Absurdity in Catch 22


Joseph Heller’s novel, “Catch 22” is a satirical novel of war and absurdity. Examples of absurdity in the novel “Catch 22 are abundant. We can find examples of absurdity in our own lives too.

Absurdity of Monetary Selfishness in Catch 22

A passage in chapter four, the conversation between Doc Daneeka and Yossarian, is important because it brings to the surface and later questions the much practiced idea of exchanging favors with one another. This practice is summed up with the last question in this chapter, “What else is there?” In other words, one who exchanges favors with someone else is only acting in their own self interest, and as this novel eventually shows, there is much more than that; there is also love, the only true motivation for morality. One character which acts as though there is nothing but the self is Havermeyer, who in chapter 38 reveals what his motivation in life and for joining the reserves is money. The fleeting satisfaction, which Havermeyer obtains from money connects Daneeka and Yossarian’s conversation into the novel as a whole. With the risk of death, it can be said that Havermeyer’s monetary motivation for joining the military is also absurd.

Absurd Rationalization in “Catch 22”

Another example of absurdity in “Catch 22” is in the last paragraph in chapter 17 (The Soldier in White). It discusses how each day that Yossarian faced was another dangerous mission against morality. He had been surviving these missions for twenty-eight years — despite the fact there were catastrophes lurking everywhere. What is important in this passage is its parallelism to the ever-increasing number of missions needed to be flown. It is rationalization which justifies the increase in required missions; similarly there is rationalization when one commits an immoral act. This episode points out the effect of such rationalizations or Catch 22s in life; they can cause one to simply give up on morality because he or she may think that it is hopeless to be moral in a word with so much evil in it. The reference to Yosarrian’s miraculously surviving these missions against morality fits into the book as a whole because it alludes to one of the main theological debates presented in the book: How does one account for a loving God when there is evil in the world?

Absurdity in Our Own Lives

As an example of absurdity in our own lives, consider that it is illegal to speed, but it is not illegal to use radar detectors. One commercial for radar detectors, which I heard on the radio, went as follows: “Drive responsibly and protect yourself from hundred dollar speeding tickets.” This relates to the ideas about absurdity as we discussed them in class because these two ideas are inconsistent; one cannot simultaneously be a responsible driver and speed.

Absurdity in the Fine Print

A second way of thinking of absurdity in Catch 22 is that of “fine print.” In the novel, the characters were subjected to contradictory fine print contracts. In current times, there are similar real life examples. Consider that credit card agencies send offers for credit cards that states that if you chose to get insurance protecting the card that in order to be approved for the card you have to sign your name. In fine print it was stated that by signing your name for the card you automatically agreed to the theft insurance! against theft, there would be an additional annual fee. There were even two different boxes on this form, one to check if you wanted the insurance and one to check if you didn’t want it.

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