Today is Joseph Heller’s great and most famous novels birthday. Published in 1961, “Catch 22” tells the equally tragic as hilarious story of Yossarian, an American captain during the Second World War, and his friends. The novel is mostly known and appreciated for its anti-war themes, but Heller explores in his novel many other themes.
In “Catch-22”, corruption and capitalism at its most extreme is portrayed and explored, especially trough the character of Milo, one of the most unlikeable characters. Milo is desperate to make profit, doing all sorts of irrational schemes to make money. As the book nears its end, Milo springs – as often during extreme capitalism – out of control, caring more and more about profit instead of people. The results are horrendous, as Heller masterfully describes in this passage: “This time Milo had gone too far. Bombing his own men and planes was more than even the most phlegmatic observer could stomach, and it looked like the end for him. … Milo was all washed up until he opened his books to the public and disclosed the tremendous profit he had made” (chapter 24, page 269).
The novel also centers one of the most iconic atheists. Yossarian, a young man full of idealism, sees the horrors of war and comes to the conclusion that no god can exist in such a world. He’s reasoning is touching and relatable, one of the more truly honest depictions of a person’s lost of faith. I myself can identify with Yossarian on this point, since I became an atheist after hearing my teacher give the numbers of dead men (as well as women and children) during the second world war.
There is also a chapter (no spoilers!) depicting violence towards a woman, and there Heller raises the problem of how societies used to not care at all about such problems – and makes one think if more could still be done.
“Catch- 22” is rich with lively and complex characters. They are wacky characters, sympathetic characters, tragic characters and bizarre and evil characters. I could go on and on about all of the themes and characters explored in “Catch- 22”. There was a film adaption from 1970, which in no way is as good as the book, but has its moments. To end this post, here’s a clip of one of the most funny scenes from the film (you might want to make it full screen):