Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 34 : Thanksgiving | Summary



It's Thanksgiving Day. Milo outdoes himself with a "fantastically opulent" dinner and passes out unopened bottles of whiskey to anyone who asks. The day degenerates into raucous, slovenly partying that goes on for hours. Yossarian goes to bed early and wakes up from a nightmare to hear machine-gun fire.

When Yossarian realizes that the drunken revelers are the ones shooting, he erupts with rage. He grabs his gun and charges outside to shoot the people who scared him so badly. Nately tries to stop him, and Yossarian punches him in the face so hard that he breaks Nately's nose.

Nately is sent to the hospital. His friends all check in as patients so they can keep him company. The chaplain is also in the hospital with a fake disease he calls Wisconsin shingles. The men are having a great time when a nurse suddenly rolls in a soldier in traction who's completely encased in bandages and plaster. Dunbar screams, "It's the same one!" His terror spreads through the ward, and soon mobs of patients are screaming and rioting.

In a whisper, Nurse Duckett tells Yossarian that the higher-ups are planning to "disappear" Dunbar.


As we can see from their identical reaction to the machine-gun fire, Yossarian and Dunbar are starting to crack up. Each was literally planning to kill whomever it was who had woken them up. The way each man announces himself to the other—by firing at him in the dark—is beyond risky. Yossarian has already overreacted by punching Nately, a friend, in his "delicate young face." All Nately was trying to do was to keep him from attacking his fellow soldiers.

Yossarian's state of mind is reflected in the way he perceives the post-Thanksgiving revelry. It should be noted that the scene is being shown through Yossarian's eyes. For only the second time in the book (the first being Kid Sampson's death), Heller describes the camp in sordid and physically revolting detail. "Young soldiers with pasty white faces" are vomiting so much that the air turns foul. Corporal Kolodny shoots himself through the leg. Injured men file repentantly to the medical tent. There is the sound of bottles shattering against rock and dirty songs in the distance.

Dunbar's and Yossarian's shock at seeing the soldier in white is another overreaction. The bandaged figure can't be the same one they last saw at the hospital; he's heavier and several inches shorter. But Yossarian is "quivering with a deep and ominous excitement that he could not control."

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