Summary and Analysis
Despite being named for General Dreedle, Chapter 21 opens with seven more pages on Colonel Cathcart, primarily examining events he sees as favorable to his career ("feathers in his cap") or damaging to his ambitions ("black eyes"). Among the damaging experiences, the name of Yossarian keeps popping up. Two of these embarrassments occur in the presence of General Dreedle: Yossarian's appearance in formation wearing only moccasins, and an epidemic of lustful moaning, instigated by Yossarian, at the Avignon briefing. Cathcart can only suspect Yossarian in the latter. Chapter 22 offers more information about two focal points of the novel: Snowden's death is again foreshadowed, this time with further details. We learn that Milo's syndicate is flourishing, leading to political achievements such as his becoming Mayor of Palermo, Vice-Shah of Oran, the Caliph of Baghdad, and the Sheik of Araby.
It is especially embarrassing for the madly ambitious Colonel Cathcart when Yossarian's stunts occur in front of the wing commander, General Dreedle. Dreedle is a strict disciplinarian, "a blunt, chunky, barrel-chested man in his early fifties." He is gruff, somewhat sadistic, and used to having his orders obeyed. The General's entourage always includes his son-in-law, Colonel Moodus, and an unnamed, buxom nurse whose prodigious proportions are a delight to the General but torture to Moodus. Dreedle hates his son-in-law and keeps him around only to make sure that the young man never has a chance to be unfaithful to Dreedle's daughter. The General also enjoys tormenting him, at night dressing the nurse in a transparent silk uniform, too tight to allow for undergarments, that drives Moodus mad. The General guffaws while Moodus whimpers at the situation.
After the raid on Avignon, in which Snowden is killed, Yossarian refuses to wear any part of his uniform. He shows up nude (he does wear moccasins) for a special formation, at which he is to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented by General Dreedle, for going around twice at Ferrara. Cathcart is humiliated, but Dreedle decides that any man who does his job well and wins a medal may receive it with no clothes on if he chooses. There is the practical problem of where to pin the medal so Dreedle just hands it to Yossarian.
Time being out of joint, the briefing for the mission to Avignon, also attended by General Dreedle, follows this scene. As usual, Dreedle's nurse, blooming "like a fertile oasis," accompanies him and stands "with her asinine smile" in full view of the men. Yossarian moans in erotic misery. Soon others join him. Dreedle demands that they stop, and they do. Unfortunately, Major Danby has been counting down the seconds to synchronize the men's watches; when he realizes that no one is paying attention, he moans in frustration. General Dreedle orders him shot at once. Danby's reprieve comes from a last-second intervention by Moodus who explains to "Dad" that the General really can't do this.
The comic scenes are juxtaposed against the theme of death and the real horrors of war, represented here by the mission to Avignon and Snowden. We learn a few more details of that incident at the opening of Chapter 22. On the mission to Avignon, the pilot is Huple, who is only fifteen years old but is reasonably competent. The co-pilot is Dobbs, who has no confidence in Huple even though Dobbs is a worse pilot. After the bombs are away, Dobbs grabs control of the aircraft and sends it into a "petrifying fatal dive" that slams Yossarian against the roof of his Plexiglas compartment in the nose of the plane. Huple regains the controls and levels out the craft, but by now they are back in the midst of the flak. Suddenly they are hit. Yossarian sees "a hole the size of a big fist in the Plexiglas." Here Dobbs cries that someone must help the bombardier; Yossarian, who is the bombardier, says he is all right. Snowden calls for help over the intercom. Yossarian moves toward him through the crawlway. Tension mounts, but Heller leaves the scene suspended as he shifts to a discussion of Dobbs's plan to assassinate Cathcart.
Heller's satire on capitalism changes the mood. Milo's syndicate is flourishing. One of the puzzles, for Yossarian, is how Milo can afford to buy eggs for seven cents in Malta and sell them to the mess halls in his organization for five cents. After a bit of verbal sleight of hand, Milo reveals that he actually buys the eggs in Sicily for one cent apiece. Through some complicated manipulations, he then sells the eggs to himself in Malta in order to get the price up. After that, he offers them for sale in Malta for seven cents apiece. He buys them from himself for that price and sells them to the mess halls for five cents. Since he has actually invested only one cent per egg, he makes a profit of four cents, which, he claims, is for the syndicate — not for Milo. Yossarian wonders why Milo doesn't just sell the eggs to the mess halls for seven cents. "Because my mess halls would have no need for me then," says Milo, functioning in his own world of logic. "Anyone can buy seven-cents-apiece eggs for seven cents apiece."
carnal delights in or of the flesh; bodily or sexual pleasures.
KP kitchen police; an assignment, usually temporary, to work in the mess-hall kitchen.
didactic used or intended for teaching or instruction.
"what's good for the syndicate is good for the country" Heller's satirical twist on Charles Erwin Wilson's classic capitalistic statement to the Senate Armed Forces Committee (1952): "What is good for the country is good for General Motors, and what's good for General Motors is good for the country."