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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 41 : Snowden | Summary



Yossarian revives in the hospital. Two doctors are hovering over him, ready to make an incision. A colonel and a clerk are right behind them—the colonel waiting to clear Yossarian, the clerk waiting to admit him. To be certain he'll be admitted, Yossarian pretends to faint. That does the trick. The doctors roll him away and anesthetize him because that's what they feel like doing.

A strange man shakes Yossarian awake and sneers, "We've got your pal, buddy." In the middle of the night, another man shakes him awake and repeats the line and then glides away. Lying awake in the dark, Yossarian remembers Snowden—and suddenly every terrible detail of Snowden's death crowds back into his head.

Snowden is lying in the rear of the plane, his leg torn open. "I'm cold," he keeps saying, and all Yossarian can think to answer is "There, there." He repairs the wound as best he can, Snowden staring at him beseechingly. When Snowden gestures toward his armpit, Yossarian realizes that Snowden has been wounded inside his flak suit. Rapidly he cuts through the suit. Snowden's intestines slither out onto the floor. "I'm cold, I'm cold," Snowden says. Again, all Yossarian can answer is "There, there."


In ancient Rome, soothsayers predicted the future by studying the entrails of slaughtered animals. Snowden's message—the secret he's been hiding—is plain to see. According to Snowden, "Man was matter. ... Ripeness was all."

"Ripeness is all" is a quote from William Shakespeare's King Lear. In full, the line is: "Men must endure/Their going hence, even as their coming hither./Ripeness is all." The line's meaning is that everyone must be prepared for death. No one can avoid it.

Who is the "pal" the strange men mention to Yossarian? The chaplain hopes it's himself, but Yossarian knows that the men are referring to all the dead friends the army has taken from him. Still, the chaplain is also a friend, and in this chapter he does what a friend (and chaplain) should do: he appeals to Yossarian's conscience. The deal Yossarian made with Colonel Korn is shameful. He must not go through with it.

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