Catch 22: Satire On Wwii Essay

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Catch 22: Satire On Wwii

Catch 22: Satire on WWII


Joseph Heller who is perhaps one of the most famous writers of the 20th
century writes on some emotional issues such as war. He does not deal with these
issues in the normal fashion instead he criticizes them and the institutions
that help carry these things out. Heller in fact goes beyond criticizing he
satirizes. Throughout his two major novels Catch-22 and Good as Gold he
satirizes almost all of America's respectful institutions. To truly understand
these novels you must recognize that they are satires and why they are.
Catch-22 is a satire on World War II. This novel takes place on the
small island of Pianosa in the Mediterranean sea late in the war when Germany is
no longer a threat. It is the struggle of one man, Yossarian, to survive the war.
Throughout this novel Yossarian is trying to escape the war, and in order to do
so he does many improper things.
Good as Gold is about a Jewish man named Gold. It is about Gold's
experiences with the government while being employed in the White House. It also
deals in detail with Gold's family problems and Gold's struggle to write a book
on the contemporary Jewish society.
Throughout these two novels, Catch-22 and Good as Gold, Heller
criticizes many institutions. In Good as Gold it is the White House and
government as a whole, and in Catch-22 it is the military and medical
institutions.
In Catch-22 the military is heavily satirized. Heller does this by
criticizing it. Karl agrees with this statement by offering an example of the
satire of both the military and civilian institutions in Catch-22:

The influence of mail clerk Wintergreen, the computer
foul-up that promotes Major Major, and the petty
rivalries among officers satirizes the communication
failures and the cut-throat competition Heller saw
within both the civilian and military bureaucracies of
the 1950's. Even the Civil Rights movement, not yet
widespread in the 1950's, is satirized in Colonel
Cathcart attitudes toward enlisted men. (23)

Karl summarizes the satirazation of the military with this:

The enemy in Heller's book is not simply the chaos of
war, but also the deadly inhuman bureaucracy of the
military-economic establishment which clams to be a
stay against chaos while it threatens human life more
insidiously then battle itself.

Heller also questions the need for the death and carnage throughout the novel
asking if it is really necessary.
Many other institutions are also satirized in Catch-22. Bryant points
out the extreme variety of institutions that Heller satirizes with this "His
satire is directed toward the institutions that make up society, business,
psychiatry, medicine, law, the military. . ." (Bryant 228).
Medicine is one of the institutions that is heavily satirized. He does
this by portraying medicine as a science that is almost barbaric and not exact.
He writes of how the men of the squadron used the hospital as a way out of
battle. Catch-22 it self begins in the hospital where Yossarian is faking
Jaundice of the liver in order to avoid battle. Many characters also take this
up as a form of staying out of battle. Heller addresses the barbarism of
medicine with Dr. Daneeka's aides. He writes of them painting peoples gums and
feet violet in order to ward of certain illnesses.
In Catch-22 Heller also satirize religion. This occurs in Chapter
Nineteen when Colonel Cathcart is aspiring to become a general. In this chapter
religion is satirized in a number of ways. The first is when Colonel Cathcart
uses it for a social icon to improve his chance of becoming general. Dr. Peek
agrees with this by saying ". . . we see a satire on religion used as a matter
of social status" (25).
In Catch-22 there is also one more major satiriazation it is that of
industry and finance. The reason this is true is because of certain things Milo
says such as "What's good for the syndicate is good for the country" (Karl 34).
Good as Gold is manly a satire on the White House and government. Heller
portrays the White House as being, "disgraceful," according to Merrill. Merrill
believes that this work criticizes politics almost from page one and that it
does an excellent job of it in fact he writes "A number of reviewers found that
the Washington satire ‘brilliant and incisive'. . . (103).
The other device that Heller uses is humor. Catch-22 is so satirical in
places that it is hilarious. Mr. Heller's talent and use of comedy is so
prevalent in these novels that it caused The Atlantic to write "Mr. Heller's
talents for comedy are so considerable that one gets irritated when he keeps
pressing" (Phoenix 31). Other critics such as Brustein also wrote that Heller's
works are extremely hilarious (228).
Although the novel is funny is uses humor in order to further satirize.
Dr. Peek agrees with this statement by saying that "It's [Catch-22] not a flag-
-waving war adventure, but a novel using humor to discredit or ridicule aspects
of out society" (24). Dr. Peek also goes on to comment on the amount of comical
dialogue in the novel. He says that it contains a significant amount of this
dialogue and that it further adds to the humor (11). Heller even takes his humor
as far as naming his characters comically. Dr. Karl points out the comical
naming of Major Major which turns into Major Major Major Major with his
accidental promotion (11). The attaching of the prefix "Hungry" to Joe's name in
the novel is also comical, but Heller does not stop at that he goes as far as
naming a character Scheisskopf, the parade crazed lieutenant, which actually
means "shithead." (Peek 10).
Not only does Heller name characters comically he makes them act
comically. The Loyalty Oath Crusade is an excellent example of this. This
crusade is so completely absurd that it is humorous. Another example of the
humor in this novel is the parades that Scheisskopf orders. It is not that he
orders these parades that is comical it is his how serious he takes them. He
comments to himself throughout the novel on how he will improve his parades.
These ideas include nailing his marchers arms in the proper place.
Perhaps one of the best examples of a comical character and who acts
satirically is Milo Minderbinder. Milo runs a black-market syndicate in which he
claims everyone gets the profits. Milo's company acts as everything from a food
supplier to a mercenary. The Germans hire Milo to do a number of missions. The
one that Heller writes about in particular detail is the mission where Milo
bombs his own squadron killing countless lives. Heller writes that Milo claimed
responsibility for the act. As one would expect Milo would be arrested, but
Heller carries the satire further by having Milo go scott free after he says "it
made a huge net profit" (Peek 27).
Another of Heller's comical characters is the character of Peckem. In
the novel Peckem along with Colonel Korn plot to take over General Dreedle's
command. They do this by placing priority on such things as a perfect bomb
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