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Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Chapter 9 of Catch-22, who is the dead man in Yossarian's tent?

The dead man—whose name the reader learns later is Mudd—is a replacement pilot who was killed in a combat mission less than two hours after he arrived in the squadron on Pianosa. On his way to report for duty, he stopped to ask for directions and was immediately sent into action. Because he never had the chance to report for duty, Mudd was never made an official member of the squadron and could therefore never be officially dismissed. The tangible result of this particular catch-22 is that Mudd's personal effects are not allowed to be removed from the tent he was meant to share with Yossarian. For Yossarian, Mudd represents "the unknown soldier who never had a chance."

In Chapter 11 of Catch-22, how does Heller use the Glorious Loyalty Oath to satirize the country's fear of communism in the 1950s?

The Glorious Loyalty Oath is the creation of Captain Black, who deeply resents Major Major's promotion over him. Black announces that Major Major must be a communist. "They're taking over everything." He initiates a rule that everyone who comes to the intelligence tent must sign a loyalty oath, "and I'm not going to let that bastard Major Major sign one even if he wants to." Loyalty oaths begin to multiply, and before long the men must sign a loyalty oath even before they can eat. When the men complain, Captain Black tells them that no one who is truly loyal would mind signing a loyalty oath.

In Chapter 12 of Catch-22, how are the delays in the Bologna mission and the concept of fear connected?

In Chapter 12 the men are afraid of making their mission to Bologna because Sergeant Knight wanted extra flak suits for the mission. The rain keeps delaying the mission, which makes the men increasingly frightened. Their ordinary fears for their safety are, ironically, intensified by the delays. Waiting is a cruel aspect of war: waiting for the enemy to appear, waiting for the right time to attack, waiting for news of returning soldiers, waiting for the right weather conditions. The fear of the unknown was already difficult for the men to bear. They knew Bologna was a dangerous mission and that many would not return. The delays only exacerbated this feeling of foreboding and impending doom.

Major ___ de Coverley's first name is never mentioned in Chapter 13 of Catch-22. Is this a reflection of his military expertise?

Major ____ de Coverley, the squadron executive officer, is a mysterious figure to all the men on Pianosa. He's so awe-inspiring, with his "stern, patriarchal face," that no one ever dares to ask his first name. The "de" in his last name hints that he may even come from an ancient royal family, but Major ___ de Coverley is not, in fact, one bit impressive and is never seen engaging in combat. His job consists mainly of pitching horseshoes and renting apartments to the men who go on leave. Whenever he suspects that the United States is about to seize an Italian city, the major arranges to have himself photographed with the first American soldiers entering the wrecked city. That's the extent of his military skills.

In Chapter 13 of Catch-22, how does Yossarian's inexperience affect the outcome of the bombing run?

Colonel Cathcart "volunteers" his men to destroy the bridge spanning the Po River in Ferrara. For six days, nine missions fail to hit the bridge. Yossarian is still an inexperienced bombardier when it's his turn to bomb the bridge on the seventh day, and he misses the target. When Yossarian makes a second attempt, the bridge is destroyed, but one of the other planes is hit by antiaircraft fire. Everyone in the plane is killed, including Kraft, one of the younger pilots. This highlights one of the greatest tragedies of war: when young men in the prime of their lives must obey the orders of superior officers not knowing if they will make it back alive.

In Chapter 13 of Catch-22, what does Milo's strategy of selling eggs show about the twisted logic of war?

This plot point is one of the most confusing in the book. It appears that Milo's method of making a profit cannot actually work, but Milo insists that he has things all figured out. As he explains to Yossarian, "I buy them in Sicily at one cent apiece and transfer them to Malta secretly at four and a half cents apiece in order to get the price of eggs up to seven cents apiece when people come to Malta looking for them." Milo is producer, middleman, and consumer. Milo's logic is confusing, but it isn't meant to be completely understood. In the real world, it could never work.

What is the significance of the milk run mentioned at the end of Chapter 14 in Catch-22?

Milk run is slang for an easy flight mission, the implication being that the plane was as safe as if it had been delivering milk. When Catch-22 was written, most Americans had milk delivered to their homes rather than buying it from a store. In Chapter 14, when the first bombing run is made on Bologna, Yossarian loses his nerve, stages an intercom malfunction, and uses the malfunction as an excuse to turn the plane around. Rather than being able to congratulate himself on having cheated death, he is dismayed when he realizes that all the other planes on the mission have returned safely: his ruse was a waste, and he's unlikely to have a second chance at crying wolf.

In Chapter 15 of Catch-22, why does Aarfy pretend to be deaf on a second bombing raid on Bologna?

Aarfy is making fun of Yossarian for having faked the intercom malfunction a day earlier. On a deeper level, this scene speaks to the breakdown of communication that occurs time and time again throughout the book. Yossarian censors random words on soldiers' letters home; senior officers confuse the names of their men and give them senseless orders; and the chaplain's assistant sends form letters to the families of both deceased and wounded airmen. The scene further underscores Aarfy's utter insensitivity and his inability to read the feelings of other people. He behaves as if he's joking when he's actually being cruel.

In Chapter 17 of Catch-22, what is the Soldier in White's symbolic importance?

The soldier in white is one of Catch-22's most frightening characters, who "could not have been any sicker without being dead, and he soon was." Everything about him suggests the specter of death. To begin with, his shocking appearance makes it clear how severely he's been injured. Except for his mouth, he is entirely swathed in bandages, like a mummy; his mouth appears to be "an empty dark hole" with nothing inside; lead weights are "suspended darkly above him." Like a corpse, he is silent and motionless, and when he actually dies, nothing in his appearance changes, which suggests ongoing suffering.

In Chapter 18 of Catch-22, why does a hospital doctor make a deal with Yossarian to pose as a dying patient? What does it reveal about both characters?

During one of Yossarian's many hospital visits, his roommate dies overnight. As it happens, that patient's family has traveled from New York to bid farewell to him—but they arrive a few hours too late. A doctor asks Yossarian to pose as the dying soldier so that no one will have to go to the trouble of telling the family that he is already dead. In exchange, the doctor promises not to tell anyone that Yossarian has been lying about his liver symptoms. This deal would benefit both the doctor and Yossarian equally but points out the dishonest nature of both individuals.

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