that are bound to happen in a war. Kid Sampson's death is without precedent. It's entirely random, it happens close by, and it happens instantly. There is no way to be rational in the face of such horror. Kid Sampson's death literally expresses Heller's own commentary that the death of a young person is a tragic death, even if the means of death is ridiculous or meaningless. It emphasizes the insanity of war, in which young men whose whole lives are before them are ordered to fight by superiors they barely know and to risk their lives in situations far beyond their control.

In contrast, McWatt's suicide has a tragic grandeur. The reader feels that McWatt had no other choice, but he goes out with style, flying gracefully and dipping his wings in salute before flying into a mountain.

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