Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In Chapter 20 of Catch-22, why is the chaplain forced to sleep in a tent in the woods?

The chaplain makes everyone around him uncomfortable. Part of the reason for this is that he is a shy and awkward person, but the real explanation is that none of the men want to be reminded of religion. It's one thing to "maintain liaison with the Lord," but they don't want the chaplain "hanging around twenty-four hours a day." Colonel Korn rationalizes his decision to keep the chaplain from living with the officers by claiming that living in a tent like the airmen would make it easier for him to communicate with them. Secluding the chaplain only seems to make the situation worse.

In Chapter 20 of Catch-22, what is negative aspect of Yossarian and Major Major's personalities is revealed?

In the first chapter of the book, Yossarian idly forges the chaplain's name to a letter he's censoring. He signs "Washington Irving" and "Irving Washington" to other letters. Later, Major Major copies Yossarian by signing "Washington Irving" on official documents. These careless pranks have a negative effect that neither man could have expected: the Criminal Investigation Department (C.I.D.) sends a man to investigate the chaplain for forgery and the interception of Major Major's correspondence. Unfortunately, the typically timid chaplain must bear the consequences of Yossarian's and Major Major's flippant actions even though neither of them had any intention of harming the chaplain.

In Chapter 21 of Catch-22, Colonel Cathcart keeps increasing the number of combat missions his men must fly. What does this decision reveal about Cathcart's character?

Colonel Cathcart is deeply insecure. He believes the most visible way to attract attention from his superiors is to force the men in his squadron to fly more missions than men in any of the other squadrons. Cathcart suspects that none of his superiors is especially impressed by this, which makes him wonder whether he should further increase the number of missions his men fly. However, his fervent desire to be promoted overshadows his responsibility to keep his men safe. Forcing them to fly more missions would only place them at greater risk, but Cathcart puts his selfish desires before those of his men.

In Chapter 22 of Catch-22, how do Dobbs's character traits lead to the death of Colonel Cathcart?

On the mission to Avignon, Dobbs panics and grabs the flight controls away from the 15-year-old pilot, Huple. This sends the plane into a steep dive until Huple can get the controls back, by which time the plane has come under fire. Radio-gunner Snowden is mortally wounded. Convinced that he's the worst pilot in the world, Dobbs becomes a "shattered wreck of a virile young man." He knows that Yossarian dreads flying more combat missions; he also knows that Colonel Cathcart is responsible for increasing the required number of missions. He therefore assumes that Yossarian will want to join him in a plot to shoot Cathcart. "He's going to kill us all if we let him go on forever," Dobbs tells Yossarian. "We've got to kill him first." Dobbs's lack of self-assurance and his unwillingness to continue flying entice him to kill the colonel. He sees a friendly ally in Yossarian, who feels the same. Dobbs tries to convince him to join his scheme so he doesn't have to commit the crime alone.

In Chapter 23 of Catch-22, how does Aarfy's memory of his college days reflect the horrors of war?

Aarfy has a nostalgic recollection of tricking two high school girls into his college fraternity house and gang-raping them for over 10 hours. He is especially proud of having hit them when they "started to complain." Aarfy exhibits his sadistic qualities and feels no remorse for the terrible things he and his friends did to the girls. Soldiers often lose part of their humanity and sense of compassion as they witness and experience atrocities committed during wartime. Aarfy seems to have already lost part of his humanity by committing those crimes as a college student. The fact that he retells the story and feels no regret further underscores his lack of compassion.

In Chapter 23 of Catch-22, why does "Nately's old man" insult the United States?

"Nately's old man" taunts the boy by saying that the United States will ultimately lose the war. Because Italy has fallen to the Allied forces, Italian soldiers are no longer dying. German and American soldiers are still at war, meaning that German and American soldiers are still being killed. The old man adds that each of the many nationalities in the war is fighting for its own country. "Surely so many countries can't all be worth dying for," he says. Nately is optimistic and hopeful for the future, but the old man, who has probably experienced more of war than Nately, is perhaps jaded and sees the world more clearly.

In Chapter 24 of Catch-22, how does Milo paying the Germans to bomb his squadron reveal his character and that of the world?

Milo's highest priority is making a profit, no matter the cost to others. The Germans are members of his syndicate, and he wants to protect their rights as shareholders. His purchase of all the cotton in Egypt has turned out to be a bad investment. His business is headed for collapse when he contracts with Germany to bomb his own outfit. Faced with worldwide hatred, Milo reveals that he made a huge profit in the bombing deal. He has enough money to reimburse the U.S. government for "all the people and property he had destroyed," though he sees no reason to actually take that step. Since Milo made so much profit from the deal, the world goes back to respecting him.

In Chapter 25 of Catch-22, what does Corporal Whitcomb's promotion show about the military?

Whitcomb has been itching to carry out his idea of using form letters for the families of killed or wounded soldiers, but the chaplain has vetoed this idea every time Whitcomb has mentioned it. Whitcomb goes over the chaplain's head and suggests the idea to Colonel Cathcart, adding that the letters could carry the colonel's signature. Cathcart is delighted by this notion, certain that the letters could get him into the Saturday Evening Post. He promotes Whitcomb for his originality. Whitcomb's promotion has nothing to do with his valor on the battlefield or his leadership skills. It's simply a reward for a mundane idea that carries little military value. This shows yet another side of the military's irrationality.

In Chapter 26 of Catch-22, how is Yossarian wounded, and how does it highlight the military's incompetence?

Yossarian receives his wound as the consequence of Aarfy's terrible navigational skills. Although he trained to be a lead navigator, Aarfy inevitably gets lost on combat missions, a typical catch-22. On a mission over Leghorn, Aarfy leads the plane straight into enemy fire (another unfortunate outcome). Yossarian is hit by flak that tears an artery in his thigh. It's interesting to note Aarfy's utter lack of direction given his thorough military training. This once again highlights the military's incompetence. Aarfy's ineptitude triggers an unlikely chain reaction that results in Yossarian's return to the hospital, although the circumstances of his stay are no longer as favorable as they once were.

In Chapter 27 of Catch-22, what is the meaning of the chaplain's recurring nightmare?.

Whereas the chaplain once had terrible dreams about his family dying, his current nightmare is that he's swimming in water over his head and a shark is eating his leg in the same place that Yossarian was wounded. The symbolism in the chaplain being over his head is clear; the shark wound is less easy to interpret, though Yossarian's psychiatrist finds it extremely disturbing. Perhaps the dream is a way for the chaplain to empathize with the pain a wounded soldier experiences. The chaplain will never likely be engaged in combat, but he is there to comfort and bring peace to soldiers. The only way for him to truly relate to Yossarian's pain, short of being wounded himself, is to "suffer" the same wound in his mind.

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