Catch-22 By Joseph Heller Summary and Analysis Chapters 31-32

Summary

When McWatt flies into the mountain, Doc Daneeka is standing on the beach beside Sergeant Knight. His name, however, was on the passenger list when McWatt filed his flight plan, so Doc was officially on the plane. Within the context of military logic, because he did not parachute to safety, Doc Daneeka is dead. A hypochondriac, Doc continues to stumble around feeling poorly; but he is pretty sure that he is alive, despite all evidence to the contrary. He is in a small minority. When he complains of feeling cold, one of the enlisted men at the medical tent explains, "You're dead, sir. . . . That's probably the reason you always feel so cold." Mrs. Daneeka's life is initially turned upside down by the news of her husband's death. Yossarian is also in a bad way, although no one has yet claimed that he is dead. Four young officers have moved into his tent, and they're driving him mad.

Analysis

Heller's presentation of Mrs. Daneeka extends the satire beyond the war zone and into civilian life. We have come to expect the kind of military logic that declares Doc Daneeka dead even though he is walking around camp looking his usual sickly self. Now we see some of the same distortion and hypocrisy back home. When Mrs. Daneeka learns from a War Department telegram that her husband has been "killed in action," her woeful shrieks "split the peaceful Staten Island night." Nonetheless, Heller is not about to resort to stereotype; Mrs. Daneeka's lamentation is dripping with irony as well as tears: "The poor woman was totally distraught for almost a full week." Her husband writes her, but this only confuses the widow. At first she has hope, but the War Department insists that Doc is dead. Then the money starts flowing in. Mrs. Daneeka is the sole beneficiary of her husband's $10,000 GI insurance policy and four more civilian life insurance policies worth $50,000 each, a genuine fortune in the 1940s when $5,000 a year was considered a comfortable, middle-class income. Several smaller amounts arrive for burial costs. She receives monthly stipends from the military and Social Security Administration for herself and her minor children. Men begin to pay attention to her, and she experiences a new feeling of freedom. When another desperate letter arrives from someone claiming to be her husband, she nearly complies with its wishes. However, she then receives one of Whitcomb's form letters, signed by Colonel Cathcart. It reads as follows:

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. Daneeka:

Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father or brother was killed, wounded or reported missing in action.

Mrs. Daneeka loads up the children and moves to Lansing, Michigan. She leaves no forwarding address.

Yossarian's problems are not so easy to escape, but he will try. It is Autumn 1944; winter is approaching. When not flying, Yossarian waits in his tent, daily hoping for Orr's return. In one of the more moving descriptive passages in the novel, Heller uses the mood of the season to match the mood of the protagonist:

There were no more beautiful days. There were no more easy missions. There was stinging rain and dull, chilling fog, and the men flew at week-long intervals, whenever the weather cleared. At night the wind moaned. The gnarled and stunted tree trunks creaked and groaned and forced Yossarian's thoughts each morning, even before he was fully awake, back on Kid Sampson's skinny legs bloating and decaying, as systematically as a ticking clock, in the icy rain and wet sand all through the blind, cold, gusty October nights.

Reflecting on the war, Yossarian begins to call the roll of the dead and missing, not only from war but in his life generally, a litany of the brave, the foolish and the deluded. But there are still comforts if only a little hope. He is still seeing Nurse Duckett; occasionally, they share the warm, familiar surroundings of the tent that Orr fixed up for him. Yossarian might have gotten on all right if it had not been for the invasion of the whippersnappers.

There are four of them. They are replacement officers, each twenty-one years old, eager, frisky, exuberant, joyful, noisy, overconfident, naïve, and glad to be there. They are Yossarian's new tent mates. Heller is skillfully shifting the mood. Gone are Yossarian's quiet moments of reflection. Gone, too, are the private moments in his tent with Nurse Duckett. Yossarian has grown up and grown old in the war; he has nothing in common with these replacement officers and no patience for their ignorant enthusiasm.

Yossarian's new roommates are over-privileged kids who played tennis and rode horses back in the States. They went to good schools — the same schools — and actually cared who won football games. They are engaged to pretty, clean girls whose photographs are already on the mantel that Orr built. They are obtuse and a pain to Yossarian, "a crotchety old fogey of twenty-eight." They call him "Yo-Yo." They admire Colonel Cathcart and have no fear of the (now) seventy missions. They find Colonel Korn "witty." They're happy that the war lasted long enough for them to get in it. They remind Yossarian of Donald Duck's nephews.

Yossarian seeks relief but finds none. He feels that he can't leave the tent because that would be deserting Orr's memory. He'd like for Chief White Halfoat to move in and scare the kids off, but the chief is busy preparing to die of pneumonia. Yossarian decides to try to be more tolerant; but when he returns to the tent, the roommates are burning Orr's lovely birch logs. They are insensitive and dangerous; if Orr were there, they would clannishly mock him. The next morning, they get rid of the dead man in Yossarian's tent. Yossarian could be next. He flees to Rome with Hungry Joe.

Glossary

inexorable cannot be moved or influenced by persuasion; unrelenting.

PX Post Exchange; a store or stores on military bases offering merchandise at reduced prices for service personnel.

ubiquitous everywhere at the same time; omnipresent.

V-mail Victory-mail; a postal service during World War II, to or from the armed forces, in which letters were reduced to microfilm, to conserve shipping space, and enlarged and printed for delivery.

requisition a formal written order, request, or application for equipment.

Donald Duck a cartoon character whose nephews (Huey, Dewey, and Louie) are energetic but relatively ingenuous little scamps.

obtuse not sharp; slow to understand or perceive.

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