Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Chapter 9 : Major Major Major Major | Summary



Major Major has had a tough life, and being made a major has only made it worse. There's his ridiculous name, for starters. His whole life feels like a practical joke, from his name to his "sickly resemblance" to movie star Henry Fonda.

Major Major does everything expected of him, though no one likes him better for it. He takes his college studies so seriously that the FBI suspects him of being a communist and opens a file on him. He's accepted for aviation cadet training and, through a bureaucratic mistake, is promoted to major soon afterward, making his name Major Major Major.

Major Major's life improves when he's sent overseas, where the other airmen are fairly friendly until Colonel Cathcart appoints him squadron commander. No one will talk to him after that.

When he hears from a C.I.D. man that an unknown censor at the hospital has been forging Washington Irving's name on soldiers' letters home, Major Major decides to start forging the same name on official documents. This act of rebellion cheers him up. A second C.I.D. man comes to investigate him. In the course of their discussion, Major Major realizes that each C.I.D. man believes the other to be a fake. To avoid detection, Major Major begins signing all documents "John Milton."


It stands to reason that a military squadron, like any social group, will have some members who are less popular than others. Though Major Major isn't well liked, Heller takes pains to show sympathy for him, as in this line: "Because he needed a friend so desperately, he never found one." Even his instructors promote him quickly so they won't have to see him. When he briefly finds some almost-friends, his rapture is touching to see.

Yossarian's dead roommate has been alluded to before. In this chapter, Heller reintroduces him and supplies some of his history, typically adding a few more details than he gave previously. Many of the important subplots in Catch-22 are treated this way: every time they're mentioned, the reader finds out a little more. In this way Heller is able to keep some secrets from the reader, which helps to maintain interest and suspense.

While Heller is careful to provide detailed backstories for many of Yossarian's companions, he does not present characters in order of importance. For the most part, Heller gives them equal time.

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