Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Chapter 35 of Catch-22, why is Dobbs's death described in more detail than Nately's?

Nately is a more likable character than Dobbs, and the reader is better acquainted with him. To read of his death in what seems to be a single, tossed-off line seems surprising at first. But Heller is a careful writer, and the way he has chosen to describe the scene has great literary and emotional impact. We know that Dobbs is a bad pilot, so it is not a surprise when he blunders and dies in a crash. Heller's beautifully observed paragraph about the plane crash begins with an almost industrial-sounding description of the plane's descent and ends with the lyrical image of a white water lily "washed back in a geyser of apple-green bubbles" as the plane sinks. To give equal weight to Nately's crash would have weakened the effect of that perfect passage. Instead, Heller tells us abruptly that Nately, in the other crash, was killed too. Dobbs's crash reveals the strange beauty of the plane's last few seconds. Nately's feels like a slap in the face.

In Chapter 36 of Catch-22, the chaplain is taken for questioning. Is the scene meant to be realistic or a parody, and what it is meant to invoke?

The officers lead the chaplain to a basement room at Group Headquarters. The room is damp and gloomy, with stone walls and cobwebs everywhere. The chaplain is made to sit "in a hard, straight-backed chair that stood behind a small, bare table." The table is under a blinding spotlight. In short, the chaplain is questioned in the classic spy-movie setting. The scene is not meant to be realistic. The brass knuckles and box of matches on the table are another movie-inspired touch. The scene is an over-the-top parody of the spy genre, meant to invoke the paranoia of the Cold War and the McCarthy witch hunts.

In Chapter 37 of Catch-22, what does Scheisskopf's promotion say about the military system?

Nothing good, certainly. Scheisskopf's character has never evolved from the first time he is introduced. His ascent through the ranks has taught him nothing. He's not interested in any aspect of soldiering, and he scorns the men under him. When he's in the reserves, he cares only about parades; now that he's a commanding officer, he cares only about parades. It's alarming to contemplate what will happen to the men under his command whose lives he's now responsible for. Rather than assuming the duties that come with his promotion, Scheisskopf continues to focus on the image of his soldiers rather than their readiness for combat.

In Chapter 38 of Catch-22, when informed that Yossarian refuses to fly more missions, Colonel Korn jeers, "Who does he think he is—Achilles?" What is the significance of this reference?

Achilles is a character in Greek mythology celebrated as one of the greatest military heroes. Homer's Iliad centers on his triumphs in the Trojan War. At the beginning of the epic poem, Achilles is enraged over a dishonor he has suffered at the hands of King Agamemnon. Achilles refuses to join the Greeks in battle and asks the gods to help the Trojans so that, when he returns to the fight, he'll have a chance to regain his honor. When his best friend Patroclus is killed by Hector, Achilles fights a duel with Hector and wins. In triumph, he fastens Hector's body to his chariot and drags it in full view of the public. When Colonel Korn compares Yossarian to Achilles, he is mocking Yossarian, who's certainly not a military hero. But Korn's analogy is backward. Yossarian quit flying missions after Nately's death, whereas Achilles joined the battle after the death of Patroclus. Either the colonel doesn't know he's wrong, or he doesn't care.

In Chapter 38 of Catch-22, Heller describes the likeliest way Yossarian can expect to be killed. Consider how this might heighten the suspense.

Nately's girlfriend irrationally believes that Yossarian is the one responsible for Nately's death; similarly, she also irrationally blames Yossarian for breaking the news of the death to her. Although she seemed so hardened and worldly wise whenever she and Nately were together, she is now filled with "profound, debilitating, humble grief." She's still determined to kill Yossarian, however. He may be free of combat missions, but now he's presented with a new death threat that heightens suspense. Nately's girlfriend will stalk him until the end of the novel, popping up out of the most unlikely of places and trying to stab him.

In Chapter 38 of Catch-22, Yossarian learns the fate of Nately's whore and her kid sister. How does his reaction compare to Captain Black's, and what does the difference signify?

The difference between the men's reactions shows two ways of reacting to the horrors of war. Captain Black gleefully tells Yossarian that the brothel in Rome, where Nately's whore and her kid sister lived, has just recently been busted by the police: "The M.P.s busted the whole apartment up and drove the whores right out." Yossarian, unlike Black, does not find this funny. Concerned about the kid sister, Yossarian asks what happened to her, and Black tells him that she was "flushed away with the rest of the broads. Right out into the street." Yossarian is worried about the kid sister's living conditions and safety. With hopes of finding her, he decides to go to Rome without leave, but he never sees her again.

In Catch-22, why is Chapter 39 titled "The Eternal City"?

Rome has been called the "Eternal City" for centuries. Ancient Romans believed that, out of all the world's empires, only Rome would last forever. In Virgil's Aeneid, Jupiter—the leader of the Roman gods—announces that he will give the Romans "a city without end." In this chapter the phrase "The Eternal City" is used as a contradiction. The Rome where Yossarian hunts for the kid sister is a city of horror, half destroyed by bombs, with ghostly looking figures and starving children roaming the streets. Heller has not presented the full horror of war until this point, but Chapter 39 reads like an endless scroll of devastation. The old man in the brothel, who kept taunting Nately by saying that Italy would last forever, has disappeared amid the ruin.

In Chapter 39 of Catch-22, how does Michaela's fate underscore the theme of senseless death?

Aarfy rapes Michaela and then pushes her out of the window to her death. Her body is lying on the street outside the officers' apartment when Yossarian arrives. Aarfy is in the apartment, "pacing about uneasily with a pompous, slightly uncomfortable smile." He tells Yossarian that everything will be all right: "I only raped her once." Aarfy's nervous good cheer vanishes when he and Yossarian hear sirens nearing the apartment. Officers storm into the apartment—and arrest Yossarian for being AWOL. Aarfy has been shown to be a monster, but he was right: no one's going to punish him for killing a poor Italian servant girl.

In Chapter 41 of Catch-22, what are the implications of Snowden's secret?

All the time Yossarian has been frantically bandaging Snowden's leg, Snowden has been mortally wounded inside his flak suit. When Yossarian rips the suit open, Snowden's intestines fall out onto the floor, revealing Snowden's secret: "The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden's secret." Readers might consider the idea that the human spirit and the human body are separate entities and how this might relate to the meaning of the novel and, possibly, to their personal world view. Snowden is living, or in this case dying, proof that war ultimately strips a man of his spirit. Experiencing the horrors of war will invariably change a man and forever alter his view of the world. Snowden will never get to experience life after war, but it is clear to Yossarian in that very moment that Snowden had already lost his spirit and the only thing left to lose was his body, which was now torn apart by the atrocity of war.

In Chapter 42 of Catch-22, what happens to Orr? How does Yossarian's perspective change as a result?

Hysterical with joy, the chaplain tells Yossarian and Major Danby that Orr made it safely to Sweden on his life raft. The chaplain's actual words are that Orr was "washed ashore," but Yossarian knows that he rowed there. He knows that Orr planned his escape for months, rehearsing what to do when his plane was shot down. Finally Yossarian begins to regret his treatment of the annoying Orr. "He rehearsed for it on every mission he flew," mourns Yossarian. "And I wouldn't go with him!" Yossarian decides that, if Orr can make it to Sweden, maybe he can too. He's terrified, but for the first time since he enlisted, he has hope.

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