Catch-22 | Study Guide

Joseph Heller

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Catch-22 | Symbols



The phrase "catch-22" and the many ways in which its underlying concept of an absurd paradox determines one's fate symbolizes Heller's central theme of the meaninglessness of war. Almost every chapter of the novel includes a catch-22. This paradoxical world does not make sense.

To Yossarian, the most important catch-22 is the one that makes him continue flying combat missions. If he can prove he's crazy, he can stop flying and go home. But if he wants to go home, that proves he's sane—and therefore he can't be sent home.

Soldier in White

Most unknown soldiers are memorialized at grave sites. In Catch-22 the silent and motionless "soldier in white" stands for all nameless or suffering soldiers. He is completely wrapped in bandages, like a mummy. The color of the bandages takes a metaphorical meaning of how undeserving people/soldiers are of such violence and how guiltless they are in the violence they commit.

Although more than one "soldier in white" is sent to the hospital, the patients believe it's the same man each time—a symbol of the unknown soldier's universal quality.

Aerial Photos

The photos represent the pointless priorities of the squadron superiors, who make the soldiers fly in formations that are photogenic rather than effective. This is senseless and made even worse by the fact that General Peckem was only joking when he asked to see "bomb patterns" in aerial pictures.


The hospital represents safety and survival to Yossarian, even though it rarely helps heal or cure anyone. Still, Yossarian takes refuge there whenever life gets too stressful. In the hospital life is simple: he can either die or get better. Since he's already fine, it's easy to get better.

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