Catch-22 By Joseph Heller Summary and Analysis Chapter 41

Summary

Yossarian is in the hospital in a "fog of insensibility" as a result of the knife attack. He seems to be in an operating room. It isn't clear whether his perceptions are factual or if the "fog" causes delusion or distortion. The scene could even be a drug-induced dream. Doctors debate appropriate treatment; one of them says he wants to operate because he has never operated before. He asks which instrument is a scalpel. A clerk says there can be no operation until he officially admits Yossarian. A fat, gruff Colonel insists that the clerk can't admit Yossarian until the Colonel clears him. Whatever the level of reality, military procedure is functioning as usual. The doctors apparently apply ether, a popular anesthetic of the time; Yossarian is unconscious. When he comes to, Yossarian is woozy and still in a fog. He thinks that a thin, mean stranger is near him saying, "We've got your pal, buddy. We've got your pal." Colonel Korn, Aarfy, and the chaplain visit the patient separately. During the night, the stranger with the ominous message seems to return, this time smirking and jeering: "We've got your pal, buddy. We've got your pal." After the tormentor vanishes, Yossarian is "bathed in icy sweat." The cold terror reminds him of Snowden, the gunner whose death still haunts him.

Analysis

Although the core of this chapter is serious, even grim, Heller still has some fun with military procedure and ironic hypocrisy. The operating room is in chaos, but the clerk and the gruff Colonel insist on proper regimen, no matter how meaningless. The system has also found an acceptable way to explain the attack on Yossarian. Chaplain Tappman reports that Yossarian is officially credited for risking his life to save Colonel Cathcart and Colonel Korn from a Nazi assassin. Yossarian tells the chaplain about the "deal," as well as the identity of the stalker, snickering sardonically at the irony of the official report's hypocrisy. Throughout the novel, the question of what is real — and what isn't — persists, especially in this chapter.

Ghosts of the past catch up with Yossarian after his own life is threatened. Some critics suggest that Nately's whore embodies Yossarian's conscience and that the assault, coming immediately after the captain sells out to Cathcart and Korn, is meant to symbolize an attack of guilt.

Although that may be stretching a point, Yossarian's hospital stay is a time for reflection and reevaluation. Yossarian wonders who the dark stranger is and what is meant by, "We've got your pal." The chaplain suggests that the authorities certainly have him, the chaplain, but Yossarian doubts that the chaplain is the subject: "No, I don't think it's you he meant," Yossarian decides. "I think it must be someone like Nately or Dunbar. You know, someone who was killed in the war, like Clevinger, Orr, Dobbs, Kid Sampson or McWatt. . . . They've got all my pals, haven't they?" One "pal" whom Yossarian barely knew was Snowden. After the evil stranger visits in the dead of night, Yossarian, a "throbbing chill" running up his legs, realizes that this will be "one of those sleepless, bedridden nights that [will] take an eternity to dissolve into dawn." He flashes back to the fated mission to Avignon. Dobbs begs Yossarian to help the radio-gunner. Yossarian crawls to Snowden and tries to administer morphine, but there is none in the first-aid kit. Milo has taken it all and left a note that says, "What's good for M & M Enterprises is good for the country." Yossarian applies a tourniquet to the wound on the outside of Snowden's thigh. In a soft, frail, childlike voice, the gunner repeats, "I'm cold. I'm cold." Yossarian is reasonably satisfied with the first aid he has rendered, but Snowden shakes his head and motions slightly with his chin, toward his armpit. Startled, Yossarian realizes that Snowden is wounded inside his flak suit. As Yossarian opens the gunner's suit, Snowden's insides slither to the floor: "liver, lungs, kidneys, ribs, stomach and bits of the stewed tomatoes Snowden had eaten that day for lunch." There is little Yossarian can do but cover the man with a parachute and say, over and over, "There, there."

Throughout this chapter, Yossarian reflects on his real pals in the war — not Colonel Korn or Colonel Cathcart but young men who, like, Yossarian, came to battle as innocent boys but were born to a horrible understanding. Most of them are dead. They haunt his memory, none more than Snowden. In war, good young men die, and Yossarian has come to the painful realization that he can not change that. There is, however, one thing that he can do.

Glossary

acrimonious bitter and caustic in temper, manner, or speech.

sardonic disdainfully or bitterly sarcastic and ironic.

sulfanilamide a sulfur compound used in treatment of various bacterial infections.

gangrene decay of body tissue when the blood supply is obstructed by injury or disease.

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