Catch-22 By Joseph Heller Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-18

Summary

When he hears that the number of missions has been raised to forty (he has thirty-two after Bologna), Yossarian goes directly from Rome to the base hospital on Pianosa. These two chapters consider several of his hospital stays — including the one that opens the novel — but not in chronological order. Although the soldier in white has been thoroughly discussed in Chapter 1, the character is brought back as an important element in Yossarian's hospital experience; the warrior precipitates a discussion of "justice" among several of the patients. As a recruit in training at Lowery Field in Colorado, at the beginning of Chapter 18, then-Private Yossarian discovers the possibilities for refuge in a military hospital as he enjoys Thanksgiving there. He vows to spend every Thanksgiving in a hospital but breaks his promise the next year (1943) when he engages in intellectual conversation, among other things, in a hotel room with Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife. Time returns to the previous year as he considers lengthening his hospital stay by emulating a soldier who sees everything twice; he ultimately decides that this is not such a good idea.

Analysis

Although hospitals have their drawbacks, they are symbols of refuge for Yossarian. He finds that the death rate is lower in hospitals, and few people die needlessly: "People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital and made a much neater, more orderly job of it. They couldn't dominate death, . . . but they certainly made her behave. They had taught her some manners." People did not just disappear in clouds, like Clevinger, or get blown to bits in the hospital. They "bled to death like gentlemen . . . or expired without comment in an oxygen tent." Death is more civilized in the hospital. There are still silly rules, and Yossarian does not care for all the sick people — but it beats war.

Heller uses the soldier in white to precipitate a discussion of justice. A warrant officer with malaria questions the encased warrior's fate after Nurse Cramer pronounces him dead. "I wonder what he did to deserve it," he muses. A fighter pilot responds, "He went to war." Dunbar then points out, "We all went to war." The warrant officer continues, "That's what I mean. Why him? There just doesn't seem to be any logic to this system of rewards and punishment." Why, he wonders, should he have contracted malaria from a mosquito bite during a brief sexual romp on the beach when the worst he should have expected was a bout of syphilis? Although one pilot thinks that life has been unjustifiably good to him, most of the men think they are victims of injustice, each feeling his is the worst. Yossarian, for example, left his tent in Marrakech one night to fetch a candy bar, was lured into the bushes by some unknown WAC, and wound up with a dose of the clap. Clevinger once suggested that this should have taught Yossarian the evil of sexual misconduct. "It teaches me the evil of candy," says Yossarian.

Irony is at the core of Yossarian's philosophical/theological discussion with Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife. Neither party believes in god. But the lascivious Mrs. Scheisskopf insists that the God she does not believe in is a nicer fellow than the God that Yossarian does not believe in. She has a point. The God she doesn't believe in is a good, just, merciful God. Yossarian sees God as "a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine system of creation?"

The soldier who sees everything twice nearly provides Yossarian with the perfect excuse to avoid duty. As a private at Lowery Field, Yossarian learns to avoid calisthenics by faking appendicitis and going to the hospital. A sympathetic English intern recommends faking liver problems; an appendix can be removed quickly, and only once. Liver ailments can go on and on. Even so, Yossarian is about to be dismissed from the hospital when a patient sits up and cries, "I see everything twice!" The ward is quarantined, and Yossarian imitates this malady until the soldier unexpectedly dies. Yossarian feels that he has followed his lead far enough. Before leaving the hospital, however, he agrees to do a favor for a friendly doctor (another instance of appearance versus reality). Heavily bandaged and placed in a dimly lighted room, Yossarian pretends to be the soldier who sees everything twice — so that the man's family can visit him before he dies. The ingenuous family members pay their respects and are only slightly confused when their son and brother insists on being called Yossarian rather than Giuseppe.

Glossary

dog tags metal identification pendants worn in duplicate and resembling dogs' identification tags; in addition to other information, they include blood type.

Marrakech a prominent city in, and former capital of, Morocco, in northwestern Africa.

dose of clap a case of gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease.

goldbrick to shirk one's duty through fakery; to malinger.

Euripedes (480–406 b.c.) tragedian of classical Athens. The highly educated Clevinger would be familiar with him.

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