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History And Satire In Joseph Heller's Catch 22

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 929 words Published: 28th Apr 2017

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The novel Catch 22 was published in 1961 by Joseph Heller. It recounted the story of a group of soldiers fighting in World War II. The storyline is centered around times of jocularity and solemnness. The more humorous times are usually the satirical illustrations that Heller uses to scorn various facets of American society. The more serious events, like the gruesome death of Snowden, make the novel as a whole seem like more of a dark comedy. The many deaths and disturbing images are a way to point out the horrors of war. This is how World War II actually was and therefore the novel can be viewed a story about history. Through these different illustrations, Joseph Heller's Catch 22 exemplifies the qualities of both a satirical and historical novel.

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The opposite of this type of treatment occurs to the character Mudd, otherwise known as the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Mudd was killed before he could formally join the squadron and his belongings were left in the tent he would be staying in. Although he never returned for his belongings (because he was dead), the company treated him as if he was actually alive. The higher officers would also not assign anyone new to Yossarian's tent because Mudd's things were still in it. Both characters, Mudd and Daneeka, are treated in a humorous way that is a form of ridicule of the military. Major Major Major is another officer in the 256th squadron. Due to a computer error, he is promoted to a higher rank now being called Major Major Major Major. Officers should not be promoted in this way, and higher ranking officials should make sure that there are no errors before appointing someone. This is not the case however for Major Major as he is assigned a higher rank for doing absolutely nothing.

Not only does Heller satirize the military, but he also scorns American industry through the character Milo Minderbender. Milo will do whatever it takes to make money. He always says, "'the syndicate makes the profit. And everybody has a share (231).'" He runs several "underground" sales for a variety of goods. Not only does he supply to his own country, America, but he also gives to the Germans, who America is fighting against. In one particular instance, Milo agrees with the Americans to bomb the Germans, and he also contracts with the Germans to bomb the American planes. One night, the Germans begin bombing Squadron 256's camp, killing several men. This attack was led by Milo who after everything transpired says, "'In a democracy, the government is the people…We're people, aren't we? So we might just as well keep the money and eliminate the middleman. Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry. If we pay the government everything we owe it, we'll only be encouraging government control and discouraging other individuals from bombing their own men and planes. We'll be taking away their incentive.'" After this small explanation, Milo is forgiven for bombing his own camp. This particular instance points out that money makes people do crazy and sometimes horrible things. Due to the fact that Milo made so much money through his initiative, M&M Enterprises, everyone else pardons him for his treasonous acts.

Satire is not the only type of novel that Catch 22 exemplifies. It can also be argued that it is a historical novel. The book itself centers on World War II, and a group of fictional characters who are fighting in it. History plays a large part in the development of the plot. The Americans are fighting the Germans and on many occasions the Americans are bombing the Germans or vice versa. This event happened in World War II although Yossarian and the other squadron members were not actually the bombers. Other examples of history in Catch 22 include the gruesome ones about character's physical and emotional traumas as a result of the war. In one example, Yossarian is trying to treat the injured Snowden of an injury. Yossarian is treating his leg and is unaware that Snowden also has another wound on his chest. Heller writes "Yossarian ripped open the snaps of Snowden's flak suit and heard himself scream wildly as Snowden's insides slithered down to the floor in a soggy pile and just kept dripping out (439)." This disgusting passage is a good example of the horrible things that can happen in any war. Physical injuries are just as prevalent as the emotional ones that the war creates. These revulsions were happening in World War II, and they are also represented in the novel. This is another reason why Catch 22 is a historical novel.

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The novel itself is an accurate example of a satire in a historical setting. The title, Catch 22, is a satire in itself in that "Specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind (46)." In other words, if one was not afraid of dying he would not complain about doing a set number of missions. If one was sane, they would ask to be grounded and not fly anymore and be forced to continue his missions. It was a paradox that was impossible to escape. This "Catch" was the reason that many soldiers died, because they kept having to fly missions. These deaths are a good example of what happened during World War II. Catch 22, by Joseph Heller, is a novel that embodies the characteristics of a satiric and historic novel. Would the events in the novel actually take place if there was a Catch 22?


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