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Catch-22 | Chapter 5 : Chief White Halfoat | Summary

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Summary

Doc Daneeka is given even more space as this chapter opens. It turns out that his shifty Staten Island medical practice was beginning to collapse when the war suddenly broke out and other local doctors enlisted. He did his best to declare himself unfit for military service, but the military tracked him down.

Yossarian once again asks Doc Daneeka to ground him. The doctor refuses, offering catch-22 as the reason his hands are tied.

The second half of the chapter is a chillingly detailed flashback to the mission in Avignon, France, that killed Snowden. Aarfy—Captain Aardvark—is described for the first time. Yossarian remembers Aarfy as having been strangely upbeat while the plane was under fire, "making affable small talk" with the pilots. "And Snowden lay dying in back."

Analysis

This is the first chapter to flash back to the Avignon mission. Although it's become clear that Heller will often employ abrupt changes of subject, the sudden shift in tone is startling—especially as it directly follows Chief White Halfoat's rambling and unconvincing story of his family's treatment by the white man.

Most of the book is told through Yossarian's point of view, and that includes what he's thinking. As happens with everyone, traumatic memories sometimes suddenly rush into Yossarian's brain. They're no less traumatic for following something funny he'd been thinking about. Every time Yossarian remembers the Avignon mission, he lives through it with fresh horror.

This chapter offers a definition of the term catch-22. Doc's explanation is quite thorough, but catch-22 means different things throughout the book. Sometimes it merely seems like a shorthand way to describe situations that are irrational. The classic double-bind explanation solidified only after the phrase entered popular conversation.

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