Catch-22 By Joseph Heller Summary and Analysis Chapters 15-16

Summary

Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren are the squadron's "inoffensive . . . mild, soft-spoken" joint squadron officers. They love the war: "Nothing so wonderful as war had ever happened to them before." The two are responsible for combat assignments; they joyfully volunteer themselves for every mission and have flown hundreds. When they learn of Yossarian's excuse for returning from the Bologna run, they call him to a public reprimand. In their friendly, cheerful manner, the squadron officers suggest that airmen make sure there is an important reason before turning back from a mission; a faulty intercom does not qualify. But to prove they bear no hostility toward Yossarian, Piltchard and Wren assign him to fly lead bombardier, with McWatt as his pilot, in the first formation when the squadron returns to Bologna the next day — a mission necessitated because the ammunition dumps were not destroyed the first time. Yossarian's position will be one of importance and more than the usual danger. The squadron expects another milk run but is in for a surprise. Immediately following the second raid on Bologna, Yossarian heads for Rome where he meets the wistfully enchanting Luciana.

Analysis

Heller's description of the second mission to Bologna is one of the most vivid and realistic depictions of battle in the novel. The contrast with the tranquility of the squadron meeting is immediate; his use of literary devices such as simile is spare but overwhelmingly effective. Chapter 15 opens with the introduction of placid Piltchard and Wren and their tone of calm efficiency. Without warning, all hell breaks loose as the run over Bologna is one of the roughest that anyone has seen. As the lead bombardier in the first formation, Yossarian must determine when to open the bomb bay doors and when to drop his bombs; the other bombardiers will follow his lead. Because the ground defense knows this, the bomber flying point is their primary target. Yossarian is trapped:

Heavy flak was everywhere! . . . There was nothing he could do until his bombs dropped but look back into the bombsight. . . . He was trembling steadily as the plane crept ahead. He could hear the hollow boom-boom-boom-boom of the flak pounding all around him in overlapping measures of four, the sharp, piercing crack! of a single shell exploding suddenly very close by. . . . He wanted to sob. The engines droned on monotonously like a fat, lazy fly.

The bombs hit the targets, resulting in a "churning wave of pink and gray and coal-black smoke" that rolls and quakes "convulsively in its bowels as though from great blasts of red and white and golden sheet lightning."

As Yossarian screams at McWatt to take evasive action as soon as the bombs are away, Aardvark (Aarfy), the navigator, annoyingly invades the bombardier's space and frustrates his movement, refusing to leave. Flak concussions slam against the plane. Air fills with sweet clouds of blue smoke. Yossarian is certain that he is about to die until he notices that the smoke comes from his "grinning, moon-faced navigator" who has struck a match and is calmly lighting his pipe. The plane is hit, and "[t]housands of tiny bits of white paper (from Aarfy's maps) were falling like snowflakes inside."

Suddenly, miraculously, the plane is out of range of the land guns. But Yossarian has no time for celebration:

Behind him, men were dying. Strung out for miles in a stricken, tortuous, squirming line, the other flights of planes were making the same hazardous journey . . . through the swollen masses of new and old bursts of flak like rats racing in a pack through their own droppings.

Heller's similes create fresh, revealing comparisons. Yossarian's plane is like a lazy, fat fly targeted for extinction. The following planes look like terrified rats in a maze of flak.

The contrast of Chapter 16 is just as striking. The very night of the Bologna mission, Yossarian is in Rome on leave. Juxtaposed against the terror, confusion and death of the raid on Bologna, Heller places the youthful joy and sensual celebration of Yossarian's brief romance with Luciana. She is a "tall, earthy, exuberant girl with long hair and a pretty face, a buxom, delightful, firtatious girl." She also has her secrets, and a little mystery never hurts.

Yossarian meets Luciana at the Allied officers' club; they spend the evening flirting and jousting verbally:

"All right, I'll dance with you," she said, before Yossarian could even speak. "But I won't let you sleep with me."

"Who asked you?" Yossarian asked her.

"You don't want to sleep with me?" she exclaimed with surprise.

"I don't want to dance with you."

In fact, Yossarian and Luciana do not make love that night. She needs to return home to her mother. They do, however, make love when she shows up, unexpected, at the squadron's officers' quarters in Rome the next morning. Luciana has an "invisible scar" on her back, evidence of a wound suffered during an American air raid. Within the ambiguous reality of the novel, we aren't sure whether the wound is actually there — "invisible" only because she hides it — or whether the two lovers share a fantasy. Probably the scar is actual, but with Luciana we never quite know.

Luciana has her own version of Catch-22. She states that she can not get married because she is not a virgin. No one will marry her. Yossarian says that he will marry her. Luciana counters that, of course, she can't marry Yossarian. Why not? Because she will not marry a crazy man, and any man who would marry her would have to be crazy. It's quite a catch, that Catch-22.

Luciana gives Yossarian her address on a slip of paper but says she knows he will tear it to pieces and never see her again. Despite his denials, Yossarian, playing the big shot, does just that the minute she leaves. Later, he regrets the impetuous act. He misses Luciana and thinks he loves her. But Yossarian never suffers for women very long. Within a page, he is rutting with the squat maid in the lime-colored panties at the enlisted men's apartment. Yossarian "was in love with the maid in the lime-colored panties because she seemed to be the only woman left he could make love to without falling in love with."

Glossary

reticent habitually silent or uncommunicative.

enervating depriving of strength, force or vigor.

moue (French) "a pouting grimace"; a wry face.

fetid having a bad smell, as of decay; putrid.

Capisci? (Italian) "Do you understand?" (Note: Other Italian phrases in the chapter are translatable by context or through Yossarian's response.)

libidinous full of or characterized by lust.

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