Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 39 : The Eternal City | Summary



Milo flies Yossarian to Rome but scolds him all the way there. Yossarian nods absently, his mind running through images of his dead friends. He's no longer part of a world where the concerns of people like Milo mean anything.

When they land in Rome, Yossarian hurries to Nately's whore's apartment. It's completely trashed and empty, except for the old woman who's always been there. She tells Yossarian that the girls are gone and the old man has just dropped dead. The police, she says, told her that catch-22 allowed them to do whatever she couldn't stop them from doing.

As Yossarian searches without success for the kid sister, the city swirls around him in a nightmare landscape of pain, cruelty, and desolation. Finally, he heads for the officers' apartment. Only Aarfy is there. He has just raped the housemaid, Michaela, and thrown her out the window. He doesn't expect any trouble because she was just a maid. And it turns out he's right: police storm the apartment and arrest Yossarian for going AWOL.


In all of American fiction, it's harder to come up with a more distressing chapter than this one. Both the subject and the setting are wrenchingly painful. The dark streets of Rome are a hallucinatory inferno filled with unforgettable scenes of misery, which is radically different from the eternal Rome of the Catholic Church, evoked in the chapter title.

Inside the officers' apartment is another kind of hell. Aarfy can't be made to acknowledge what he's done. "I only raped her once," he explains. Remembering earlier passages in the book, the reader realizes that this is the way Aarfy's always been. He is blind to all human suffering, and nothing he does seems wrong to him. When he suddenly collapses, it's not from remorse: he's just afraid he'll be arrested. Yet the sight of his trapped-animal terror is as sad and painful as anything else in the chapter.

The nightmare imagery continues into the next day. The 10 military policemen dragging Yossarian along, the sense of accelerating haste, the echoing footsteps on the tile floor—all these details seem dreamlike, not real. When Colonel Korn announces, "We're sending you home," Yossarian and the reader are both brought up short.

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